A human being will feel sympathy pour through him at the sight of a whining puppy or a bird with a broken wing. We are even capable of similar emotions when we encounter a starving person or a maimed child.
The difference is that in the case of the animals, we are still capable of caring and compassion from long distances.
Thousands of Hindus in the U.K. have sworn they will gather at the Skanda Vale multifaith temple in Wales to form a human chain to protect Shambo, a Friesian bull that has tested positive for tuberculosis and is thus subject to regulatory slaughter to prevent spread of the disease.
According to senior temple monk Swami Suryananda, "He is adapting to his new lifestyle as an international superstar. We have had media calls from as far away as Canada." Ensconced in a shrine within the main temple and feeding on his favourite treats, the bull is no doubt now and then coughing delicately into a silk handkerchief while composing Romantic poetry. Shambo is also subjecting the British government to a sectarian headache, as well as no end of sexually misdirected jokes about sacred cows.
Shambo has nothing on Knut, the baby polar bear that drew support from all countries, creeds, and colours after the Berlin Zoo (I am almost entirely making this up) talked some sly or stoned animal-rights activist into pronouncing that the bear should be left to die in an icy ditch, preferably after being bitten repeatedly by arctic foxes specially captured, starved, and flown in for the purpose. Or something like that.
This was because Knut had been abandoned by his mother, and the reasoning was that her motivations were the same whether in a burrow in the arctic ice or on a concrete slab in eastern Germany. Or maybe the logic was that a ludicrous but widely publicized call for the deliberate death of the cuddly white cub with big, black eyes would get millions of people worldwide into a profitable state of indignant outrage.
Shambo and Knut are still alive, and we have millions of people to thank for that. We are without Kentucky Derby–winning racehorse Barbaro, though, despite the prayers of millions during Barbaro's struggle with lame legs, the flowers and messages sent by hundreds of thousands upon the heroic horse's euthanasia, and the thousands still keeping the Internet humming with rumours of a sinister conspiracy behind an inbred and overtrained animal that developed a common malady.
What a marvellous world, that has such noble souls in it. Whether it is harp seals in the St. Lawrence estuary, chimpanzees and bonobos in Central Africa, or the billions of cattle that have gotten a .22-calibre steel punch between the eyes so we can eat hamburgers and wear shoes, human beings reach out to our fellow creatures. Okay, maybe we don't reach out to the cattle–except for Shambo.
There has to be a way for all this caring and compassion to be channelled in a way that would benefit more than the occasional sacred bull or baby polar bear. After all, there are millions upon millions of human children without mothers who are suffering more than Knut ever did or ever will.
After considerable thought, it has struck me that a part of the solution could be the manufacture and transport of fake fur to critical areas of the world. If animal lovers could be fooled into thinking that their fellow human beings were just as cute and cuddly as they are (isn't your favourite human being huggable?), then we might do for people as much as we do for the sake of dogs.
We could declare the people of Iraq to be honorary polar bear cubs so we can protect them from the ideological activists of the U.S. The Burmese could be designated as sacred cattle, which might finally interest India in doing something about the kleptocratic playboy generals who have turned Burma into an anachronistic slave state. Lots of fake white fur would have to go to Darfur so the people there could be considered as much worth saving as seal pups.
The people of Zimbabwe could be reclassified as crippled racehorses, and we could think of the Republic of Congo as being inhabited by Vancouver Island marmots. Of course, you could argue that it would be fairer and more dignified to think of them as human beings, but that perspective has mostly gotten them dead. It's time to be unfair and emotional.
There are birds with broken wings out there.
Maybe if we could get people to think of their fellow human beings far away as being ordinary animals who are subject to pain and emotional anguish, we might raise a protest, get active, cause a media storm, and influence governments to prevent human beings from suffering and dying.
It would be the humane thing to do.