I've never done a blog before and am not sure how this will look, but here goes. I've been thinking about the effect that animals have on people. In my household there are some kids, my husband and I, and my mother who lives with us most of the year. All of us like animals, but I wouldn't say any of us are the type to see our animals as children. We don't dress up our dogs, they don't get better health insurance than the humans, and I kind of have a survival-of-the-fittest attitude towards my chickens. I would rather they free-range and have a shorter life than be contained in a pen for a long, boring life. As my mother summarized it, "Basic animal care should give them four things: adequate food, water, shelter, and the opportunity to make decisions about how to spend their day." Penned in animals don't have many decisions to make each day.
So, I see my animals as animals, not humans. Yes, we do name them and I call the hens "the girls" but I wouldn't go so far as to call them "my kids" as some people do. And yet...it is amazing what a draw they have on us all. Yesterday I lost a good half-hour out of a busy day just standing there watching the hens. They often graze outside my kitchen window and it has made doing dishes so much more fun to be able to watch their antics. My mother hand feeds them and touches them all over to get them used to human touch. My husband (a nice guy but not a real softie) told me last night about spending time in the coop last night handling all the hens. Why do we all do this? What is the draw?
I don't know why we are all drawn to interact with the animals. But, I do think not having regular interaction with animals leaves a gap in other people's lives. Friends of our are vegans. I haven't questioned them in depth but in the few light conversations we've had I get the idea that they actually have no concept of what the life of an animal is like. They're so focused on the evil of factory farms, and the people that run them, that they haven't considered what the animals experience. (No defense of factory farms here, I'm just explaining that they are focused on the people rather than the animals.)
I grew up on a dairy farm and I don't think the cows suffered at all. They were very well cared for in clean barns and given access to pasture each day. Yet, at nearly 300 milking head and 800 head total we were a pretty big farm. I grew up interacting closely with cows from birth through death. And, here's what I can say about your average Holstein: they aren't that complex of an animal. They want to eat and drink and move around and find a nice place to sleep. My chickens aren't that complex, either. They have their routines and they stick to them--who gets to sit on which perch, who is first out of the coop in the morning, when and where they lay their eggs, etc.
To summarize: I think that animals have their own, simple lives and our presence in them is low down their list of needs. They'd as happily take feed from an automated feeder as our hands. They tolerate our presence because they've been bred for this trait. Sure, there is the odd exception of the farm animals that truly becomes a pet, but it isn't the norm. Instead, it is we who need them. People are drawn to animals because...? They're fascinating? They're entertaining? They're unfathomable? I don't exactly know why, I just know that it is true. And I feel bad for those whose sole interaction with their food sources, since food is such a big part of our daily lives, is only with plants.