Monday, February 28, 2011

Are disabled pets inspirational?

Lucy is blind but she does not seem to know it

My husband and I went to Powell's Books over the weekend. As we were fighting through the hordes of book lovers, this book about a dog named "Oogy" caught my attention.

This is a story about a dog used in a fighting ring who was disfigured, nearly died, was saved and is now a pretty amazing dog. This book was in a display of several other "inspirational" animal books, all about how disfigured and traumatized animals teach humans how to deal with adversity.

While I love it that Oogy was saved, and he seems like a really awesome dog, I am wondering about the disfigured-animal-as-human-teacher model.

As the owner of a disabled/disfigured cat (who was born that way) and the previous owner of a disabled/disfigured dog (who got that way after cancer surgery), I know something about animal disability and adaptability.

Animals do seem to have an innate ability to keep moving ahead, no matter what life brings them. But, reducing their stories to simple inspirational tales seems to do them a disservice.

Oogy didn't make a choice to be inspirational. The humans around him intervened, and it was their inspirational work that helped him to live.

Similarly, Lucy didn't choose to go on living with her blindness. She has no idea she is blind, as she's never been able to see. And my sighted animals don't tell her what it is like.

Seamus didn't choose to go on living after cancer. I chose to keep him alive, force-feeding him through his recovery.

Are they inspirational, in and of themselves? Or do they do what most animals do: Keep on living with the help of the people around them?

These stories are about how we project our narratives upon our animals, and how we choose to label them inspirational, regardless of what they might think.

The smart business move would be for me to write my own inspirational tale of how Seamus and Lucy taught me so much about perseverance that I was moved to change my life... or whatever. But the reality is that they don't truly set out to teach humans things. They are not inspirational in how they overcome disease, as they do not choose to overcome it. They move through their lives because this is what animals do.

So I will be writing no inspirational books, and I will not be looking for lessons from my pets. Rather, I will simply love them and provide for them and let them live their lives as simple animals.