There was a bustle in the hedgerow. It wasn’t a spring clean for the May Queen but a young mouse, lost, having taken the road less traveled only to come face-to-toe with a couple of pink giants. The boy giant bent down − the girl had fled − and extended a massive, rodent-squashing hand. Mousie feared the worst. Would he ever see his 200 brothers and sisters again? “Hey there, little fella,” said the giant, giving him wee pat across his back and neck.
The boatshed deck was covered with the effluvium of two of the world’s worst freedom campers. Australian blow-ins with loud squawking voices, legendarily messy nesters: a pair of white-faced herons. “Excellent guard birds, if you don’t mind a bit of poo,” said the economist (which, as recently discussed, I do) “and only 17 million left on the planet.”
‘My life with Doctor Doolittle,’ I thought.
“You’re welcome here!” he shouted at the circling herons − giving us the stink eye as they waited for us to relinquish the boatshed. They were desperate to go to the loo.
“For the love of Mike,” I muttered.
“What was that, darling?”
“For as long as you like,” I said.
“That’s my girl.”
The economist is an animal lover. Not like that guy out Mosgiel who was bothering ponies and not merely a dog person (needing the adoration of simpletons) or a cat person (masochistically requiring disdain). Not the kind of Animal Lover sung about by Brett Anderson, the lead singer of Brit-pop Indie band Suede, after his girlfriend came home with red scratches down her back from sleeping with Damon Albarn.
No. All creatures great and small amuse and endear themselves to the economist, make him say “Aww,” just by going about their business. From the alpacas we pass on our morning commute to the king cobra we almost stood on in Bangalore and the carpet shark sinuously swimming the sea bottom on Saturday; the economist’s relationship with the animal kingdom is one of unconditional love. Mine is conditional on how delicious they are.
Sometimes he reminds me of Disney’s Snow White, standing in the forest going “Tra-la-la” while bunnies, baby deer and bluebirds flock to her side. Except for the fact that he’s extremely manly, of course. Maybe St. Francis of Assisi, then, with considerably more hair. Sadly, there aren’t many like him in this country.
Because if we could talk to the animals they’d tell us New Zealanders are horribly cruel: whether its bobby calves, rodeo bulls or chooks in colony cages, our dominion over the beasts of earth and the birds of the sky is one of terror. Hitler was nicer to dogs then we are.
Yearly the SPCA releases a list of shame that would make you puke: tales of starvation, mutilation, torture and neglect. Whangarei man Joshua Heka filmed himself nailing possums to trees and hacking off their limbs, Canterbury farmer Clayton Dovey beat pigs in the head with an iron bar and bludgeoned 13 chickens to death. Puppies are cooked alive, kittens thrown against walls. “We have some of the strongest animal welfare laws in the world,” said minister for primary industries Nathan Guy. Fat lot of good they’re doing: animal cruelty is on the rise, with 14,000 abuse complaints last year, 6500 involving dogs alone.
Also cruel: raising a dog to be a tough sticker. Dogs just want to chase sticks and lift a leg against a lamppost, not bite children’s faces off. A dog doesn’t want to be called ‘dangerous’ it wants to be called a ‘good boy.’
I was once rushed by a ridgeback/pitbull-cross called Nail. It belonged to the (now ex) husband of a friend and did exactly what it said on the box. When people came over it had to be chained to a rowing machine in the spare room, visits punctuated by the thump of its shovel-shaped head battering the wall. Amazingly nimble in the face of certain death, I leapt out of the way just as its jaws snapped together in the spot where my leg had been, milliseconds before. One fang tore a bloody great hole in my jeans and left a fist-sized bruise on my thigh. My friend was pregnant at the time. I had nightmares about what Nail might do to the baby for weeks. Luckily he died soon after. Nobody went to the funeral.
Poor Nail had been trained to be monstrous. Left to his own devices, he might have done nothing more threatening than lie in the sun, farting and hoping someone would rub his tummy. Who are the real animals here? To quote Helen Clark: it is people, it is people, it is people.