I tried hard to be annoyed at the people who protested when a zoo in Copenhagen announced plans to kill one of their giraffes. The giraffe was healthy, but superfluous, and the zoo wanted to avoid inbreeding. So they announced their plans: shoot the animal in the head, dissect it in a display open to the public, and feed its meat to their lions.
Inevitably, protesters signed petitions and massed outside the walls, rending their garments over the "cruel" decision to shoot the young giraffe and feed its body to the lions. You have to laugh a little bit at these crowds of mourners (who can't all have been vegans). What do they suppose happens in the wild? Do the predators there administer an anesthetic before sinking their teeth into the neck of their prey? Or perhaps the League of Concerned Cheetahs signs a pledge to leave weaker animals alone, as long as they take a vow of celibacy? This giraffe is just an animal, after all. Animals die. That's why we have lions, who eat meat. This is why we have hamburgers, and leather belts, and civilization: because animals die.
All right, so animals die. But why did the zoo have to feed him to the lions? Why do it in public, of all things? Why be so bloody barbaric about it? Well, they didn't exactly do it in public. They announced ahead of time that they'd be dissecting the giraffe, and invited interested zoo-goers to come and see how a giraffe is made. It was meant, said the zoo, to be educational.
I suspect that they did it for another reason, too: to remind people that animals are animals. We grow attached to them, we give them names, and they are important to us. But they are not people. They shouldn't be treated with cruelty (hence their decision not to give him away to another zoo: They could not be sure that the giraffe would be treated well in a zoo that could not afford to buy its own giraffe); but there is no particular reason to treat them as if they have the same dignity as human beings. This zoo has a policy not to name its creatures. It wants to preserve, if possible, that distinction: it's just an animal.
So, I understand. I agree. It was a good thing that the zoo was doing, and when I heard the curator interviewed, he sounded patient and humane. But at the same time, a tiny part of me is glad that people are sad about the giraffe. It's the same tiny part of me that says, "Go ahead, admit that you love that big, stupid dog that lives in your house." Even though he isn't a baby, even though he doesn't have a soul, even though he will die. It is okay to love him.
Death is always a bad thing, even when it's inevitable, even when something good comes out of it. Death is bad even when it's reversible! Jesus wept when he heard that His friend Lazarus was dead. Why? He knew that He would raise him up -- not on the last day, but almost immediately. And yet He wept, because death is always a bad thing. It's less bad when it's an animal that dies -- but it's still bad.
It is a sick and evil thing when human beings moan and howl over the death of an animal, and then turn around and push hard for abortion on demand, euthanasia without a second thought. For too many modern people, love for animals is a substitute for human feeling -- something that we feed our consciences to stave off the accusations of our hearts. I am a good person! See how I weep over these chickens.
All the same, I guess I do love my dog, who doesn't even know enough to brush a cracker off his big, dumb face when it gets caught in his big, dumb jowls. Without us, he might be able to feed and shelter himself, but he would cry to death out of loneliness, big and strong and intimidating though he is.
I'm human, and I'm different from him. It is a very good idea to sort through our feelings about animals, to figure out why we feel the way we do, and to make corrections if our feelings don't match up with the way life really is. Understanding that we are more significant, more important than animals, is part of what makes us human. But being able to care about animals, even as we accept that their lives are sometimes dispensable -- that makes us human, too.