by Rob English
When my mother was seven years old, she and her six-year-old brother walked a few blocks to school every morning. They walked home at noon for lunch, then they walked back to school for the afternoon classes until it was time to walk home again. My mother’s town of Oswego New York was quieter in those days, its neighborhoods more rural, and you could keep a duck for a pet, which my mother did.
The family also made a home for a dog and a cat, so the pet population at the house was three, and both times each day when my mother and her brother came walking home from school the cat and the dog and the duck met them part way. The three animals would be waiting on the corner for the two children, and all five would walk home together, twice a day.
The duck, named Donald by the children, enjoyed his life at the house and his friendship with the dog and cat, but did not live as long as they did. His premature demise was brought about by the fact that he couldn’t resist the juice of a neighbor’s prized, backyard tomatoes. He would insert his beak into the fruit and suck out its insides such that that when the neighbor picked a succulent-looking tomato for his dinner the thing would collapse in his hand.
That scene is kind of funny to think of, actually, unless you’re the neighbor who prepared the ground and planted and watered the seeds and waited for weeks for them to bear fruit.
Eventually the gentleman caught Donald in the act of sucking his tomatoes and he complained to my grandmother and grandfather, who apologized and paid the man a few dollars for his loss. When the neighbor left, my grandparents reluctantly agreed that the best way to keep peace with the neighborhood would be to prepare a duck dinner that evening, with Donald as the main course. They did so, leaving just the dog and the cat to meet my mother and her brother at the corner late that afternoon.
“Where’s Donald?”, my mother asked when she got home. “He’s dinner,” my grandparents answered. Of course, neither my mother nor my Uncle would touch any of the meat that was once their beloved pet.
“All the more for us,” my grandparents said, and ate their fill. “Give the bones to the dog and cat,” my grandmother suggested to my grandfather, “They love duck meat”. But when the animals came near Donald’s remains, they caught his scent, and turned away and left the room.
The moral of this story, to me, is that animals do have feelings. The dog, the cat, the duck, the fish your sport-fishing neighbor told you don’t feel pain, the polar bear nursing her cub, the mouse in the glue trap, the calf in the veal shed, and so on. They all feel pleasure and pain in their own way and some of them love their companions as much as we love ours.
I’m vegan, meaning I don’t eat or wear animal products. I refuse to let my shopping money profit industries that ignore animals’ physical and emotional pain. Fortunately, times are advancing and more and more people are beginning to live cruelty-free lives by turning to plant-free diets and faux fur and leather.
And my mother? She took in many stray cats and always had a beloved dog beside her, and she was as compassionate as the culture and education of her time allowed. My siblings and I lived under her roof for many years and enjoyed her cooking very much. It only occurs to me just now that she never served us duck.
Rob is a member of People for Animal Rights, a grassroots organization in Central New York,
P.O. Box 3333
Syracuse, NY 13220