Naughty or Nice?

December 25, 2018

Merry Christmas Members of the Animal Kingdom!
This year I'm making my own list. I'm checking it twice per minute, in pure neurotic fashion, and I'm questioning what it means to be naughty and nice… to animals.


At a time when we as humans seem to be failing each other left and right, whether it be superficial family squabbles at the dinner table or a ride or die fight for our fundamental rights, I'd like to take this moment to ignore the inexplicable dichotomy of being both the top of the food chain, and the only animal that has ever intentionally eaten tide pods and focus on the undervalued royalty in the animal kingdom. Coming from a place where owning pets is not only accepted but sometimes expected, it became easy for me to assume that animals played an active role in everyone’s life. I never met a bad witch without a friendly familiar by her side. Hell, I've even known one or two real life Disney princesses that I swear could summon an army of cuddly creatures. And, apart from my paralyzing phobia of birds, I was relatively ambivilant towards the four leggeds. Yet, this proclivity to nurture animals is not reflected by the current status of the animal kingdom.

Between 2009 and 2014 the world population of homo sapiens grew by roughly 50%, whereas the population of vertabrate animals decreased by 60%.1 Now I’m no Leonhard Euler, (look him up if ya nasty), but I do believe that’s nearly a 1 to 1 ratio. Among contributing causes of the drastic decline in animal population include: habitat degredation, animal exploitation and abuse, introduction of non-native invasive species, pollution, and climate change.1 By the way, these all happen to be caused by us ‘ole humans. Even if we don’t give a flying Karamazov about these animals, we can't ignore that their existence, or lack thereof, is dependent on our behavior. In fact, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s most recent redlist, more than 26,500 species are endangered worldwide.2 Among these include the Ploughshare Tortoise.


If this tough ‘lil nut can’t crack it in this world, the rest of us might as well crawl back into our shells and wait for the end right? Wrong.


I admit, things seem a bit bleak in the animal kingdom right now, but I’d like to share a nugget of hope. 

During my time in Turkey, I got to witness a truly increadible relationship between the land’s earliest residents and the humans. All joking aside, Turkey is truly an amazing location to examine the tie between us and our evolutionary pals. Studies have indicated that the first domestication of both dogs and cats, while occuring at very different periods of history, can be linked to the Eastern Europe/Asia region where they lived more as contributing members of the community than the possessions of individuals.3 Today, Turkey is famous for its method of managing these living markers of history. In nearly any city, you can find dogs and cats roaming the streets, but these are no tramps. Often cared for by a collective effort of city programs, local charities, and generous locals, these animals are a part of people’s everyday lives. I met a woman who ran an organization that regularly gathered up the city’s dogs to ensure they recieved health check ups and vaccinations. Also, as I was living in a family home, I got to witness Turkish hospitality first hand. One night during a particularly nasty storm a small, air-bud-esque dog followed me home.



As usual, we set out some food and water for the dog, but, when the storm decided to pull a Strom Thurmond and filibuster our next three days, we brought the dog into the house. When the sun finally gave up on its incessent game of hide and seek, we opened the door and the dog simply left as if he had been an ordinary houseguest. I am no expert, and I certainly can’t declare whether this means of care is superior to any other, but I can say that it seems to work for the people of Turkey. It certainly is fitting that in one of the first areas of domesticated felines and canines, the traditions of their ancestors live on.

Whether you’re a pet owner, an ambivilant animal ignorer, a vegan, a KFC regular, an activist, or a first-time learner, I truly believe you can cause positive change. There isn’t a right or wrong way to get involved, just don’t be afraid to jump in. We’ve melted that ‘Berg! The water may still be cold, but you’ve gotten past the greatest barrier of all just by taking an interest. Now it’s time for you to swim my darlings.

1 WWF. 2018. Living Planet Report-2018:Aiming Higher. Grooten, M. and Almond, R.E.A. (Eds). WWF, Gland, Switzerland.


3 National Academy of Sciences (US); Avise JC, Ayala FJ, editors. In the Light of Evolution: Volume III: Two Centuries of Darwin. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2009. 5, From Wild Animals to Domestic Pets, an Evolutionary View of Domestication.  

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© 2017 by El Armstrong.