How to Serve Man
There is a novel coming out this August that describes what our world would be like when a pandemic wipes out the animals on earth--“Tender is the Flesh.”Not just dogs, birds and horses but cows, pigs and chickens. Man is not one for meatless meals and from the book previews, I imagine the number one selling book,in this dystopian future, is “How to Serve Man”, a cookbook. But seriously, it got me thinking of our collective situation and those we are sharing it with.
I glanced around me while I sat at the computer with a cat on the desk and the two dogs at my feet, marveling at the “friends” I have keeping me comforted and sane. Thank God we have our animals to keep us company during this pandemic. The dogs and cats are making out like bandits.
In Virginia, Channel 29 News captured the current pandemic’s good fortune to the animal kingdom; All of the cats and dogs have been adopted out, and all that’s left are rows of empty kennels at the Augusta Regional SPCA just outside Staunton. Executive Director Debbie Caywood says she’s never seen anything like this in her 29 years at the SPCA. But, Caywood is concerned about an influx of animals at some point due to financial hardships and kitten season.”
I talked to Linda Torelli, Marketing Director for the Brandywine Valley SPCA, and she says they have gone from filling their West Chester kennels (90 dogs and 55 cats) at 90% of capacity last year to about 20% today. Another positive effect of the virus is that the need for putting animals down, which you never want to do, has dropped a third in April. I asked about kitten season and she said that when the summer comes, so do kittens. Torrellihas the same concernsas Caywood,during a financial crisis there is always an influx of animals as families deal with joblessness and financial struggles.
At the Tree Tops Kitty Café in Kennett, Anna says they were down to just 3 cats last week. But this cat rescue and adoption center, along with the local SPCA, are losing their major fundraising events so donations are needed now more than ever.
The truth is that during quarantine there is nothing better than a friendly animal to share your life. And they love the added attention. Growing up in Kennett Square,animals were always a big part of our life. After all we are home to the University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center where they train the animal doctors of the future.
I grew up next to Doc Arnold, a Vet on old Kennett Road. His kids were my best friends and his wife, Libby, was a surrogate mother. She gave me one piece of advice;“never eat your pets.”Odd at first, but their youngest son Tim raised a piglet (Squeak) to become a 200 pound porker and they had him for Easter Dinner one year. Big mistake, advice taken.
I remember when there was a fire at the Brandywine Polo Club, Toughkenamon barn. About a dozen horses died and six were badly burned. Doc Arnold spent months, changing the burned horse’s bandages twice a day. The Arnolds ended up keeping two of the horses. Now if you haven’t ridden a 16 hands high Argentinian polo pony at a full gallop through the woods of Chester County, you haven’t lived. And if you did it too often, you probably wouldn’t live because getting knocked off a horse by a tree branch can belife threatening. Being able to ride a horse is a real gift. During long hours of riding lessons at Derby Down stables under Mary Warner, we were taught that you weren’t a real horseman till you fell off 100 times. I’m not a real horseman.
Docalso looked after Nancy Hannum’s hounds.She was Master of the Hunt for Mr. Stewart's Cheshire Foxhounds. When I was about 12, one of the bitches was having a difficult pregnancy and it was all hands-on deck at Doc’s office. Doc had to do a C-section on the mom. We lost her, but 16 puppies later, all cleaned-up and put on a heating pad, we felt a great accomplishment.
Years later, Doc’s wife Libby came down with Alzheimer’s and moved into Kendal. After Doc died,my family kept their standard poodle Mollie, and she visited Libby every day. Years later, after Mollie died, her son Tim brought his daughter and his poodle to visit Libby. She hadn’t recognized a family member for years. This time she did. Libby took the dog’s head in her hands and checked her over as she would with any dog and said; “Tim, this dog’s ears need cleaning.” So ten years into Alzheimer’s, when almost everything is gone, you still have your relationship with your animals to keep you company.
Maybe we can hope that our culture of how we treat our animals is changing and we will treat them better than we previously did, before COVID-19. One can hope that we will be there for them just as they are there for us now. I have always judged the character of a man or woman by how they treat their dog. So in these times, support theKitty Café and SPCA and their low-cost Vet services. This pandemic can teach us who our friends really are.