Kage Baker was not especially fond of animals, in general. She liked animals the way she liked people – as individuals, one on one, for their specific unique personalities. And very few of them. To Kage, most animals were a suspicious mob – except the ones that were strangely-shaped people. Pretty much exactly how she felt about people-shaped people, actually.
But she was fascinated with domestication. It’s such a really weird phenomenon, when you think about; almost as rare as tool-making, which is itself pretty thin on the ground. Few animals have managed to make it work. Humans, dogs, ants. Maybe some corals. And who’s running the show with sharks and remoras, or crows and wolves? It’s a huge, intriguing mystery, and a heck of a strange thing for any animal to have invented.
Humans have done this, Kage observed, with all manner of things they thought might be useful if just persuaded to calm down and cooperate a little. All kinds of cattle, goats and sheep and horses, large edible birds and numberless plants. They’ve done it with each other, with varying degrees of success, resulting in lots of diverse forms of societal structures and civilizations. Cats are still in negotiation over the details of the process. And recent research shows that dogs may have done it to us – or that the domestication thing there was at least mutual and simultaneous.
Not that it works on everything, of course. Kage was interested to learn that not all bovids are amendable to domestication – you can domesticate cows of hundreds of species, but buffalo are never going to agree to it. And the domesticity dropouts will kill you; water buffalo are notorious for being deadly, killing more people every year than big cats. Horses ditto – most equines are tameable, but not all, and zebras will happily kill and eat you.* So will pigs. Why do you think everyone panics so much when Dorothy falls into the pigpen in Wizard of Oz? They aren’t worried about her pinafore getting dirty, Dear Readers; those happy little oinkers will flat out eat a bitch. As it were. Ahem.
And these are the animals that are our friends.
Birds are wonderfully weird and alien; in fact, recent studies show they are even more alien than we had originally thought. There’s 70 million extra years of evolution underlying the brains in their colourful heads; and a lot of them have used that time to develop intelligence just as good as humans’: but different. We used to think that their tiny brains were low-wattage. They’re not. The corvids, the psitticines, maybe some of the ratites – they’re scary bright. Kage always wondered if the Maori ate the moas in simply primate greed – or out of self-defense against birds who were twice their size and close to their intellectual equals.
Birds aren’t really domesticated, either; like cats, the issue is still in negotiation. One must assume, also, that humans have preyed most successfully on the morons among the bird tribe. Chickens are not renowned for their sharpness, and they are enslaved in their billions. But the humans who work with fiercer or smarter birds do so in much smaller numbers and with considerable safety precautions – even my happy little thug of a Harry gets handled a lot more carefully than a dog or a cat. Anyone who has lived with birds – and Kage did – will assure the rest of you that the dinosaurs did not lose out entirely in the intelligence lottery … I’ve got notes for a couple of stories on that subject. And you can see Kage’s suspicions about the intelligence of parrots in several of her books and stories.
On the subject of friendly animals, Kage felt that keeping pets was vastly different from domesticating animals. For one thing, domestication is not always a friendly process – it’s a lot more like slavery. Not a lot of humans will bother to keep hundreds of animals they can’t use for something – and we generally question their sanity when they do. Crazy cat ladies? Dog hoarders? Really peculiar people with reptile collections? But no one thinks twice about some guy with a thousand cows or a few dozen sheep – not as long as he occasionally, you know, kills them for something. That’s apparently normal.
Pets, though, you keep because you like them. Because you like to look at them, touch them, listen to them; because you have an emotional relationship with them. Is that normal? Well, it happens a lot … Kage figured that was as good a definition of normal as you could probably get for human behaviour. She also felt that, along with their tribalism and xenophobia, most humans have a wistful urge to meet with what is undeniably alien – and animals are as close as most people can get to it without triggering other, nastier, more violent instincts.
Obviously, human beings would really, really like to be friends with someone. Maybe not other humans, but certainly someone. Kage figured the history of humans and animals showed that clearly.
Gorillas, you know, who are more peaceful than humans, do occasionally keep pets in their own captivity. Chimpanzees – who, conversely, are even worse characters than humans – don’t. An interesting difference, Kage thought.And remember, she held apes firmly on the “people” list.
Why do people try so hard to communicate, for instance, with dolphins? Because they are extravagantly alien, obviously intelligent, and accidentally endowed with smiles. The ones that don’t have those nice smiles – the orcas – are cautiously assigned a certain gravitas and dignity, but no one really wants to go play with them – they’re scary. And yet, as Kage observed, most dolphins are thorough dicks – but they’re dicks in a human way, and it’s mostly the guy dolphins, and anyway – boys will be boys …
But animal domestication did make Kage nervous. She felt it was necessary but was unsure if it was moral, and she didn’t like having to balance ethics against necessities. She liked to eat meat, and was on good terms with her canine and incisor teeth. Some of her friends, besides, had 4 legs or wings, and she enjoyed their company. She researched PETA and came away horrified: sorry if I offend anyone, Dear Readers, but those folks are insane. Also, they kill more animals than they save – Kage , whose sympathies were ready to be engaged by them, instead came up with the viciously idiotic Beast Slavery Movement to point out their asininities. It all left her on the fence where domestic animals were concerned.
What’s my point here? I am not sure, Dear Readers. Probably a story idea is gestating, and I am suffering intellectual cravings … It may be part of the Charlotte story; it may be something unrelated to Kage’s Canon. But I do have her notes, and her thoughts on the conundrum of the Matter of Animals; I have the many, many articles people send me on lost and/or recovered species in the world. I have the little life sitting next to me as I write, singing himself softly to sleep and occasionally calling out from under his cage cover to make sure I – the flock, the Companion, the approved Other- am still here in the dark …
We’re all in the dark, you know? Kage always did say, you should hold fast to any love you find. Offer it freely. Scorn none.
Maybe that’s all I’m doing tonight. There are worse ways to begin a new year.