This is a true story. An acquaintance (let’s call her IS for Incredibly Selfish) has just called me and informed me very excitedly that she has taken possession of a 12-week old tortoise-shell kitten, whom she calls Hecate. She is full of the joys of animal ownership. This apparently consists of looking forward to all the rituals she and the cat can do together. After all, the cat is the Goddess’s animal.
I asked her where she is going to keep it. Oh she says, Hecate is going to live in the flat with us. Where are you going to put the cat box I ask. She says that she doesn’t need one, she is going to train Hecate to use her toilet. If that doesn’t work, she can go and pee outside. Outside consists of a parking area with a few sparse trees. IS lives in the third storey in a block of flats off a main road in a central part of town. This is not suburbia.
This situation is made worse by the fact that IS has the attention span of a flea. She changes friends every few months and has an active social life. She doesn’t have time for an animal. I am less than enthused. Shortly after ringing me, she calls up a mutual acquaintance and complains bitterly that I’m not excited for her.
After a few days, IS gets bored and re-homes Hecate. This story had a happy ending. Most don’t.
In my role as neighbourhood witch, animal carer and general busy-body where animals are concerned, this is not an unusual story. I spend a lot of time incandescent with rage. This is due to stupidity, selfishness and downright bull-headedness of people who proclaim to love animals and who put these beings in danger, cause them to suffer and die because they do not understand what the animal needs and wants and are too lazy or self-involved to find out.
It appals me that some of these people are Pagan.
Being a “Pagan” covers a lot of territory. You know this. I know this. However, at grassroots level (if you’ll excuse the pun), Pagan means having an affinity with and respect for the earth and all its beings. For some people, this means buying ethically, for some vegetarianism, for others it means direct action to prevent animals being harmed.
At the most basic level, a Pagan should have an understanding of animals, birds and being responsible about their care. If you can’t provide a safe environment for an animal, bird or other sentient being, if you can’t afford to pay for food, medical care and other needs, if you can’t spend the time with them they need, then you shouldn’t “own” one.
The Animal Welfare Bill is currently awaiting its next stage in the House of Lords (UK). When this bill is passed, certain animal rights will be enshrined in law. In my opinion, it does not go far enough. However, it is a start. What would be even better is if sentencing for animal abusers was made mandatory, if a register was started for animal abusers, similar to the sex offenders’ register and if that register was made public. I have to admit that sometimes, in the small hours of the night after a particularly distressing incident, I can also justify ownership of a large baseball bat, an AK47 and the right to use both freely.
Not all pets make good familiars. Three of my four mad cats once joined us spontaneously in a ritual. It was a protection ritual and required a lot of energy. They strolled in, sat down in the right spaces and provided calm, warm, clean energy which enhanced the mix of energies in the circle.
Most of the time, they prefer to knock over candles, sniff the incense, wash their bums in circle and emulate Bast on the altar. So unless they indicate clearly that they want to take part, they stay out of the room. Singed tails do not a happy ritual make.
If you are a Pagan and want to help the earth on a fundamental level, encouraging people to think long and hard before getting a companion animal is one of the best things you can do. Point them towards http://www.rspca.org.uk which details the basic requirements for looking after an animal or bird. Ask them whether they can provide this level of care and attention for their proposed pet.
You can keep an eye on animals in your neighbourhood and report any abuse to the RSPCA or other animal rights organisation. The RSPCA is not my favourite organisation – it is top heavy, decisions are made by middle managers who appear to care more about scoring points than the plight of individual animals and its inspectors often have far too heavy a caseload. However, sometimes it is all there is to rescue an animal living its life in pain and fear.
Get yourself on a basic animal care course that covers first aid. Understand that traumatised animals can be dangerous, as they may not understand you are trying to help. Learn how to pick up an injured bird, approach a frightened dog, find out how to win over a starving and traumatised cat. This way, you won’t have to walk past the next injured bird you see, or feel helpless when a dog runs into the road and narrowly misses being run over. You can make a dramatic and immediate difference to another of the earth’s children by learning how to cope and by keeping your eyes open.
Don’t be afraid to intercede when you see someone doing something appalling. I once jumped off a bus to stop a guy who was beating his dog with the dog’s metal chain lead. I approached him politely. Did he shout? Of course. Did he threaten me? Oh yes. He even chased after me in his car and threatened to kill me. I am still whole. I am still alive. Moreover, while he was trying to drive and yell threats at me, I calmly took down his registration number and reported him.
Don’t be afraid to step in. That sick, beaten or dying animal or bird will need you to be responsible, to know what to do and to be brave enough to do it. Without you interceding on its behalf, it may live in trauma and die in pain. As a Pagan, you have a responsibility to make sure this does not happen.