Friendship Among Cats, Birds & Foxes

antlered deer leaving

It’s a sad thing to look at animals as just things that do things because of what’s done to them. Naturally, a feeder filled with seed will attract birds; and a feeder, once full of seeds, now empty, will tend to lose the birds it had previously attracted. This mechanical outlook of animal behavior doesn’t take into account how happy they are flitting and flying back forth. It doesn’t regard the swoop of their flight as happy. It ignores the sheer numbers of these feathered friends of ours, their turn-taking around the feeder’s mesh, their playground-like antics around the feeding perches, and even their occasional bullying. The other view is that such creatures, essentially without mind, have been anthropomorphized—that such creatures of mere want and instinct are being seen through human eyes and given, by us, human attributes, attributes that are only, or especially human. But this seems all very backwards. Ancient peoples long sought to be part of the animal world, for the different traits different animals possessed, to honor and even themselves acquire sundry animal characteristics they looked up to. This is not to oppose the quintessence of dust that also makes us human—speech and memory-making past our own mortal existences being the peculiar trait and characteristic of our own species. Though to think that a cat who climbs over a bedside table, and, placing its paws with its claws pulled in, purrs there on the chest of the reclining human being it lies upon merely to eke out the next meal, this is not only shallow and obtuse and reductively crass, but quite willingly and even forcefully overlooks the simplest and most obvious thing of all: the cat likes you! Why is this so hard? And this comes about, too, because the person likes the cat. It is, rather, the kindness—not the hellish realm of feared punishment, nor the heavenly aspect of hoped-for reward—that makes this what it is: a harmonious and desirable relationship between animals and human beings. This was the surprise lesson the Fox taught The Little Prince, and how what becomes friendship between them becomes the responsibility, really, later on, of both of them.

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