Friday, 4 February 2011


Issue: Do you miss your pet? Living or alive?
Would you like to talk to me about it?

Convener(s): Emma Adams

Participants: Daniel Bye, Hannah Nicklin, Julia Taudevin, Carol Parker, Rose Biggin, Mandy Fenton, Sue Frumin, Henrietta Leysir

Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations:

Just to make sense of this – I convened this discussion for a few reasons. One -because I miss my cat Frank and wanted to talk about it. Two - because I’m very interested in the difference between sentimental responses and empathic ones. This is something that I’m thinking about a lot. Three - because however intellectually appalled I may be by sentimental reactions, emotionally I find that I am very sentimental all the same. Sometimes. Particularly around pet stories. I love hearing about people’s pets. So there is a conundrum here then… which isn’t necessarily a bad thing but there it still is.

As such the conversation ranged from beautiful pet stories right through to philosophical fandango and back again quite freely.

We reached one conclusion.

Below I will try and represent the stories / ideas that we discussed.

I will also draw people’s pets as they appeared in my mind as they were talking about them.

Rose – Rose has several chickens and a rooster. They are leghorn chickens (which is a specific breed, with particular traits. Leghorn chickens for example are quite nervous though they do not often get broody – something that other breeds of chicken often do). Rose misses her chickens who live with her family. She has a favorite called ‘Twitter’ who she has reared from being an egg in an incubator. All the eggs are incubated because (as before mentioned) Leghorn chickens are not very broody.

Rose’s chickens lay eggs which her family eats, but she has always thought of them as pets and they are very tame and they all have personalities of their own. Twitter is Rose’s favorite. She allows Rose to pick her up. Because Rose feels this way about her chickens she doesn’t eat chicken though she does eat meat. For her chickens are pet animals. So as many of us with cats and dogs would not dream of eating a cat or dog, she can not dream of eating a chicken, which is annoying sometimes as chicken is a very convenient thing to eat.

Here is a picture of Twitter the Hen:

The only chicken that lives with Rose’s family that does not come from the incubator is called Lucky. Lucky is called Lucky because one day Rose’s Dad was driving along and looked up and he saw a lorry. One of those big lorries’s where the cab is separate to the big trailer at the back. In between the cab and the trailer is a connector thing. Sitting on the connector thing was a chicken. Rose’s Dad managed to get the lorry driver to pull over. He asked him if he was aware that he had a chicken sitting on the connector thing. The lorry driver said no. That’s when Lucky got her name and went to live at Rose’s house.

Here is a picture of Lucky Hen’s lucky escape:

Hannah – Hannah also had a cat called Lucky. Lucky was the third cat that her family had had. The first two died (hence 3rd time lucky) in a carbon monoxide leak at her family’s home. The cats alerted the family to the problem and saved their lives. Hannah also had a dog called Blue. She got Blue when the dog was 2 years old. I think she said it came from a rescue home, but I may be mistaken. I may have made that bit up. Hannah dreams about Blue. Sometimes she worries that she didn’t walk her enough. She got Blue when she was 7 years old and she lived until Hannah was in her 2nd year at university. Which is 14 years. Hannah loved her. Blue didn’t like men and being with them would make her wee on the floor.

Hannah also had a goat and chickens when she was growing up. They were kept for milk and eggs. She never thought of them as pets. She was used to seeing her parents kill the chickens at the end of their laying lives for example.

Here is a picture of Blue wagging her tail at the rescue home just after Hannah has picked her to take home.

Julia – Grew up in Indonesia. She had a cat called Manice. Because it was hot there were a lot of cockroaches and rats. Because of this, there was always a lot of poison around to try and keep control of these vermin. One day Manice licked the end of the poison bottle tube and began to die. Julia remembers holding Manice knowing that the cat was dying and being heartbroken. She remembers crying. She also remembers that many of her Indonesian friends on seeing this began to laugh. She was horrified that they were laughing but also remembers that this was the first time that she began to realize that sometimes people react to events differently and that there is a close relationship between crying and laughing. A release of tension. She does not think that her Indonesian friends were ‘glad’ that the cat was poisoned but expressing their tension seeing her hold her dying cat. She is still good friends with many of these people today.

Here is a picture of Julia and Manice in happier times before the poisoning took place.

Caro – Grew up in the countryside. She had a rabbit, 3 cats, 2 goldfish, 2 mice, a budgie, her granny had a dog and her sister had a pony. Looking back, she now feels that her parents clearly wanted her to learn from having pets. She feels that they were trying to expose her to ideas about respect for other living things. Having pets gave Caro her first introduction to death that she feels was important. A life lesson.

I – Had a cat called Frank. I and a former girlfriend had Frank from being a kitten. When we split up, we agreed that I would take Frank. I looked and looked for a new place to live that would allow me to take a cat with me. Everywhere I looked they said ‘no pets’. I got desperate. I changed tack and tried begging a landlord. He told me that cats spray. Frank does many unpleasant things, but he does not spray. They said I was wrong, Frank did spray I just didn’t notice. I said that I am very aware of what cat’s spray smells like. They said no. They said if you want the flat you can have it but you can’t bring the cat. I chose the flat. My exgirlfriend kept Frank. I miss him and think about him most days. I still feel guilty. This was 4 years ago. Sometimes my exgirlfriend who is now just my very good friend invites me to dinner so that I can spend time with Frank. I give her a hard time because she feeds him too much and he is getting fat.

Mandy – Has a cat. I didn’t catch the cats name but she is 2 and a half years old. She has never been ill before. Last night after getting back from the first day of #DandD6, Mandy found her cat using the cat litter a lot. Its wee was pinkish. Mandy panicked and rang the vet. The vet thought it must be cystitis and suggested that Mandy bring the cat into the surgery the next day.

This morning, Mandy tried for 20 minutes to get her cat into the cat carrier. She couldn’t get her in as the cat just refused to be put in the box and in the end Mandy had to give up. She rang the vet and the vet said it would be safe to leave the cat at home and try again tomorrow, so Mandy left the cat and came here today. She felt bad. Caro at this point shared a top tip which I think will be of real use to anyone who ever has to get their cat into a cat basket in the future. Caro suggested that Mandy try wrapping her cat in a towel before putting it into the cat carrier. Mandy said she’s going to try it.

Here is Mandy on her way to the vet’s tomorrow morning with her cat safely in the cat carrier.

Henrietta – Had chickens but did not think of them as pets. She really doesn’t like to anthramophise animals. However she had one chicken, known as Hen, which anthramorphised its self. At one time Henrietta had more than one chicken but several were killed by a fox. Hen was the only survivor of these attacks. Subsequently, Hen began to do things like come into the house via the cat flap. She would drink people’s cups of tea. She liked to be stroked. She was a gentle chicken but later on she began to become broody. When she got broody she became quite aggressive. They solved this problem by getting some fertilized eggs and allowing Hen to sit on them until they hatched. This is quite normal. After this Hen returned to her former self.

Here is Hen surviving the Fox attack.

Sue – Describes herself as the ‘Mrs Sloakham of South Tottenham’ because she loves her pussies. She has two cats Milly Moo and Venus. Her cats do not like each other. She got Milly Moo and then began to worry about her because she was out at work, so got Venus as a kitten, to be a companion. She assumed that Milly Moo would look after Venus, but Milly Moo was livid with jealousy when she saw Venus. Her eyes turned green. They have never got along since. Venus is a show off who demands love. Both cats have many adventures. They are a source of inspiration and they never say go away. Both Venus and Milly Moo’s life are made hell by the local stray tom called Big Ginge. Big Ginge is a bastard and the size of a lion. He makes a lot of noise outside at night because he shags all the girls. Sue has had to put a lock onto the cat flap. Big Ginge is still trying to break in.

Here is Milly Moo attempting to kill Venus with a huge carving knife.

While we were telling each other these stories, we also discussed some of the things below:

Dan – wondered how many vegetarians there were amongst us? He wondered what kind of difference that might make to our relationship with animals. If so are we here because we sentimentalize our relationship with animals? It turned out that there was only one vegetarian present (out of those who were present at the time of this comment) but everyone else ate restricted diets (Hannah has five meat eating days a year only. Dan eats meat about once a month. I eat meat occasionally – all for environmental reasons).

Julia – Who is a vegetarian – said on one occasion she was feeling very run down and so tried eating some haddock. It was delicious but she cried all the way through the meal.

I – Talked a little bit about the various reasons why I’d called this session (the love of pet stories and my interest in sentimentalism v empathaism (if there are such things).

Caro – Talked about having acted in a show once with a dog. It was in a show called ‘Pirates of Atlantis’ in the story the dog was put into a machine and turned into gold. Thankfully by the end of the story, the dog is turned back and all ends happily. Caro says that the dog loved being in the show and stole scenes.

Dan – Said that in a show of the wizard of oz that he saw, there was a real dog. When it ate the sausages the audience loved it in a way that they wouldn’t have responded if they’d seen a puppet dog eating sausages. He said it was arresting and felt ‘more real’ because the dog wasn’t acting. He also says that it added an element of disruption to the show, which was / is interesting. Similarly, Rose and I had seen Jerusalem which had real chickens on stage and had felt similar things. We talked a bit about how that might be a good and bad thing. Dan talked about a play called Innish Moor which has two cats in it. At one point a black cat dies and a ginger cat is used as a replacement. In the script the characters discuss how to make the ginger cat look like the original cat and decide to cover it in boot polish. Dan said he’d never seen the play staged but imagined that would cause a real problem in production. I said I thought that would be horrible. It might kill the cat. It has made me interested to read the play however. Dan also mentioned Peter Brook’s U/S (we think it is this play but it may be another one, all corrections welcome) which appeared to have a butterfly burnt alive on stage. This caused great controversy. Brook was asked whether the butterfly was real. He told people he would tell them, but if he did this (whether the butterfly burnt on stage was real or not) he would burn a real one on stage the next night if they insisted that he tell them the truth. Everyone when faced with this dilemma decided to leave it.

Here is a picture of Peter Brook mythering his room of terrified butterflies. Who will be next tonight my pretties?

Caro / Dan and I – Discussed the idea that cruelty by humans towards animals is the first sign of a sociopathic character. We discussed the lady who threw a cat in a bin and also another woman who threw a kitten to its death from an 11th floor. Apparently Caro had also read that there had been some research into cats jumping from buildings. If they jump from any floor above the 5th floor they are more likely to survive because they turn their bodies into parachutes, while jumping from anything below the 5th floor usually means a cat will die as it doesn’t have time to arch its back and make the parachute shape. We wondered about the kitten falling from the 11th floor. It obviously didn’t form a parachute to save its own life. We wondered if being thrown from the 11th floor was not quite the same thing as jumping. We also wondered if the kitten was very young, then perhaps it had not learnt to make the parachute shape before it was thrown. Which led me to be quite angry with the world and they way people treat animals (despite the fact that I’m happy to eat them occasionally) which led Dan to say, yes but animals are still afforded more respect in our world than at any other time ( in terms of us accepting that they should have agency) other than perhaps ancient Egyptians who gave cats a good deal of respect.

Here is a picture of a cat flying to safety from the 11th floor and a less fortunate kitten being thrown from the same window.

Which led to…

Dan – Discussed Kant an ethical philosopher who argued that we must treat people as an end in themselves not as a means to an end.

Here is a picture of Kant thinking

Henrietta – Said she had been discussing with a friend the reason why some people like animals and others don’t. She said that there didn’t seem to be any definite reason. It didn’t appear to be anything to do with growing up with animals, or being an only child or anything. We discussed this. I said that this was surprising to me as I always thought that I liked animals because I grew up with them, but on reflection this didn’t seem to hold true.

Sue – Talked about finding sympathy pathetic and revolting. She said that when she was younger she looked for sympathy (and noticed this tendency in the kids she used to teach) and then realised that in fact what she didn’t want people to feel sorry for her, she wanted people’s respect. For her, this is the difference between sympathy and empathy.

Rose – Talked about how we distort our stories sometimes to get sympathy. Something that rang true for everyone present at that point of the conversation.

We talked about the idea that indulging in sympathy makes other’s pain something that is about yourself, while engaging with empathy is about dealing the reality of that person’s pain. Which might be a really hard / distressing thing to do.

This also led us to discuss the idea of that giving to charity can be an act of self interest.

Which led us to conclude that human beings are extremely complex creatures.

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