Sunday, December 18, 2011

Town & Country (cruelty to animals)

Sometimes daily newspapers have to cast a wide net for their news, don’t they? Last week England’s Daily Mail reported that two men in a lamb-castrating speed-contest in Wyoming had become physically ill from removing lambs’ testicles with their teeth. I may have been one of a rather small number of readers whose immediate reaction was, “Gosh, Dad used to do that all the time, and it never made him sick.”

I mean, why should it?

There has always been a huge cultural difference between the customs of towns and countrysides. What counts as good, practical sense in rural settings is often frowned upon in urban ones, and vice versa. Until very recently, Cayman’s isolation made it “country” as opposed to urban. So one finds some significant differences in customs and attitudes, between native Caymanians and city-bred expats.

The political dominance of the native-born Caymanians more or less forces us immigrants to (pretend to) admire the old Island ways, and there is not much reciprocity. Caymanian community leaders are not the slightest bit interested in other places’ customs. If there were some meaningful reciprocity, the cultural divide would be a whole lot less than it is now.

Ever since the earliest settlements, Cayman has had sheep and goats. How did the old-time farmers castrate their lambs and kids, if not the way my father’s generation did it? Those things are too slippery to get a grip of, Dad reckoned. Around 1950, where we lived, the traditional method gave way to expandable rubber rings, by which means the expendable organs dropped off in the course of time - way too slow for speed contests like the one reported in the Daily Mail, of course, and probably not quite as certain.

Horses, too, fulfil different cultural wants in the countryside and in the towns. Town horses have riders with helmets on, leaping gracefully over formal obstacle courses. Country horses are vehicles for pulling ploughs or herding sheep and cattle. Older Caymanians, at least, will readily acknowledge the cultural gap the two usages reflect.

Dogs, too: workers in the country, pets and guard-dogs in towns. In the Caribbean, yard-dogs are a third category - neither pets nor guards, they’re encouraged to bark themselves stupid at all hours of day and night at anything that moves within half a mile. Immigrants from outside the region find yard-dogs an unpleasant novelty. We have one behind our house. It starts its mindless noise at five or six o’clock most mornings and continues for much of the rest of the day.

Country dogs are lucky not to get kicked into silence by their owners, whereas yard-dog owners exercise no control at all. They don’t make for good neighbours, in quiet middle-class areas. South Church Street is not quite as exclusive as Crystal Harbour, but it is middle-class enough for us residents to find a yard-dog a nasty cultural shock.

Cruelty to animals is not a universal constant. Tugging baby lambs’ balls out without anaesthetic seems cruel, to townies; leaving dogs alone to go mad with loneliness seems cruel by country standards. Forcing horses to jump the same hurdles over and over again is unnecessarily humiliating, from the country viewpoint; making them gallop unshod over rough ground and fallen trees while chasing breakaway cattle is disgracefully risky, from the urban viewpoint.

Which offenders most deserve the attention of a local Humane Society- my present neighbours and their lonely yard-dog, or my childhood neighbours and their dentally de-testefied lambs? Animal cruelty is defined by local judgments, I guess.