Since we were both enjoying a rare day off from work, my wife and I went to the Indianapolis Zoo on Sunday to relax, check out the visiting koala bears and unwind after a stressful week.

We both couldn’t have been more delighted with the zoo, although the koalas were sound asleep when we stopped by and the tigers and kangaroos were also taking their afternoon naps as well, not wanting to interrupt their slumber to entertain us.

It didn’t matter, though; we were transfiMy wife has a knack for making perceptive comments, though, and midway through our visit, she turned to me and said that zoos made her sad because some of the animals seemed to know that they were slaves being kept for human entertainment.

Seeing beautiful creatures such as dolphins and elephants being forced to perform tricks on command is a bit depressing and demeaning to both the animals and the audience. Who are we to tell an elephant to lie down on command, just because a family from Goshen, watching from a distance, wants it to do so? What gives us that right?

This isn’t a criticism of the Indy Zoo, which is one of the finest in the nation. It’s more a point of gradually realizing that there could be a moral price to pay for keeping vast numbers of animals in captivity solely for our pleasure.

Such thoughts would have been unimaginable a century ago, when killing animals to the point of extinction wasn’t even given a second thought. It would have seemed like a deluded hippie illusion even 25 years ago to suggest that keeping animals captive brings up complex moral questions.

But I believe we are in the midst of a dramatic re-evaluation of our interactions with, and our relationship to, animals in general, and zoo animals in particular.

As science keeps revealing secrets to us about the complexities and intricacies of animals once believed to be thoughtless beasts, our perceptions about them are evolving.

Nobody can convince me that Soja, our beloved gray cat, is unable to feel joy and express love. She is as soulful and caring as many humans I’ve met, and much more than some. When my wife is ill, as she was last week, Soja becomes a nervous wreck, keeping a bedside vigil, gazing at her with concern and constantly snuggling up to her. Soja keeps offering her head to be petted, hoping that there is some restorative power in her love. You know what? There probably is.

And the love I feel for my animal companions is as abiding and unconditional as that I feel for just about any human. Plenty of people have hurt and betrayed me, but no animal ever has. In my opinion, cruelty to animals should be punished just as severely, and maybe even more so, than cruelty to humans.

Just about every day, I see the horse-drawn carriages downtown. And while I know that these animals are treated humanely, it still saddens me to see tourists chattering in the backseat while the horses dutifully trudge their cargo through traffic with what, to me, looks like saddened resignation to their fate.

Until I give up eating animal products, I realize it makes me a hypocrite to complain about our treatment of the creatures with whom we share the earth. My concern for the welfare of cattle does not yet exceed my love of steak.

And I’m not against zoos. They are easily accessible venues at which we can observe the endlessly fascinating examples of the miraculous creations of God. I’m not even against horse-drawn carriages.

I guess I’m just saying that I wish most people saw animals more as colleagues to be respected and less as slaves to be imprisoned.


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