Editor’s Note: This essay was originally submitted as part of an application to law school. The author now is a practicing lawyer.
By Heidi M. Weber for Pet News and Views
Crack! A BB gun shot inside 3 meters at its target, shattered Miko’s vertebra causing his tail to hang limply. Our smallest, newest, and most aggressive cat, he had wandered into our neighbor’s front lawn to take care of business. As a neighbor and a former top student of mine, I didn’t suspect Mr. Price at all. I wasn’t there to witness his crime, but his fellow students heard him bragging about it months later. At the time, it was only Miko’s limp tail and a tell-tale puddle of blood near his food dish that alerted me that Miko was hurt.
He never complained. Time and again I have wished that animals could speak English. Since this incident, I have come to understand three things. First, animals like Miko do communicate, through actions and expressions that can be understood by anyone, if an effort is made to overlook the “language barrier” and focus on the individual. I noticed Miko never flicked his tail, never held it high to flaunt his top-cat status; it’s unusual for a new king cat not to promote himself. Together with the minute puddle of blood, something seemed wrong. Sure enough, the vet confirmed that a BB pellet seemed to be taking the place of one of Miko’s vertebra.
Second, I learned that since not every two-legged takes the time to observe the language of our four-legged compatriots, those of us who do have a responsibility to act upon our observances. Without medical care, it is nearly certain that I would have lost my newest cat, barely older than a kitten.
In advocacy, someone chooses to speak for another; in this case, I needed to act on behalf of my disabled victim. That’s when I realized a third insight: that I have this responsibility in a greater measure as well.
As a member of World Wildlife Fund, The Fund for Animals, Earthjustice, In Defense of Animals, and a host of other conservation and animal-advocacy organizations, I have felt the desire to push our agenda on the people of the world. It is not fair that the news media plagues our television, radio, and Internet with eternal stories of Iraq and the presidential election. While these issues are undeniably important, the time spent on them is disproportionate to the issues that affect the citizens of this great country and the people of the world. There needs to be a balance, and I found, as I fought for justice for our newest family member, that perhaps I could help tip the scales.
This led me back to school to earn a master’s in teaching, followed by credentials in California and certification in Massachusetts.
Learning that a former student, and a top one at that, could carelessly (and proudly) destroy the ability of his teacher’s cat to have a normal tail never struck me as funny in the way he found it. It discouraged my efforts to bring about positive change in the lives of the young while teaching English. Again I found myself spending more time advocating and learning about animals in our environment, trying to make a small difference where ever I could.
We were never able to indict our former neighbor. He was only a high-school student, and I’m not sure that would have been the best way to serve justice. His own behavior, after three DUIs and an assault on an officer, led him to consequences far stronger than I would have considered.
As a teacher I have learned to influence others in a structured system, and I have observed that teaching does not only happen in a classroom. Everywhere people are observing others and learning about the world through these observations. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said in Eyes on the Prize, “There comes a time when people get tired. We are here . . . to say to those who have mistreated us so long that we are tired—tired of being . . . humiliated; tired of being kicked about by the brutal feet of oppression. . . . For many years we have shown amazing patience. We have sometimes given our . . . brothers the feeling that we like the way we are being treated. But. . . one of the great glories of democracy is the right to protest for right. . . . That is our challenge and our overwhelming responsibility.”
I, too, have become tired, on behalf of those creatures who have been kicked about. I have become impatient. I want to learn to defend those who share our homes and our lives.
Heidi M. Weber practices law at Weber Law and Consulting in Oxford, MA.