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Kids, Animals, Death

November 4, 2014

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGrowing up on the farm I knew animals died, sometimes from illness or injury, sometimes expected, sometimes not. I see people online horrified that children have been exposed to the death of animals, but some that want to expose them further, charging cruelty for wearing leather or fur. Animal rights targets kids to get to the parents, as well as get to the next generation.

The thing is, often kids are more accepting of death than adults. A recent article on discussing euthanasia with children made me think beyond that example.

I think of early exposure growing up on the farm. We learned early that guns killed – coyotes, deer, sick cattle. It was matter of fact but stressed that if we point a gun at something we should be prepared to eat it or have a good reason for ending the life. Sparrows were BB gun practice, but songbirds and game birds off limits.

I grew up knowing that on a regular basis a lower notch cow or other bovine would be hauled off and come back as ground beef and steaks. If a heifer didn’t breed in a reasonable amount of time she left. When a show cow purchase prolapsed during calf (Insides were outside) the vet tried unsuccessfully for a different solution than burger. There was no alternative but Charolais beef in the freezer.

Children raised around the life and death facts know more than adults in some ways. I’ve seen toddlers jump and ask for “bunnyburgers” while adults protest rabbit meat. Members of 4-H know what will happen to market projects. Connor knows how to dress out rabbits and chickens from start to finish. Taking a life doesn’t have long term residual harm, because he understands it’s for food, or eliminating suffering. He has learned to look for the cause of death of rabbits if we have one that “dies without permission” but was not showing signs of illness. Sometimes there’s telltale signs of coccidia with spots on the liver. He’s learned to identify on both species heart, lungs and other organs not from a book but from processing animals.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASome see that as a negative thing. Some find no issue with attacking and threatening children who are learning to put food on the table beyond the grocery store, be it hunting or fishing or raising their own food.

Animals die. Some have been mentioned on the pages of the blog. The loss of Bess was heartbreaking. Even knowing it prevented her suffering and frustration at not being able to get around, it is hard to make that decision. Her absence is still felt, but now Belle has joined us – she’s bigger than previous border collies, and some day we’ll lose her too. It doesn’t stop caring for them now. It doesn’t stop the absolute joy as she races to the back to check on the funny looking furred things that aren’t afraid of her.

When the animals see another one dead it doesn’t seem to distress them. We, as adults, often seem to have a fear of death. It surrounds us yet for many is repulsive too. Headlines reveal reduced deaths from whatever ill, yet we’re still going to die. Most of us don’t have a choice when that will be.

Early attitudes about death can make a difference. The reasons are many, the finality certain. Those animals raised for meat can still be treated with kindness. Those providing other food are just as important. No matter how good the care, animals die. No matter how much disease prevention and wonder foods we eat we are still, someday, going to die.

We hope children never have to face more than a pet dying, but too often it’s more than a pet lost. It’s a sibling or parent. There are age appropriate conversations and the right time to talk about it. Take the time. Without fear, with respect and remembering better times. It makes the losses a little easier to bear.

Even if just for meat.

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