Among AnimalsPosted by Jennifer Molidor, ALDF Staff Writer on October 30, 2014
As the fall days grow shorter and the leaves shimmer in their glory amidst the dusky hue of October, now is the time to curl up with a good book featuring stories about animals. Among Animals: The Lives of Animals and Humans in Contemporary Short Fiction will satisfy literary longings as well as interests in nonhuman animal lives. The brand new collection comes to us from Ashland Creek Press, edited by John Yunker—author of the animal and eco-themed novel The Tourist Trail—and features stories by sixteen entertaining writers on diverse topics in the animal world, from the human point of view.
The collection takes us into the exotic worlds of creatures most of us wouldn’t encounter without a long journey and a pricy excursion. In “The Ecstatic Cry,” author Midge Raymond sets her story in Antarctica where even for a lonely and isolated scientist studying a rare penguin colony, the environment is brimming with quiet life… and cold water.
“Emperors don’t build nests; they live entirely on fast ice and in the water, never setting foot on solid land… the female lays her egg, then scoots it over to the male and takes off, traveling a hundred miles across the frozen ocean to open water and swimming away to forage for food….
When the female emperor returns, she uses a signature call to find her partner. Reunited, the two move in close and bob their heads toward each other, shoulder to shoulder in an armless hug, raising their beaks in what we call the ecstatic cry. Penguins are romantics. Most mate for life.”
Amidst these musings, a stranger appears… and disappears one night while our narrator is alone in the middle of nowhere. The story is an elegy to the love of this remote-living, romantic animal colony, and the death of love in humans.
The collection features other animals like emus, pelicans, dolphins, farmed birds, stray dogs, baby turtles, and spotlights their impact on the humans around them. “Bad Berry Season,” by Melodie Edwards is about a park ranger who must deal with the colliding worlds of wild bears and humans in a small town on the edge of wilderness.
“The faces of bears, once you’re used to looking at them, are expressive, each one singular and his own… Sweet talk can work on bruins the way it works on pets. Sometimes a bear will roll over and grin like a dog when you call. But this bear was in a pickle, cornered with people everywhere, no escape.”
In C.S. Malerich’s story “Meat,” a story sure to raise some brows, a young girl adopts an animal and names her Meat because her mother says “that’s what she’s going to be.” Over her mother’s resistance, the young narrator bonds with Meat, bathes with her, feeds her near the dining table, sleeps with her, all the way up to Meat’s slaughter, through the moment of death, later consuming Meat’s flesh, and ends with the unexpected impact this has on each individual family member.
“I whispered ‘good-bye’ in her ear. When I pulled away, she was confused. And then the butcher came up behind her with his stun gun, and his big hand was on her shoulder. She was still looking at me, and there was no more curiosity and no more confusion. Meat was scared.”
It’s a disturbing story worth reading because of the way it displays the problematic desire to consume animals without guilt, and the natural inclination animal lovers have for all animals who become like pets. Meat’s species is never fully identified, and for all we know she could be a pig, a goat… or a dog.
And that’s why Among Animals relates to the work the Animal Legal Defense Fund does in so many ways in stories of animal sentience, individual interests, personalities, and needs. These stories link in with our major caseloads, whether in recognizing animals as more than property, or the rights of wild animals to be free from human interference, or the egregious acts of cruelty on factory farms, or the need for administrative laws like the Endangered Species Act, Marine Mammal Protection Act, Animal Welfare Act, and state anti-cruelty laws. It raises questions of why some animals are viewed as pests, some are protected as pets, and some are slaughtered with few, if any, laws to protect them at all. As nonhuman animals, we live among other animals, and ALDF works to protect the rights of all animals within the legal system.