Why a wolf’s place is not in the kitchen…

The fad for owning animals from films is a reflection of humans’ disrespect for nature

18 July 2015

9:00 AM

18 July 2015

9:00 AM

Wolves have powerful symbolic meanings for humans. They are part of the mythology that defines us: Little Red Riding Hood, Romulus and Remus, the wargs in Tolkien, Mother Wolf in The Jungle Book, Maugrim in The Chronicles of Narnia. Wolves have profound resonance for us all.

Wolves intermittently break out in the stories we tell and are told; currently they have been doing their stuff in Game of Thrones and Twilight. And as Miss Jean Brodie said, for those who like that sort of thing, that is the sort of thing they like.

But do we really have to take the next step and fill our homes with wolves? Apparently we do. Since these entertainments entered British consciousness, there has been a great surge in demand for the wolf-iest dogs: huskies, malamutes and Saarloos.

Fair enough, if you feed them vast quantities of the right food and walk them for miles every day and build your life around their needs. Otherwise not. With the inevitability of night following day, animal welfare organisations like the Dogs Trust and Blue Cross report that wolfy dogs are being abandoned in unprecedented numbers. Battersea Cats and Dogs Home took in 66 huskies in just six months of last year. A six-day-old child was apparently mauled to death by her parents’ malamute, which takes folly to another level.

But there’s no end to our folly when it comes to animals. On fine days in ponds in certain parts of Britain you can watch red-eared terrapins emerge and bask in the sun. They came to Britain because of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. This was a manufactured craze involving comic books, cartoons, toys and films and the first wave hit us in the 1990s. Many people responded by buying baby terrapins: darling little things the size of a 50p piece. Alas, they can grow to the size of dinner-plates. When they got too much for their owners they were abandoned in ponds and lakes in city parks to gorge on tadpoles. A new Ninja Turtles film was released last year and the RSPCA was moved to issue a warning to parents against buying them as pets for a new generation of children. A few years ago an angler pulled a four-stone alligator-snapping turtle from Solihull reservoir.

The Harry Potter books and films inspired many families to get a Hedwig of their own: owls became fad-pets. An owl can live 20 years in captivity; they require commitment, proper feeding and will tend to decorate the ground beneath their perch in the most liberal fashion. Inevitably, there is now a parliament of unwanted owls across the country, one that was opened when their real nature proved a sore disappointment to the silly people who took them on.

Naturally, those who work in wildlife conservation try to find a meaningful use for our confusion between real and fictional animals. They hope that our fleeting interest in, say, the comedic lemurs in the Madagascar series of children’s films will lead to an interest in the nearly 60 species of real lemurs on the island. London Zoo now has a walk-through lemur enclosure. So, for that matter, does my local zoo at Kessingland in Suffolk; and here, I have seen how the athleticism of real animals can encourage a better understanding and a sense of ‘oneness’ with the non-human world.

Meerkats, similarly, were once familiar only to zoologists, but they’re now a must-have exhibit in many zoos. This can be traced to the influential wildlife documentary Meerkat Manor, and it gathered force when meerkats were used in a series of silly advertisements for the insurance-comparison site Compare the Market with the slogan ‘Compare the Meerkat!’

This is all very silly — an entirely frivolous way of dealing with living animals. This confusion between fictional and real animals doesn’t say much for our understanding of the world or of the creatures we share it with. The animal-as-toy notion has become part of national life and is inevitably followed by the animal-as-garbage phenomenon. Welfare organisations pick up the pieces.

But this is something more than an animal welfare issue. It’s not just about the relatively small number of daft people who fill their homes with wolves, terrapins and owls. That is just the extreme manifestation of something that lies deep in all humans and it is the idea that all non-human animals are ours to treat as we will: without any need for rights, consideration or common sense. They don’t matter. They can be cuddly toys, they can be jokes, they can be anything we want.

We are only just beginning to realise that our notions about the disposable nature of non-human species ultimately threaten not just their existence, but our own. We have extirpated vast acreages of forest and only comparatively recently learned that forest is important to the long-term interests of humankind: for carbon sequestration, flood prevention and regulation of the atmosphere. There is a continuum between the pet wolf and the degradation of the planet we live on. Some scientists now routinely refer to the current epoch as the ‘Anthropocene’, to reflect the idea that the human-worked changes to the planet are so far-reaching that they must be recognised in scientific terminology.

What links the wolf in the kitchen to the Anthropocene epoch is silliness. It starts with an inability to consider the interests of any species beyond our own and it ends up prejudicing the interests of our own species.

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  • cyberian2 .

    Animals really belong in their native environment. Citifying them is a huge mistake as people find out. Huskies and malamutes have very unique needs and temperment as well as a huge dose of devilment. They take a very unique person to live with them……YES…you live with them….NOT they live with you!

    • blandings

      It’s horses for courses surely.
      Dogs are domesticated and different breeds have different characteristics. I would think that some are suitable for an urban environment and others are not.
      Huskies are obviously working animals and not house pets and I become very familiar with Border Collies on a friends farm in France. Wonderful animals – happy to take you on long walks through the wood and fields and lead you home again when they decide you’ve had enough. Never leave the farm without a collie or two was my motto. I think they would go crazy if you locked them up indoors.

      • magi83

        Yes, the old arguments about how dogs behave in their ‘natural environments’ is a bit misleading. What we are really talking about are retained wild behaviours that are no longer useful or desirable in a domesticated animal. There’s nothing ‘natural’ about modern dog breeds. They have been created through countless generations of selective breeding.

        The majority of popular breeds have until recently been working breeds. The reason Retriever breeds make such good pets is that they are relatively new breeds that were bred for their friendly and playful temperaments as well as working ability. My Goldens love to run amok in the open field and can walk for hours on end but they can equally spend endless hours happily curled up at my feet.

  • cyberian2 .

    Wolves in the kitchen????? Not a great idea……they curl up under your feet and turn cooking into a dangerous affair. If you leave the kitchen for a second…you lose your diner!!!!! I know……I’ve been around several.

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    “Why, Grandma, what big …. you’ve got.”

  • davidshort10

    Even dogs. In Fulham, I see so many dogs, ‘owned’ by well-off families, the yummy mummy ones with spoilt, blonde children. They seem like a fashion accessory, but in truth it’s cruel to have a dog in London.

  • Suzy Que

    In total agreement. But as an interim, albeit less perfect & temporary, solution to the cruel roadblocks to save these important wolf species, wouldn’t it be possible for vetted devoted fostering at private homes with decently fenced-in acreage & habitat-like surroundings be helpful in preserving wolves (perhaps even in secret) until the powers-that-be finally come around. We may otherwise lose entire species while we wait. I realize that my idea is probably not something you’ve never thought about.

  • trace9

    Some stay with me: I have not got
    Ne’r liveth I as nature’s cot
    I pull them near that hate the knot
    Dear friends would love: though these cannot.

    Yes it’s all pennyrot & conceit, Sime. All we should do is disappear pronto, before we do anyway.

  • magi83

    The point can be made more generally with regards to dogs. Huskies and Malamutes are still domesticated and aren’t really wolf like in their behaviour (which you would quickly discover if you tried to rear a gray wolf in your home!).

    The problem is that prospective owners don’t carry out sufficient research before they purchase a dog and buy for dubious reasons. Buying the wrong dog for you and your family is a recipe for misery – for you and the dog.

    Novice dog owners (who are prepared to commit the time to exercising their dog) should always opt for a sporting breed. There’s a reason these breeds are the most popular. They are friendly and (if well bred) have non aggressive temperaments. Issues in these breeds stem from haphazard breeding so make sure you buy from a reputable breeder.

    Unless you are an experienced and confident owner, do not buy a Rotweiller, German Shepherd, any Mastiff breed, Bull Terrier or any more ‘exotic’ breeds. Dogs from such breeds will not necessarily give you problems, but if they do are you willing to put in the time and effort to fix behavioural issues in a dog that is potentially dangerous to others or even yourself and your family?