Anything that needs caging isn’t for me

Editor’s note: Anthony is taking a few weeks off, so we’re running this column from 2007.

At the house of a friend recently, I noticed a pair of parakeets in a cage. Since they seemed too small to eat, I figured they were pets. He got them for his daughter when she comes to visit, and their care was up to him, the way it often goes with pets for children.

Princeton University’s first online definition of a pet is “a domesticated animal kept for companionship or amusement.” The second definition is “darling: a special loved one,” something altogether different.

My first pet was Trixie, a brown dog. I was very small and remember mostly her name, not her personality. I’ve had other dogs since—Penny and Tag and a stray collie whose name I’ve forgotten, and the Best Dog in the World, Spock, whom I essentially married.

I had a parakeet for a while as a lad, and for a day or so a thoroughly doomed lizard I got at a rodeo when I was 7.

Children like pets, and when my boys were little we had a dog they ignored until it was time to go for a walk, and we went through a succession of goldfish until the novelty wore off.

I can understand having a special loved one for companionship or amusement, even another species, but I no longer have the stomach for keeping another creature captive.

An animal I have to restrain so it doesn’t run or fly or crawl away isn’t a special loved one so much as an inmate, and I don’t approve of captivity. If the thing wants to go away, I want it to go.

I like parakeets—they’re cute enough, and I love the little sounds they make, like a lot of other people apparently. But I don’t want to encourage others to breed birds and then clip their wings so they can’t escape easily and force them to spend their lives in a cage for somebody’s amusement. I’m not gonna protest and picket, mind you, but I don’t want to participate in what strikes me as punishment.

Some years ago when my boys were little, they asked me why the polar bear at the Como Zoo in Saint Paul was swimming the same pattern in his pool, over and over for as long as we stood there looking at it. I explained that I thought the bear was probably insane. An animal that’d normally be in the wild perhaps hundreds of miles from any people was in effect in jail for no reason other than so people could look at it. It had been sentenced to life in prison and would never be free to be bearish on its own. I don’t want such a fate for a bear or a person or a parakeet.

My attitude toward other species of animals is about the same as my attitude toward plants in my yard. They’ve got to sustain themselves, and I’ll try not to get in the way.