Sunday, July 31, 2011

Disability, Animals and Camping

I’ve been thinking a bit about disability lately. I have a student in my class who’s in a wheelchair, and we’ve talked in class about issues surrounding disability, including how definitions of “normality” are often socially constructed. But what of disability in non-human animals? How do other animals see or understand disability, normality, or bodily integrity?

I currently live with three disabled animals. Molly came to me three years ago with one leg missing—from what, I don’t know. She’s never been very mobile, but as she’s gotten older, she’s gone completely immobile. She just lays down wherever I put her, and scoots a little bit towards the food, but that’s it. Then there’s Audrey, who arrived here in the Spring from California with a broken back. She was surrendered to an animal shelter as a baby; I am guessing that someone in her human family dropped her, severing her fragile spine. Luckily she was rescued by the volunteers at Zooh Corner Rabbit Rescue and lovingly cared for by a veterinarian there before she was transported to New Mexico to my house. And just this last week, one of my youngest rabbits, Junior, began experiencing a lack of muscle coordination. It has now gotten so bad that he can only stand for brief amounts of time before he falls over, like a fainting goat.

When other people see that I, or friends of mine, care for disabled animals, they often feel sorry for them. Oh what a sad bunny! But what they don’t see is, at least in rabbits like Audrey, is a fierce determination and a desire to do all the same things that she sees everyone around her doing. She has a cart that she rides around the house in, although she has now chewed through her harness twice. I have to find her a new one that she can’t destroy, and in the meantime, she scoots around whenever she can on the floor.

This weekend we took out our little trailer and went for an overnight camping trip. As usual, we took our four Chihuahuas and our parrot, who began joining us last year when she got sick, and we realized at that time how much she loved traveling; now we bring her with us whenever we go. This time we also brought Audrey, Molly and Junior. While both Molly and Junior were sort of confused by the whole experience, they were good sports, and ate and drank in their new environment like always. Audrey, on the other hand, loved the trip. She spent the first couple of hours in the extra large litterbox/bed which we brought for the three bunnies, but once she realized she could climb out of it (those front legs of hers are strong!), she spent the rest of the trip on the floor of the trailer, exploring.

Another camper came by and saw Audrey through the door to the trailer, and couldn’t believe we’d brought a rabbit camping with us. She didn’t realize that she was disabled, which is good, because it saved me from having to tell the whole story about her and from having to reassure this stranger that she was okay. But on the other hand, maybe having more people see “differently abled” bunnies like Audrey out camping with the family, enjoying the sunshine and fresh air, would help to dispel the idea that disabled animals don’t enjoy life, or worse, don’t even deserve to live.