The spaying and neutering of animals in American came up in conversation last night. An exceedingly strange conversation to have with Georgians.
While talking to my mom on Skype, my cat had wandered into the room and, of course, has been lifted up to the camera so I could have the pleasure of seeing her from afar. I was reporting this to my host sister and how I was always a little worried that she would get sick while I was gone. My sister asked if my cat had kittens. So that if I happened to lose the mother, at least I might have a next generation to enjoy. No, I explained. She had been spayed before I got her. This was a very surprising piece of information to my family. Really? Why?
This was followed by a long, broken explanation that seemed to involve an exponential growth in cats, all the bad things that could happen to all these cats, and the expense of feeding and caring for them. A person could not keep so many cats. They would be homeless, no family.
There was some head-nodding. Some of my points struck a chord. But this act of surgery still seemed to overwhelm them a bit. Expensive, yes? And all for a . . . cat?
I realized that this conversation was more me trying to justify the American institution of pet-dom than the concept of animal population control. And not just pets, but also our anthropomorphologizing of animals in general. I tried to explain that our animals are like family: we give them special food, take them to doctors, let them sleep on our beds, some even clothe their animals. Grandma Neli’s forehead became more and more furrowed as this explanation continued. Everything I’m saying is probably supporting already established ideas of Western decadence. Dogs wearing clothing? They’re mad! All of them!
Pets, with everything that means in America, does not seem to exist in Georgia. A sweeping generalization, I know. It’s possible this anti-pet sentiment is a village thing or a regional thing. Maybe city people have pets. I don’t live there so I don’t know. Probably it’s just nowhere near as common as it is in the States. A safer statement, for sure. Now that I think of it, I seem to recall walking past a veterinary office in Tbilisi.
It’s just that I haven’t met a single animal I would consider a “pet” by Western standards.
I understand the detachment of villagers towards their cows, sheep, and assorted poultry. After all, these are animals intended for eating. And we eat them regularly. But there seem to be few warm emotions for canines and felines. Cats are exceedingly rare in my village. I know of only three. Dogs are fairly common, but they do not sleep inside and are not caressed or cooed over. The average Georgian seems to react with distaste and fear if a dog approaches them. They are angrily shooed away. A few students have dogs they seem to genuinely care for.
I think I had never really realized how different our perceptions of animals were until that moment. Standing in my Georgian kitchen, trying to understand why I would not want my cat to breed freely, why I felt so responsible for her well-being, and why thinking of the possibility of her death brings me to tears.
Worlds apart, baby. World apart.