Art & Writing by Christina M. Turner


Domesticated Animals

A few years ago we somehow got a chipmunk in our house.  It wasn't much bigger than a mouse, but it was much faster, much stronger, and much smarter.  It must have been great at finding food, because it pooped everywhere. Our cat was good at keeping an eye on the guy, but wouldn't move a muscle to catch him.  He'd just watch him steadily, and then look up at us like, well, are you gonna do something about this or not?

I scoured the internet to figure out what others who found themselves in such a situation did to dechipmunk their homes. "Chipmunks want to be in your house less than you want them there," one blog proclaimed. "Simply leave the door open and they'll run out!"  I stood in our front yard for an hour and a half watching the door, and after shooing away about five new chipmunks that tried to enter, it was time for plan B.

I went to Home Depot for a Havihart Trap, and the guy who offered to walk me to that part of the store kept trying to explain to me that chipmunks were wild animals, and that I couldn't keep him as a pet.  I kept attempting to clarify that the chipmunk was ALREADY IN MY HOME, and I was trying to get him OUT, but he wasn't having any of it.  "They're not going to help you do housework, or keep you company."

Encountering chipmunks on trails or even in walks around the block spooked me for about six months afterwards.  I had never been that close to one, let alone a terrified one, trapped in an isolated, otherwise controlled environment.  In my house this cute, ubiquitous thing had become an agent of chaos, a spotlight on the flimsy construction my illusion of control is within my own home.

This is how they see me at Home Depot, or, at least, how they imagine I see myself.

This is how they see me at Home Depot, or, at least, how they imagine I see myself.

Cats are fairly wild for domesticated animals.  The leading theory is that they domesticated themselves: that about the time humans figured out farming, rodents figured out they could live better in the margins of human society than in the wild; and the more social cats followed the rodents into town.  People took more of a shining to cats than rodents, and here we are.

This seems entirely plausible to me, as my cat seems to insist that he is exactly as domesticated as he chooses to be, thank you very much. I had taken to giving my cat little tastes of whatever I was eating whenever he seemed interested, and mistook his affection for food for affection for me.  Now if I deny him tastes, he flashes me a look that unmistakably says "You better hope I die first or I will eat your face" before suddenly being very interested in grooming his paw, and then sauntering off like the exchange never occurred.

Even as I write this, it's like he knows I am telling tales on him; he's reappeared out of nowhere to cuddle up so very sweetly next to me.

Our relationship with animals is a lot like our relationship with Science Fiction: our end is born out of an informed projection, a hope that one set of things means another.  And over time, somehow a number of these hopeful trust falls results in the very future we had hoped to create.  We think we know what animals are thinking, because we extrapolate how we would feel, we see their actions and laugh when we see ourselves, are troubled when we something something else, something wild.