Where do animal rights end and human rights begin?

That is a question that came to the forefront last week as the U.S. Department of Agriculture captured and killed a gaggle of geese that interfered with the pristine and scenic boat launch and beach on Messalonskee Lake in Oakland.

Were I still teaching high school, I would use the issue as fodder for a good classroom debate.

Yes, picnicking or lying on a beach peppered with goose droppings is distasteful — there’s no question about it.

One would want the geese to fly away, never to return.

But telling the geese to shoo won’t do much to resolve such a problem.

So, the option was to find another solution.

Mine would have been to get my brother, Matt, to corral them into a big cage, hoist it onto his pickup truck and drive it to some lake far, far away and set them free.

When we were kids, that was a simple solution to a lot of critter problems, although there were times the ones that got into our vegetable garden faced immediate death by shotgun. That’s just what people did in those days. An animal raided an important human food source, and humans, being the more intelligent and powerful animals, made a unilateral decision to seal their fate.

As kids we were constantly squishing spiders and ants beneath our sneakers, swatting flies, slapping mosquitoes.

We didn’t think twice about it, especially when we faced the prospect of a bite or sting.

They have no brains, we were told. They’re inconsequential, a nuisance and therefore, expendable.

Back then, someone who claimed we should never kill anything was considered fanatic. We Mainers looked at animal rights activists as extreme. After all, people need to eat. Meat, fish and fowl are nutritious, and it’s natural that we consume them. Those who believed in creationism said God put animals on the earth for our consumption, and it was perfectly legitimate to eat them.

A lot of poor people in Maine counted on deer, bear, fish and chickens to feed their families. They packed their freezers for the long, cold winter.

I recall a film we were shown in high school that explained the necessity of thinning the deer herd, as many would starve to death if we did not do so.

That made an impression on me. While I thought deer were too beautiful to kill, I understood why they had to die prematurely.

It wasn’t until I grew older and people I was close to died that my heart started ruling my head.

If I saw a spider, for instance, skirting across a window sill, instead of crushing it, I’d scoop it up in a piece of tissue paper and toss it out the door. I started brushing ants aside, swooshing flies out the window.

Who was I to make the decision to end their lives, just because I was bigger and could?

At the same time, I continued eating meat and poultry and enjoying fish. And squashing mosquitoes on my arm. Was that hypocritical?

Sometimes, when I slice apart a chicken, I think “What am I doing? This seems so barbaric,” yet I’ve consumed fowl for a lifetime, and why stop now?

Still, I cringe at documentaries revealing the inhumane ways we breed chickens and cows for market, while continuing to consume both.

I understand why people choose to be vegetarian or vegan. You’ll hear no judgment pass my lips on that decision. I have utmost respect for people who have the courage of their convictions there.

I’m not sure what to think about my waffling thoughts concerning animals and humans and who should have the upper hand. In this human vs. critter debate, there seems to be no black and white.

My gut tells me we should coexist in harmony — live and let live — and I guess that, for the most part, we do.

Yet, we tear around our lakes on boats and other motorized watercraft, frightening loons and threatening their habitat. A wild bear fearing our infringement on their territory, or a threat to their young, will instinctively tear us to shreds.

It makes sense, if a gaggle of Canada geese, no matter how lovely, is making a mess of our exquisite landscape, that we would want them gone.

But killing, rather than relocating them, seems immediately cruel — and thoughtless.

Doesn’t it?

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 26 years. Her column appears here Mondays. She may be reached at [email protected]


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