This essay was written by Molly Tamulevich. Molly is a self-described proud Michigander from Royal Oak, Michigan who advocates for both human and non-human animals. By day she works to promote fair housing. In her free time she photographs the secret lives of insects on Instagram @tamtamsituation.
I don’t know what to do with my master’s degree in Community Sustainability and Human-Animal Studies. Actually, to give you a peek into my mindset, I don’t know what the fuck to do with my master’s degree. I have this pithy story to tell you. I’ve had stories for years. It’s just that now, with the ten articles a day that I read about struggle and impact and all the phrases that designate a seething, insightful intellectual, I feel like I can’t tell this story without seeming pretentious to some and woefully childish to others. Here it goes:
My girlfriend and neighbor and I were sitting in the backyard eating dinner tonight when a rabbit hopped quietly by in the darkness. He paused, as rabbits do, and we cooed and sighed as he darted under the fence onto the cement of our building’s parking lot. Metal squeaked. The homeowner next door, a burly, stuffed-looking man, flung open his gate and let his German Shorthair Pointers bolt out in pursuit. The rabbit panicked and fled, zig zagging in mortal fear, shadows on shadows on shadows. My girlfriend yelled to him that he wasn’t being kind. I stood up and, in a rare moment of confrontation, asked what was wrong with him. Without a word, he whistled and the dogs returned. The trio retreated into the dark house, black curls of patchy back hair smeared across his turgid shoulders. The door closed. The rabbit presumably lived.
I don’t know what to do with my master’s degree. In 1903, Lizzy Lindaf Hageby and Leisa Schartau, two female anti-vivisectionists, attended classes at King’s and University College in London. They discovered that medical students were flagrantly violating anti-cruelty laws, repeatedly experimenting on animals without proper anesthetic, killing them, not with chloroform, but with knives through their hearts. The publication of their work ignited a powder keg of class division. Laborers who felt marginalized and mistreated by the scholarly elite banded together with animal rights activists, suffragettes, and other progressives of the era. A brown dog, the victim of some of the most egregious cruelty of the investigation, came to symbolize all of London’s downtrodden. Riots erupted. A statue of the dog was erected and then torn down. The women’s movement swelled. Medical students, the one percent of their day, resorted to throwing stink bombs and threatening dogs and women in the same breath, a link that we don’t have to look hard to find in our bitch-laden lexicon.
I know these facts. Know them well. I see the value in knowing this history and seeing the intersection of our shared oppressions. As the rabbit ran for his life tonight, my neighbor, my girlfriend, and I, all queer women, expressed our outrage. We were watching the Democratic National Convention. We were watching as one political party highlighted sub-group after sub-group of minorities and other disparaged groups: immigrants, gay people, people with disabilities, people with addictions, women. We had been talking about the hope we felt, the visibility we felt. We were laughing and connecting. We had even included the rabbit in our evening, tossing him a strawberry, which he ignored.
How is it that our side of the fence wanted to feed and nurture someone so small and different from us while the other side of the fence wanted to see it die for mere amusement? Animal advocates are often in a bind when we tackle this question. On one hand, we are told that we are too sensitive when we highlight the link between violence against humans and violence against other animals. This is particularly true when we step into the realm of systematic violence against farm animals, the ones that it’s socially acceptable to joke about hurting. On the other hand, people become touchy about intersectionality when we include the oppression of non-human animals. Referring to the non-consensual labor of animals as slavery is not welcomed in most progressive circles, and framing animal issues in terms that could be deemed anthropomorphic is grounds for total intellectual dismissal.
So what do I do with this fucking degree? I saw a man tonight who, believing himself to be alone, set his dogs on a small animal for sheer entertainment. How can I not link his behavior to past injustice and current politics? I may not be able to pinpoint how dangerous this man is, but I can certainly wave a red flag. What does it say about us when we see someone’s vulnerability and choose to exploit it for our own amusement? What does it say when we feel big when someone else is small? The people who championed the brown dog from 1903-1910 were attacked for voicing their opposition to the exploitation of the powerless. As a result, they formed an alliance of compassion, not without its flaws, but at its core, a movement that stated: See us as someone, not something.
I’ll leave the obvious political implications of this observation to your own interpretation. I’ll save you the succinct conclusion. If I use this degree for anything, it will be this:
A man is standing in the dark and he is stronger than you. He is watching. He will only act because you are alone and there is no one to keep him in check. Even the most fleeting moment of his entertainment is worth the entirety of your life. You run. The dogs come. The signs in his yard read: Trump Trump Trump Trump Trump.