Today I got upset. I don’t get angry very easily but today I got angry. I am a huge animal lover. I love animals and I feel sick to my stomach whenever I hear about animal abuse in the news. I love my cat to bits, I even love the local pigeons and I wouldn’t even kill a mosquito. Life is precious and it is something to be valued and to be respected. Today I was in total shock when I discovered how many people are okay with animal abuse, even when they are standing by and watching it happen up close and nearby.
I was having dinner at the Heineken Square. It’s a lovely place to watch the sun set. There are lots of pigeons here and, even though I know lots of people consider them pests, I like them and I just consider them part of the city. As usual, there are kids running around the square. Three boys are chasing the pigeons. They are running after the pigeons and trying to hit them in the air. This is not an uncommon sight here. When I look more closely, I see the kids are trying to corner the pigeons and trying to catch them with their hands. Then I see one of the kids catching a pigeon and proudly holding him up in his hands. The three boys run off to the local Irish pub and looking all proud they show the pigeon to their parents who are drinking pints.
Quickly after the three boys walk off to the garbage containers, one of the kids is still holding the pigeon in his hands, and I am sitting quite far away but I think I see one of the kids opening up something and then the bird is gone. I tell myself they wouldn’t have done any harm to the bird. They probably have let it go. They are just kids. They are playing around. But it just doesn’t sit well with me.
The boys run off into the square and start chasing the pigeons again. They are beating their fists in the air and are trying to catch them again. A young couple walks by and tells them off. They are quiet for a very short while but as soon as the couple disappears from sight, they run off again to catch the birds. I am still looking around for that pigeon that seems to have disappeared. We even walk up to the garbage containers and look inside but we see nothing out of the ordinary. I tell myself I probably didn’t see things right but deep down inside I am convinced something is wrong and that pigeon I saw before is in trouble.
The boys keep going at it, chasing the birds around, and they even end up chasing some birds on our terrace. That’s when I can no longer look away. I tell them to stop chasing and catching the birds, that they are frightening the birds and to please leave the birds alone. The three boys are British boys. The youngest boy looks around seven years old and the oldest boy around 11. One of the older boys gets mad at me for telling him off. He is indignant and tells me it’s fun to chase the birds. He is having fun and I don’t get to tell him what to do. I try to explain that the birds are frightened, that they are just animals doing their own thing and that they deserve some peace and quiet. You wouldn’t like it if somebody was chasing or scaring you, now would you?
The boys get mad and start picking a fight. One of them gets really bossy: “You don’t get to decide what I do. You don’t own me. And if you don’t shut up, I’ll send my father your way”. That’s when I tell them, we have something called animal rights here and, if they don’t stop doing what they do, I am calling the police. One of them grabs my arm and freaks out: ‘Please don’t call the police.’ The other boy continues to shout at me: “You don’t own me. I do whatever I please. I tell my father and he will come for you. He will chase you. Just like the pigeons.”
Then I look around at all the people around me on the terrace. They look shocked, not at the boys but at us for telling these boys off. I hear some of them say: “Oh God, just leave those boys alone”. One of the girls at the other tables tells the boys to just go away. The boys then run off to their dad, who cheers them on, and a few minutes later the boys come back with a vengeance. They got some money from their dad and have used it to buy some bread at the supermarket. They are now using the bread to lure the birds in so they can catch them more easily. The boys are cornering the pigeons and they keep looking at us all cocky while they are at it, as if to tell us ”Look at us. Nobody tells us what to do. We do whatever we want”. As they are beating in the air at the pigeons and trying to catch them, a guy parking his bike nearby tells them off again. They are quiet again for a moment but when the guy disappears, they turn around right away and start hitting at the birds again.
As we are eating dinner, I can’t keep my eyes of those boys. I am worried. Then I see them near the garbage containers again. The three of them are standing there with two little girls in pink dresses and they are all smiling big smiles. I think: “Perhaps they are just playing now”. They all run off to be with their parents, who are leaving the pub. Two British families on a holiday.
But my gut feeling keeps telling me something is off. The whole situation just doesn’t seem right. After dinner we go back to the garbage containers again. Things look normal but I just want to make sure things are all right. Then I see a couple of closed cardboard boxes stacked on top of each other. I open them up, one by one. They are all filled with pigeon droppings but there are no pigeons in sight. I hope the pigeons got away but then I reach the bottom box and, when I open the box, I discover a scared pigeon covered in its own shit. The pigeon looks so scared. Instead of escaping right away, it doesn’t even move an inch. When we encourage it on, it finally flies off into a tree.
I can’t stand animals getting hurt or people treating animals as if they are less than them. I wonder what will come of these boys. Boys that are taught that animals are there just for their own fun. Boys that are taught that it’s okay to scare animals and to even hurt them. Boys that, when told to leave animals alone by adults repeatedly, still continue to chase them.
I am pretty sure this pigeon would have died if it had stayed in that closed box for a few more hours. It scares me to think I live in a world where parents cheer boys on to hurt and even kill animals for fun. Three boys and two little girls in pink dresses from the age of 5 to 10 all thought it was fun to lock a pigeon in a box so it couldn’t escape and would eventually suffocate. They all walked away smiling and they never came back. This just blows me away. What is wrong here? And why am I one of the few people out there who thinks this is deeply disturbing?
As a young kid growing up, animals rocked my world. And they still do. As a kid, I was always ‘fighting’ for animal rights. When I was the same age as these kids, I was a completely different person. It’s hard to even imagine myself being in their shoes. How could they even think that what they were doing is okay? The boys did not consider their behaviour as harmful and they took no responsibility for it. I didn’t manage to get them to understand that the life of these animals, of any animal, is precious, and that leaving these pigeons alone could be considered an act of love. The boys couldn’t see how much these birds were like them. They couldn’t imagine their fear and distress. Out of my love for animals, I couldn’t look away when these boys were hurting these pigeons. I am so happy I followed my gut and opened up those boxes so I could help this pigeon escape. Animals are not things. I know most people in cities don’t like pigeons very much, but no animal deserves to be hurt in the name of fun.