The ship’s hold was a cramped place for the children on the Mayflower. They had few toys, if any, and no place to run about to burn off the excess energy that children seem to be supplied with in abundance.
As far as we know, it was a long tedious voyage for all the pilgrims who crossed the Atlantic Ocean. And children were expected to do a fair day’s work for their parents, and weren’t even allowed to sit down in the presence of their elders unless they were told they could do so. They were expected to take care of the animals that their families had brought along to start their new settlement, fowl or perhaps a goat, a pig, or sheep, maybe even a cow, if they were lucky, to look after during the long journey.
I like to think that this gave the children license to dream. Did they talk to the animals? Did they milk the cows or goats? This direct connection to the family’s animals must have shown them that doing their chores well meant a decent dinner, provided by their healthy farmyard friends.
Few of us think beyond the grocery store as far as where our food comes from today. The Mayflower voyagers’ very existence depended upon their animals, upon the livestock which provided food for their families. Today our dependence on animals is largely recreational, (excepting farmers, of course). People don’t expect the family dog to provide a meal, nor the family’s cat to protect the grain stored for future meals. Our pets are just for pleasure. We view them as personalities inside the family structure, somewhat like children, although with a language barrier for the most part.
There are plenty of animals in today’s world waiting for someone kind-hearted enough to take them in. It’s estimated that 3-4 million pets are given up yearly in the U.S. A huge percentage of the pets surrendered to animal shelters every year never make it to a comfortable home. According to the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy which surveyed shelters in the U.S., 55 percent of dogs and 71 percent of cats surrendered each year are euthanized.
Those statistics are just numbers to many of us.
We have no life dependence on our pets. But that doesn’t mean we should view animals as disposable creatures. In the spirit of the season, let us give thanks for our pets – and hope that our caring for them will spur us to make it possible for a decent life for animals less fortunate than those we know and love.