The Privileged Cat
If one imagines the barnyard as a hierarchy of privilege to live according to one's animal impulses, the clear winner is the household cat. Through millennia of living with humans, cats have made the fewest compromises. We provide them a barnyard of mice, protection from predators, and regular bonus meals --- in return for which, they lead their lives as they would anyway: sleeping eighty percent of the time and playing with their food.

Roosters and hens occupy the next step down the list. They get the cat's protection from predators, but with the disadvantage of occasionally becoming soup.

Then come the sheep. They too get to live their lives much like natural flocks, led by their able shepherds in place of competitive rams. In winter they're coddled against privation by being fed hay They fall below chickens because of statistics: most lambs are eaten in childhood, whereas every chick is encouraged to survive.

Next down would be a family's horse. Bred to be docile, their eyes fool them into thinking we are larger than we are. Though they spend the majority of days inside the barn waiting to be fed, they accompany their masters several times a week for gainful employment. They're never saddled with mouth bits or tight harnesses or any other harsh clothing of control. Instead, peasants train them from colthood to understand horse words for left and right, forward and stop, and faster and slower. On weddings they even dress up.

It is this freedom to be about in the world that puts horses above cows, though cows are a family's most important animal. Without a cow, a family is truly poor. In every village, a family's surplus milk is sold at the Laptaria (luhp-tuh-'ree'ah) or milk house, thereby exchanging the field labor of haymaking into hard currency. However most cows spend their lives imprisoned in the barn, for it makes the milk taste richer.

One up from rock bottom is the pig. In some households, they're allowed to go out a few times to the garden and root around. But even the most permissive family keeps this to a minimum to preserve their sod. A pig is a powerful animal, so strong a full-grown man shoving on it must seem like a gentle tap. Therefore their nose is likely to be pierced with a rough ring for control. After a single uneventful year, pigs become protein.

Absolute bottom of the pile is the creature that first joined humanity as a partner in civilization. It is our devoted companion and man's best friend: the dog. Shackled to a five foot chain and condemned from a puppy to rub his neck raw fighting his bond, he has a meager role in the barnyard caste system. His purpose is to bark at anything that moves so that if a wolf might venture near, it would shy away for fear of domestication.

And what do the Maramuresenii say to defend their canine care taking? "It's sad. He's man's best friend. But look --- he's mad."

--- H. Woods McLaughlin
From The Color of Hay
©2010 H L Books
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