Daily Archives: October 27, 2010

Creature Comforts

Do acts of kindness to animals count as good deeds?

That’s what I was wondering yesterday evening during Toronto’s so-called weather bomb (wow, it’s reports like this that make me realize how little I know about meteorology). Actually, the storm was pretty halfhearted by the time it reached our city: less like an actual weather bomb and more like, say, a popped tire.

Still, the downpour was enough for a giant-sized earthworm to beach itself on our concrete front walkway. When I was taking out the garbage I bent down, grabbed the slimy thing and tossed it into the flower garden. And that’s when I started wondering. Is a favour bestowed on a non-human creature – a lowly worm, no less – still a good deed?

I used to dread walking to school with my daughter in a drizzle. Not because the rain bothered me so much. But from a very young age, my kid insisted I stop and pick up every single stranded worm along the way. (She herself refused to touch them until she was older.) I wasn’t keen on the slime and the wet and the wriggling, but furthermore we were usually running late. The only way I could get her to hurry past the castaway critters was by promising to rescue every single one of them on the way home. (Did I always fulfill those promises? Well, that’s another story and I’m no saint. Put yourself in my soaked shoes and take a guess.)

But I do think these acts are good deeds. In fact, when you think about it, it’s a pretty pure form of altruism, as you aren’t generally expecting any return of the favour. It’s not like Eddie Earthworm is going to wave and say thank you, or even make eye contact, for that matter. And he’s certainly not going to reciprocate with a bakery cake or a bottle of wine.

Child psychologists tell us that one of the ways kids can learn compassion for other people is by caring for pets. And although I’m not the religious type, I do find it interesting to read that faiths like Bahá’í teach kindness to animals. And of course there are plenty of animal-rights groups, anti-fur campaigners and vegans who have the welfare of animals at top of mind.

You’re probably performing good deeds on non-humans all the time without realizing it. Maybe you haven’t rescued any worms lately, but have you ever patted a smiling dog as you walked past, or filled a bird feeder, or released a spider outside instead of squashing it, or signed a petition against animal cruelty? I like to think that on some level, these creatures appreciate it. And it’s always nice to know you’ve made a difference, even if that difference is to someone weighing only half a gram.