Yesterday’s Melbourne Cup double tragedy of the two horses Admire Rakti and Araldo have underlined the complete absence of respect and care of animals when they have been commodified and ‘put in the bank’.
The footage on ABC’s Lateline last night was disturbing to say the least. We see Admire Ratki in the stall, head low and quivering while hearing a woman’s voice off camera yelling, ‘get the vet, get the vet!’ And as the horse collapses she can be heard saying, “he’s going to die!” Meanwhile the Japanese team members are seen pulling savagely on the dying horse’s bridle trying to make him stand up as he dies. They are seeing the death of their millions of investment dollars.
When the live export debate finally ignited a few years ago, people were rightly horrified to see the cruel and barbaric overseas treatment of sheep and cattle in abattoirs and yet here we are, in Australia at the major event of the year seeing the same treatment.
When an animal becomes a commodity, something that can be invested in, traded and exchanged, it is put in the bank. It becomes a thing; not a living animal but an investment. It becomes an amount, a faceless, nameless, non-sentient amount of money.
125 racing horses have died this year in similar ways. These animals are overworked and their labour is an investment and an entertainment that is worth many millions of dollars worldwide. The final moments of Admire Ratki’s life show us quite clearly how that labour is rewarded. In his short 7-year life, there does not seem to have been much of a reward for his labour. These animals are on a leash and their agency is limited to what they can achieve for their investors through being walloped violently while running at full speed. They are in the bank as they are seen as a monetary investment and they are on a pedestal as long as they fufill the needs this human construct has put upon them.
Animal labour has existed for as long as humans have been able to harness it, literally. Animals are used to pull our wagons, plough our fields, transport us and entertain us. Their labour is a multi-billion dollar slave trade the whole planet engages in.
Zoos, wildlife parks and aquariums are also examples of this as are wild animals in dolphin and shark swims. The tragic example of Tilikum the orca in captivity featured in the documentary Blackfish (2013) reminds us of the horror of sentient animals who are put on a leash, in the bank and on a pedestal. When Tilikum enacted his agency and refused to continue to be on a leash, 3 people died and yet the animal remains in miserable circumstances in a marine park despite providing years of service and siring 31 calves for the marine park industry. He is a living sperm bank and a spectacle. A lack of respectful affordances and etiquette when dealing with animals is demeaning to these animals and to us. It diminishes our joint capacities of becoming together. Just because we can do these things to animals, doesn’t mean we should. We can all do better.
For the sake of the lives of Admire Rakti, Araldo and Tilikum, let’s hope we do.