I am not one of those people who needs there to be one right answer, and the people who answer any other way are either evil or inexplicably stupid. I can think of no human action which is wholly without darkness, or wholly without light. I myself feel constantly buffeted this way and that by the conflicts between my own expectations of myself, those of others (partly imaginary, of course), and that ruthless teacher, Reality. For example my adventure with two ducks.
The duck which Bonnie had to pin in the dark in order to catch it, a few days afterward began to act oddly. It had a hard time scrambling out of the pond, and spent more time lying down than the others. Over a week's time it became more and more disabled, until finally it was lying on its back, looking bewildered and ridiculous, but unable to move at all. I knew of no treatment for it except to take it to some Duck Veterinarian, if such existed. However, I wasn't minded to do this. The duck was not a pet, a quasi-family member, it was Livestock, a different category, and exceedingly unvaluable livestock at that.
So, feeling very blue indeed, I chopped its head off and buried it.
A few days later another duck started the same symptoms. Now I had worries. Was it a virus? Could my other poultry catch it? Could human beings? Searching for answers, I found out that there was a "duck lady" who rehabbed broken ducks in my area. So I called her. She was obviously both very experienced and passionately committed to duckology. She told me my duck was either injured or accidentally poisoned, not sick, and she offered to simply take my duck home, cure it if possible, and return it to me, gratis.
Handing my duck over, I felt ashamed and conflicted. For this woman, there were no boundaries between wild and tame, pet and livestock: it was all To Be Cared For. Money, as for all the other people I've known like her, was a vague incidental problem, it had no relationship to what almost amounted to a religious calling.
I thought of a story that George the stockdog trainer had told me that same day. He has a dog who had never gripped a sheep even when it would have been perfectly appropriate. And he had a ewe which had abandoned her lamb. Through intense exertions familiar to most shepherds, he had managed to get the ewe to accept her lamb, so much so that when his dog approached, she defended it and refused to move, in classic mama sheep fashion. George encouraged his dog until the dog lost patience and bit her on the nose. "I was so happy he'd finally gripped, and then I saw she was bleeding a bit, and I felt so bad, here she was just being what I wanted her to be, acting perfectly natural for a mama sheep . . . and she got bit for it."
What can I say about these stories except, it is good to go slow. I lost ducks because I didn't think hard enough about how to capture frightened ducks in the dark, and because I didn't pursue how to cure my first disabled one without paying for a vet. George got put in a hard place between training his dog and moving his sheep, and used more force than he wanted to. There are no human actions without darkness, but if we go slow enough, we might have time to choose a less dark path. I often reflect upon how anxious people are to rush to be tough, to judge, to avenge, how difficult it is to be soft, thoughtful, and slow, especially in a society which glorifies toughness, speed, and vengeance. Keeping animals can be, if we let it, a constant lesson in softness. Not weakness, but flexible attention. What is really going on? What are they thinking about?
When I approach herding livestock with this slow quiet sense of observation, without impatience, without force, I see my dog soften too. She too is more able to apply subtlety when she would otherwise use force, more able to anticipate rather than react. The stock have time to decide to move away from pressure in a calm way instead of blindly panicking and hurting themselves. It's good.