I’m Rebecca Day, a double-major in Political Science & Theatre Arts graduating in December. My last semester has provided me with some space for elective courses, and I’m really excited about the opportunity I’ve had this semester to take a course called The Hunger Games (related to the Young Adult novel trilogy of the same name) and to attach this CSLP credit to it. I’ve always been passionate about and interested in animals, so I chose to work with the Washington Humane Society.
As a volunteer at the Humane Society, most of what I’ve been doing on a daily basis so far has depended on seeing where I’m most needed – maybe I’m doing laundry, or cleaning out food dishes, or washing off toys; sometimes I help with cleaning out cat enclosures. The latter is my favorite so far. Not only do I get to meet and pet cats, but I get to work closely with staff members. The combination of working directly with the staff and the animals has helped me see firsthand and learn more about exactly how the Washington Humane Society operates, how animals end up in the Humane Society, and the issues and challenges faced by the Humane Society and the community of homeless animals in Washington, D.C.
The Hunger Games series is ultimately a story about violence (for the sake of entertainment), class struggles, oppression, privilege, and social justice. Many of these same issues that affect less privileged humans also have an effect on non-human animals. They suffer from homelessness, hunger, and lack of access. Sometimes these issues are extensions of challenges faced by humans. It is not uncommon for a pet to be abandoned or surrendered to a shelter by a human who can no longer afford to care for the animal because of their socioeconomic situation, or who cannot find affordable housing that allows pets.
Some of the most striking cases in my experience, however, are those of animal violence. This past Saturday I met a cat who the staff had named “Emilie.” Emilie had been found with a key ring embedded in her front right leg, likely the work of a human without any compassion for the fact that she is a living being, not an object or an accessory. In The Hunger Games, 24 “tribute” children from 12 districts in the country are sent into an arena to battle until a single child remains the victor. This event happens yearly, and is televised. It is primarily a form of oppression by the government, but also serves as entertainment for citizens of the Capitol, who are not required to offer children to the Games but instead treat them as sport, picking favorites, placing bets, and generally partying as youths kill each other. Writer Suzanne Collins penned The Hunger Games as a war story, and connections can easily be drawn between the society of privileged America and that of the Capitol but the ways in which our society sends non-human animals into the arena may be even more obvious. The district children tributes become objects for Capitol citizens’ entertainment and consumption, much the way that animals in our society are literally farmed for consumption or trained to fight for entertainment. The exploitation of both people and non-human animals for the ultimate production of something to be sold and consumed is central -and arguably essential – in a capitalist system. However, it seems especially cruel to meet a small cat, relatively weak and defenseless against humans, who fell victim to an attempt to literally make her an object – in Emilie’s case, it seems, a key chain.