This is how it went down:
I was eating lunch alone at Whole Foods. I really like this particular Whole Foods because it has a large outdoor sitting area that resembles a McDonald's playground for affluent adults -- pebbly cement tables and benches, umbrellas, foliage penning in the eating area. I am not an affluent adult but it makes me feel "breezy" to eat my tofu curry and gluten-free cupcake in such surroundings.
I was happily engrossed in my book and my food, when I noticed the sounds of a growing scuffle coming from the vicinity of the table opposite me. I glanced up and noticed a small, blond girl, about 8 years old wielding a paper shopping bag with handles.
The girl was using the bag, with something of some weight in the bottom of it, to smack at the gathered mountain doves in the eating area.
We don't have many pigeons in O'ahu, we have mountain doves. Mountain doves are like pigeons only dumber. They're actually pretty little things with stripes and spots, but there's a reason a friend of mine calls them "crush birds" -- they JUST DON'T MOVE when a large bird-crushing object like a car or skate board or Whole Foods shopping bag comes at them. I still don't think this means they deserve to be hit.
As I watched, the little girl would throw a handful of cooked rice from her lunch plate onto the ground, wait for the doves to flock to the bounty, then smack at them with the shopping bag. Her parents, sitting at the table over their finished lunch, looked on with disinterest in her hijinks.
I kept waiting for one of the parents to step in, as she was, at the very least making a lot of noise and several of the other people in the sitting area (it was full) were tossing concerned looks and comments towards the dove smack down. They did nothing.
My breaking point came when she made firm contact with one of the doves and it sort of sat there dazed with cartoon stars spinning around it's little gray head.
I quietly approached the girl with the least creepy smile I could muster.
"Hi, my name is Louise, what's your name?"
Stony glare from the girl. OK, I get it, don't talk to strangers.
"Can you not hit the birds? I think you might have accidentally hurt one of them. I don't think they like it. Can you stop, please?"
Thwap. She swung the freakin' bag again!
"Please stop trying to hit the birds. I bet you don't like it when your brother hits you or throws things at you?" I gestured to the little boy watching us intently at the table where her family sat. "The birds don't like it either."
Stony glare. She raised the bag up again.
"What's going on over here?", the girl's mother had finally come over.
I stood up to talk to the mother. I smiled and tried to stay calm and casual. "Hi, I was just asking your daughter if she would stop hitting the birds, it's upsetting me and some of the other people here, and I think she might have hurt one of the birds."
She looked at me like I myself was a giant talking mountain dove. "So? They're just birds. She's having fun."
"Okaaaaay, but it's disturbing me and some of the other customers here."
From there things escalated a little bit. The woman raised her voice, "What is your problem? She's just playing!"
"Right, I understand that, but it's upsetting to me that she's hitting the birds."
"They're just birds! What do you care? I'll call the manager!"
I thought that was a little weird. What's the manager at Whole Foods going to do? And frankly, there's a sign posted in the eating pen asking patrons to not feed the birds in the first place, so wouldn't I win anyway?
After a few more repetitive exchanges, the mother's voice was continuing to rise and people were beginning to watch our conversation. So in an attempt to dissipate the situation I told her there was no need to call the manager and I started to return to my table.
"Yeah…You sit DOWN!" she barked at me before gathering up her family and quickly leaving. I'd like to note that she did not bus her table and left all the remnants of their lunch sitting there in a heap. The mountain doves had their victory banquet.
After she left, a woman approached me and as I cringed in preparation for the second round of berating, she cocked her head and quietly said to me, "Thank you for saying something, it was really bothering me what that girl was doing, I just didn't know what to do."
Honestly, I didn't either, I just couldn't stand it anymore.
I'm not sure if I did the right thing. I don't really think anybody should try to parent another person's child, and if someone tried to do that to my hypothetical child I might have reacted the same way. She didn't know if I was some psycho with a windowless van full of smackable doves in which to entrap her daughter.
In retrospect, I wonder if my actions were kind of obnoxious and I should have just judged the family silently instead of getting up in their face.
But the thing is I don't blame the little girl. She really was just playing. It was the parents that pissed me off. By not stopping their daughter from playing "whack-a-dove" and then defending it, I felt like they were essentially teaching her that cruelty to animals is okay because, hey, they're just animals.
I'm a crazy animal hippie, I get that. More often than not, I enjoy the company of animals more than people and nothing will illicit more sympathy from me than the news of a sick or deceased pet.
But by letting children treat living things as just that, "things," are we teaching them a general lack of respect for life? For those with less privilege than ourselves?
If a child is taught a lack of compassion or for animals, couldn't that bleed into how they treat humans in positions of lesser power?
So much about this Whole Foods hippie-rumble bothers me. Was I just being a crazy bird lady? Should I just have minded my own business? Was I shoving my own beliefs down this family's throat? Was I right, and after our interaction that little girl will grow up to rescue endangered penguins in Antarctica?
If nothing else, I did what I thought was right in the moment.
Has something like this ever happened to you? Have you ever stood up for an animal in need? How do you teach your children about animals?