Tuesday, November 11, 2008


Often I hear about people telling dog owners not to anthropomorphosize their pets. There seems to be two occasions for these lectures. One, which I can understand, is when people start dressing their dogs up in costumes or otherwise treating them in ways that they couldn't possibly understand or appreciate. The other occasion, though, is generally when someone wants to be able distance themselves from animals so that they can self-affirm their superiority over the lowly beasts. And this, in turn, is often used as an excuse to neglect or otherwise abuse the creature.

I remember in high school, when we debated the traits that differentiated humans from other animals. We were told that humans could learn whereas animals can undergo behaviour modification and had instincts but couldn't learn in the way humans could. Humans use tools. Animals do not. Humans have language. Animals do not. Humans have a conscious sense of self. Animals do not. Humans have a soul. Animals do not.

What a pile of crap. I didn't quite believe it then even though it was coming from the mouths of my teachers. I definitely don't believe it now. And I think even science is starting to come around especially in areas of animal communication, tool usage, learning. As for a soul, if Paris Hilton has a soul then my dog definitely has one too.

A while ago, I was reading the comments posted after a newspaper article about how people are spending more on their pets than ever before. The article was neutral. It basically dealt with the price of good quality dog food, rising vet costs, doggie day cares, etc. but the comments inevitabley took on a moralistic slant, boiling down to: how could anyone spend so much money on a dog when there are starving children in Africa? The implication of such a question is that dogs/animals are so inferior that we as humans are committing an immoral act by caring for them while there are other humans on the planet somewhere suffering. Nevermind that the people who ask such questions probably never did a truly charitable act in their lives and they only express such false indignation in order to cover up their own sense of lazy selfishness and guilt, but the arrogance and ignorance of such a question is truly illustrative of how far we as an enlightened species have not progressed.

To think that there is only one deserving charity that has moral rights over all others is stupid and unrealistic.

To think that any human suffering is greater than any animal suffering and thus should be addressed first before all others is also stupid and unrealistic.

Humans definitely do have some traits that animals do not have - like a huge helping of arrogance and an overdone sense of priviledge. We've helped ourselves to the entire planet at the expense of a truly immeasureable number of other living creatures. Now when some of those creatures so obviously need our help, there are those who would deny them even that.


jsinger said...

Right on Fred....First of all, I am not responsible for anyone's starving children, their parents are. I can and would and do help but it is not my fault nor is it my responsibility. As long as I maintain me and mine in this life, whatever else I choose to do is my business. I would never choose to dress my dogs in ridiculous clothing and let a child starve but that is my choice and is the opposite for anyone else.

I once heard someone say that how can we really think that we are so smart when the animals can understand our language, be it only a few words and it may even be a conditioned response, how much of their language do we understand. We can teach a chimp sign language but we can't speak or understand a single syllable of theirs. Just look into the eyes of chimp and tell me you are not related. And, excuse me, chimps most certainly have a sense of self as evidenced by their reaction to their image in a mirror.

Paris Hilton and a soul...let's talk about Paris Hilton and a brain - none. My dogs have a higher intellect than that vacuous waste of space. Speaking of spaying and neutering and limiting reproduction..her parents should be at the head of that line. Surely they cannot be anything but embarrassed to death by the behavior of their progeny.

The world needs more thinkers who can divorce themselves from their superiority attitude as some god-inspired creature (and we not really any great design feat either when you take a look at our mechanics we are really very poorly designed) and understand that we are fortunate that these other creatures who, in many cases, are much stronger than us, are much kinder and tolerant to us than we are to them. If we think it is ok to eat them, and we are only higher on the food chain when armed, why does everyone get so upset when a lion eats a human. Natural order of things. And then, oh yes, let us take a look at that wonderful tome of hate, the bible, which purports to grant dominion over the animals. Dominion also requires responsibility and humane treatment. I found the whole Noah story fishy (excuse the almost pun) and I was only 5 years old. But then again, what do you expect from people who believe Adam and Eve really existed. Not much unfortunately. People can justify and find an excuse for any kind of shoddy behavior. Well, that's that for my little rant.

House of the Discarded said...

Amen, brother :)

Ian said...

I`ve heard that "starving kids" thing before.
I believe it`s used by people who don`t donate to ANYTHING.

It`s similar to the "Charity begins at home" line.

These are people who are just plain selfish.

They buy junk they don`t need and they give junk (at Christmas) to people who don`t need more junk instead of helping out starving kids or needy animals.

Cathrine said...

I think we have all heard the "starving children" line before: it really sets me off. How do complete strangers know what I do or do not do aside from my work for animals? Regardless of matters of free choice or morality, it is an assumption on the part of the speaker that betrays nothing so much as their own prejudices.

So let us not leap to conclusions in the same way: for all we know, the speaker gives half his/her income to support Roumanian orphans. Perhaps they spend Christmas at a soup kitchen, feeding the homeless. We don't know any more about them than they do about us.

And before condemning the readers of the Bible, let us also be aware that it is the once-Christian west that has the most developed animal welfare and animal rights movements.

Me, I usually respond by asking the speaker how s/he knows what I do or do not do outside this work. If they are genuinely concerned humans, this usually opens a dialogue and sometimes -- not often, but often enough to make it worth it -- I change a mind.

As for the ones who just hate to see anyone helping another soul, they are the ones who act affronted to be confronted, and turn away.

Write'em off and go on.

gudrun said...

Fred, what you write makes total sense to me - it's why I'm vegan :)

Anonymous said...

I think for me, wanting to help animals is just the way I've always been. Its where my sensitivites lie. I was always the girl bringing home"lost" pets, the flea ridden kittie or the dog that followed me home. I just felt connected in ways I can't describe. I really believe that if people get involved with their local community in whatever way they feel best suited the world would be a better place. I can't focuss on whats going on across the world when I see so much need for change right here in my community. Whether a person fights for children's right or animal right makes no difference to me, I just want to see people getting out there and and making a change in whatever area they feel passionate about. If someone thinks what I do is a waste of time well then I won't waste MY TIME associating with them. If you don't get it then I don't get you. Animals have no voice and this is where I come in