A few months ago, I came across an article about Republican Candidate Mitt Romney’s “animal abuse” scandal. Apparently, he had put his dog in a kennel and strapped the kennel to the roof of his car. This had animal lovers up in arms.
My response was one of confusion: Really?
Here’s the deal – I’m a huge animal lover, and always have been. But there’s a growing problem in Western culture (and developed nations more broadly) – people are just downright obsessed with dogs.
Here’s my perspective on life – all life. I believe that consciousness is indeed a miraculous product of the evolution of the universe. For now, let’s put aside quantum physics and the notion that consciousness flows through everything, and just focus on what biologists refer to broadly as ‘life.’ This stuff, life, is pretty amazing, and I’m guessing if you’re reading this blog, you probably agree on some level. Even from a purely scientific perspective, life has required an intricate and statistically improbable series of events to reach this point. And accordingly, there’s something amazing about a mere amoeba, never mind a creature that is able to soar through the air or one that is able to communicate with another. Life is amazing, and life is likely the product of chance, even if some cosmic intelligence is at play. This makes life special. This makes life important. This makes life beautiful, even when it scares us or gets in our way.
But I have a problem when one manifestation of life is prioritized over another. Many environmentalists would agree – even prioritizing humans is problematic and contributes to the decline of our global ecosystem. And valuing dogs more than bees is equally problematic. Who are we to determine which animals are more important?
In fact, domesticated dogs really aren’t that important, in the grand scheme of things. If we consider the unfortunate outcomes of their breeding, most dogs would never even survive in the wild, and they contribute nothing of value to our ecosystem (much like many of us humans). The truth is, they’re possessions and novelties, what we call pets.
Don’t get me wrong – as I mentioned, I’m an animal lover, and I absolutely do not support the abuse of animals – any animals. And that’s my problem. When people get upset about dogs being put into secure containers on car roofs but have no problem with birds living their lives in cages, or fish forced to live in tiny bowls, something seems off to me. There is a humanization, an extreme anthropomorphizing, that occurs with some animals and not others. “All life is valuable, but some life is more valuable.” Is it really? What is so special about a dog? Is it really man’s best friend? Or is that a role we created for it?
The same thing happens with scientific research. Rats and mice are disposable, but rhesus monkeys and chimpanzees are not. We’ll happily step on an ant or squash a fly, but throwing a kitten out a car window is disturbing. Of course there is an understandably higher degree of relatedness with other mammals, but we are rational beings. Is eating a cow REALLY more difficult than eating a lobster? Perhaps opinions would change if we were all aware of recent research which has shown lobsters capable of outsmarting fishing traps and solving mazes. And from a rational perspective, the real value of any creature comes down to its role in local and global ecosystems. Bees and bats, for example, are essential, yet both have been pushed aside time and again. Make way for the dogs, some might say – they’re much cuter.
The hypocritical obsession with dogs (and cats, and horses) is a reflection of our trending social morals and values. We have developed a warped perception of the world, in which some animals (including humans) are more valuable than others simply because they’re smarter or cuter or capable of doing tricks. I love my cat, Atticus, but at the end of the day, his rights are no more important than those of a caterpillar. Let’s get upset about the abuse of all life, and support the rights of those that scare us, those that offend us, and those that seem too small to matter. Life is a gift, no matter its size or outer shell.