Today is International Dog Day, a day humans celebrate their supposed love for supposedly their best friend.
Today is also the National Burger Day in the UK, a day humans celebrate their undoubted love for surly one of their most favorite foods.
Seemingly, this co-occurrence is a classic example of humanity’s schizoid relationship with animals – celebrating their love for some kinds of animals while celebrating their love of devouring other kinds in a bun. However, things are more complicated than that.
The utilization and emphasis of this supposed inconsistency in humanity’s relation to different species, by many animal rights activists, is understandable and rather intuitive, but nevertheless it misses something very fundamental about humans and about humans’ relationships with other animals, a relationship which is first and foremost functional.
Different animals are classified differently, mostly according to the function they serve for humans. That includes dogs who along history and among different cultures were and still are considered as food, labor force, experimental subjects, hunting animals, guarding animals, and even as pests. In fact dogs were on the ‘exploited list’ in the whole world for a much longer time than they are on the ‘loved list’. And in most of the world they are not objects of love but of labor, guarding, filth, or flesh.
Simply loving is far from being an accurate and comprehensive description of the way humans relate to dogs. There are plenty of other aspects of this relationship. Thousands of dogs are experimented on every year. Who knows how many are tied to one place, which is also where they eat, shit and sleep, because humans force them to protect their property. Millions are still forced to serve humans in the military, the police, various emergency services, guiding for blind humans and so on. Thousands of dogs are forced to fight each other for humans’ entertainment and gambling, and hundreds of thousands are forced to race each other for humans’ entertainment and gambling. And of course, in south East Asia dogs are also eaten, just like cows.
There are also very high costs to humans’ “love” of dogs even in the cases they are not being used to fill more explicit functions for humans but for example to keep them company and greet them when they come home. Hundreds of millions are left alone in humans’ houses for long hours which seem like an eternity for such social animals. An issue which is very common and practically unavoidable. Other issues are even more inherent. Humans’ love for the cute and infant like, has produced dog breeds in which full-grown dogs resemble perpetual puppies. On the physical level, the babyish snouts of dogs such as Pugs and the French Bulldogs lead to severe respiratory problems. And on the psychological level, by breeding dogs for Neoteny (retention of juvenile features), humans have created emotionally immature dogs who are prone to neuroses.
The fact that tens of millions of dogs are killed or doomed to live in crummy cages every year because humans don’t adopt them, while puppy mills are so common, is also a strong indication of a more complex relations than simply loving.
And even the loving relations alone can be regarded as functional. The following are some common examples of academic observations on the relations of humans and “pets” such as dogs.
Clinical psychologists believe that humans live with “pets” because they make them feel loved and needed.
And anthrozoologists have offered a wide variety of explanations for the human-animal bond:
“Pets” teach kindness and responsibility to children.
“Pets” provide “ontological security” in a postmodern age in which traditional values and social networks have broken down.
Like ornamental gardens, “pets” are an expression of the human need to dominate nature.
“Pets” allow the middle class to pretend they are rich.
“Pets” substitute for human friends.
While some of it may sound a bit too cynical, it is a little naïve and romantic to present dogs as those who humans simply love. Far more often than not, dogs are affection providers in an emotionally alienated world, in which humans can find comfort in someone who loves them without judgments, envy, competition, ego and the rest of the complexities bound with humans’ relations with other humans.
So humans’ relation with dogs is actually one of the evidences for humans’ functional relation with other animals. And given that humans’ relation with other animals is functional, pointing at humanity’s inconsistent relation to different species, doesn’t function the way many animal rights activists hope that it will on the practical level. Even for most of the humans who don’t explicitly and directly exploit dogs, dogs still function as animals for affection; and for most humans in general, cows’ function as animals for consumption. Most humans don’t connect the dots because they see neither dogs nor cows as different kinds of animals, but as different kinds of functions for humans. That’s why being confronted with the similarity between dogs and cows in the most relevant aspect – both kinds of animals have feelings, preferences, and the ability to suffer – doesn’t do the trick. It is because when it comes to the vast majority, humans’ view of nonhumans is humane, not animalistic. Humans don’t view nonhumans for what they are, but for what they are for humans. And for the vast majority, dogs are in the better case amusement vessels, and cows are simply living hamburger vessels.