How We Think About Animals

I don’t know if you’ve seen the horrible stories around the internet or on social media, but right now in parts of Asia there is growing opposition to a little known (at least in the USA) industry around dog meat. Yes, many people in Asia are eating dogs, and the methods by which stray dogs are captured, transported and slaughtered are beyond terrible. I won’t describe it to you here, because it’s horrible and I don’t want to ruin your day, dear reader. But if you really want to know more you can click here.

To American sensibilities, the idea of eating dogs is appalling. Here in the US, we consider dogs to be man’s best friend. Many of us, including me, treat our dogs like family. Americans love our dogs. We spend billions each year on food, treats, beds, toys, outfits and other stuff to make our canine companions feel special and pampered. But in many parts of the world, dogs are not beloved companions. In many places where there are lots of stray dogs, dogs can be considered a public health hazard, because they can spread rabies and other diseases. Packs of feral dogs might also be considered dangerous to people, and are animals to be feared and preferably eliminated, not rescued and adopted.

And again, in some parts of the world dogs are considered food because there are so many stray dogs around that they seem like useless vermin. Eating dogs solves two perceived problems for people who support this practice: it rids the streets of too many stray dogs and provides meat for people. Unthinkable to us, and to others, it’s just business.

And yet when you think about it, most of the ways we think about animals are pretty arbitrary. Why is it that we love dogs and cats, but we despise mice and rats? Why do some people have rabbits as pets, and some people have them as stew? Why do eat cows, pigs, chickens and turkeys? I’ve heard a lot of arguments to justify our behavior toward animals over the years, but none of them really make a lot of sense when you start to dig deeper. Rats and mice, people say, spread diseases. So can any living creature, but we don’t hate them all with the same ferocity that we seem to hate rodents. Rats, in fact, have demonstrated capacity for friendship and altruism in laboratory settings.

Examples of the intelligence, personalities, and sentience of animals can (and does) fill volumes and in the short space of a blog post, I can’t do justice to the topic. So let me leave you with this quote from Jeremy Bentham: The question is not, ‘Can they reason?’ nor, ‘Can they talk?’ but rather, ‘Can they suffer?’ If they can, then we owe it to every animal to use our own ability to reason and justify compassion rather than suffering.

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