Mike the Mad Biologist

Misunderstanding Domesticated Animals

A while ago, I discussed how dogs have evolved to live with humans: being around humans is part of their environment, and they have undergone specific adaptations to live in that–our–environment. At this point, their ‘natural’ environment should contain people. Which brings me to this funny comment by Amanda Marcotte in response to the language police editors of the Journal of Animal Ethics (italics mine):

…this is the stupidest shit I’ve ever read. Also, self-contradictory—you can’t say “animal”, but you can say “companion animal”? As I joked on Twitter, I’m all for retiring the word “pet” and have done so in my house to refer to my cats. Instead, I refer to them as “shitbags”, “assholes”, “dumbasses”, and “turd-filled money holes”. That is a new one, invented after discovering this week that Molly’s mouth problems will set me back the sort of money that made my knees buckle a little when I saw the bill.

That’s why I was also particularly incensed to see this shit and the inevitable holier-than-thou leftist preening in Feministe’s comment thread of people trying to be all radical by denouncing the concept of owning pets. The supposed ethicists here denounce an “anthropocentric bias”, but I can’t think of anything more anthropocentric than conflating human desires and abilities with those of domesticated animals. Let me put it this way: When I have a tooth that’s rotting in my head and is really painful, I can pick myself up, go to the dentist, and will myself to sit in the chair so they can extract it. Because I have foresight and know that I will feel better. My cat, if she had her druthers, would never go into the vet’s office again, which is why I have to deprive her of her freedom in order to get her tooth extracted. Her inability to think this through is not her fault. She is really stupid compared to me. She is afraid to sit on the balcony because she doesn’t believe the evidence before her that it can hold the weight of beings much larger than her. Our relationship is fine the way it is. If anything, she’s the one getting the benefit out of it, because she can’t make money to pay her own dental bills. The problem with oppressing people in this way is that, unlike cats, they have functioning frontal lobes and you are depriving them of activities they have the brainspace to accomplish. Big difference.

Comments

  1. #1 Karen
    May 15, 2011

    Domestic cats, too, have evolved to live with people. Even feral cats live longer and healthier lives when someone has the heart to feed them regularly, and especially if someone is willing to trap/spay-or-neuter/release.

    Both my cats are rescues; one was dying of starvation when he wandered into our lives. I’ve given these animals a home in which they feel safe, and a life of relative comfort (except for when we make those pesky trips to the vet). We are family. And that’s as natural as being human.

  2. #2 Drivebyposter
    May 15, 2011

    I’m not much of an animal person…but I don’t see why she would have cats if she dislikes them. It’s like she owns them just for the sake of having something to hate/bitch about.

    “Poor me…I agreed to nurture and take care of something and it needs to be cared for and nurtured” *swoon*

  3. #3 Mike Crichton
    May 15, 2011

    Drivebyposter: What makes you think she dislikes them? Lots of pet owners give their critters demeaning nicknames and complain loudly about how useless they are. As long as we do so in a happy and cheerful tone of voice, the animals are fine with it, as they _don’t_understand_English_. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to tell the Dumbest Creature in the House how Horrible and Parasitic he is while I scratch his tummy.

  4. #4 JohnV
    May 15, 2011

    @Mike Crichton

    Yeah people felt that way about apes too, and look what happened in Los Angeles, as shown in the documentary “Conquest of the Planet of the Apes”.

  5. #5 Mike Haubrich
    May 15, 2011

    I saw a show on Discovery Channel one time (I know, I know) on which an anthropologist claimed that the taming of wolves to become dogs also had the side effect of taming humans. They became our protectors, so that our ancestors could spend more time thinking and performing what eventually became domestic chores of home-building.

    I like the idea that pets civilized, and civilize people. It is a symbiotic relationship and I can not see the ethical position that claims that domestication is necessarily bad.

    I have called my dogs some bad names before, but I stilled loved them, wormed them and provided good homes for them.

  6. #6 Dubliner
    May 16, 2011

    What a charming concept Mike. I’ve always said we get far more back from our pets than we give whatever the financial cost. If you think of the name of the programme I’d be interested in watching it.

  7. #7 tawaen
    May 16, 2011

    @ drivebyposter

    I assure you, the names people call their pets (even those that are demenaing or insulting) are usually signs of affection.

    For instance, my beagle is affectionately known as “The Destroyer of Worlds.” Also, “Detestable Cur” and “Vile Monster.” I love her, but she’s still stinky, opportunistic and a total coward. I just love her in spite of the fact that everythig I own is covered in dog hair and bitter spray. (Paper agression: Not compatible with overwhelmed bookshelves.)

  8. #8 BodrumHoliday
    May 18, 2011

    Drivebyposter: What makes you think she dislikes them? Lots of pet owners give their critters demeaning nicknames and complain loudly about how useless they are. As long as we do so in a happy and cheerful tone of voice, the animals are fine with it, as they _don’t_understand_English_. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to tell the Dumbest Creature in the House how Horrible and Parasitic he is while I scratch his tummy.
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