Chapter 8 - Animals and Society Institute

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Chapter 8: The Pet Animal
C o pyri g ht Marg o De Me l l o and C o l um bi a Uni ve rs i ty Pre s s , 2012

 For urbanized Westerners, the human-pet relationship
  is the only real relationship—other than through the
  consumption of meat—that most of us ever have with
  non-human animals.
 In the United States alone, more Americans (62%) live
  with a companion animal than live with children
 Americans spent over $45 billion on pet food, toys,
  clothing, travel paraphernalia and more in 2009.
 That same year, almost 412 million animals lived as
  pets in American homes. That’s 100 million more pets
  than people in the United States!

 A pet is an animal that is defined by its close
  relationship to human beings.
 Nothing distinctive about the animals we call pets;
  it is a social construction

Generally, the following criteria apply:
 They are named
 They are in the house (or allowed in)
 They are not eaten
 Generally, they are born as pets, but they could
  also be wild animals turned into pets
 a pet was an animal who was named, allowed into
  the house, and never eaten. These criteria fit many,
  but not all, definitions of pets around the world.

 Puppy mills
 Backyard
 Hobby
 Accidental
 “Recycled
  pets” through
  shelters and
  rescue groups

 Pets, then, are animals that are generally purpose -bred
  to become pets, are kept in, or near, a human
  household, are relatively controllable and cared for by
  humans, and are either domesticated or at least tame.
 The most popular pets have personalities amenable to
  being with humans and for many animals, like dogs,
  they genuinely like being with humans.
 And ideally, pets should (at least in the minds of animal
  lovers) enjoy a life of love and attention. The term “pet,”
  was a fifteenth centur y English term meaning “spoiled

 Pe ople have long ke pt animals as companions, e ve n by hunte r -
  gathe re rs with no dome sticate d animals. Wild caught babie s,
  some time s nurse d by wome n, ke pt for companionship and warmth
 A rchae ologists have found the pre se nce of dome sticate d pe ts in
  ancie nt civilizations going back at le ast f ive thousand ye ars.
 For much of histor y, animals in small se r ve d multiple purpose s
  throughout the ir live s, including companionship while alive and
  consumption afte r de ath
 B e cause ke e ping (and f e e ding) animals sole ly f or companionship was
  quite a luxur y, it is like ly that animals which we re only pe ts we re a
  luxur y for e lite s.
 Dogs we re the first partne r and pe t. B ut it probably was not until afte r
  the rise of the ancie nt civilizations that some dogs stoppe d working
  and turne d into full-time pe ts for the we althy.

 Some animals we re ke pt as status symbols by the we althy: birds and
  orname ntal fish which we re be autiful and for birds, made love ly
 Cats we re anothe r e arly companion. Like dogs, cats we re not
  dome sticate d for food—the y we re e ntice d by e arly farme rs to live ne ar
  human fie lds and granarie s to ke e p down the rode nt populations —and
  thus we re good candidate s to live indoors with humans.
 Dogs we re probably the first animal purpose ly bre d as a pe t starting
  about 3,000 ye ars ago, and the first animal to have ne w bre e ds
  de ve lope d with no functional purpose . A gain, only landowne rs, royalty,
  the Church, and othe r we althy classe s could af ford to care for animals
  who did not e arn the ir ke e p at this time .

 P et -keeping as w e know it t oday did not really emerge unt il t he ninet eent h
  c ent ur y, w hen enough people had t he dis pos able res ourc es t o keep animals
  only f or c ompanions hip.
 This period als o marked t he ris e of t he c ommerc ial pet indus t r y; t he f irs t
  c ommerc ial pet f ood w as not available t ill 1860 in England
 P eople may have begun keeping animals more at t his t ime bec aus e
  w es t erners had “c onquered” nat ure
 A nd w it h indus t rialis m, and t he c hanges in t he agric ult ure indus t r y w hic h
  removed f arm animals f rom mos t c ommunit ies , animals largely
  dis appeared f rom many people’s lives , leaving a gap t o be f illed by t he
  development of t he modern pet indus t r y.

 W ides pread pet -keeping w as als o enabled in part by t he ris e of a middle
  c las s , w it h inc omes t o s upport w hat had been an elit e, s omew hat f rivolous ,
 Vic t orians t hought t hat pet s w ould t eac h c hildren kindnes s and s elf c ont rol;
  I t w as expec t ed t hat c hildren w ould learn kindnes s t ow ards all t hos e w ho
  w ere dependent on ot hers f or t heir c are, inc luding pet s , t he elderly, and
  even s laves .
 The pet indus t r y emerged in t he ninet eent h c ent ur y, but bec ame a t ruly
  c ommodif ied indus t r y in t he t w ent iet h c ent ur y. From a handf ul of pet s t ores
  (init ially s pec ializ ing in birds ) and c ompanies produc ing s pec ial f ood, c ages
  and equipment t o t he ris e of t he big box c hains like P et Co and P et Smart ,
  t he pet indus t r y has bec ome an inc redibly prof it able and pow erf ul indus t r y
  t oday.

 It wasn’t that long ago that pe t
  ke e ping was se e n as so waste ful and
  irrational that scholars came up with
  a numbe r of the orie s to account for
  its existe nce .
 Conrad Lore nz thought that pe ts are
  simply “social parasite s:” the y have
  e volve d with ve r y cute face s and
  bodie s inte nde d to trigge r a pare ntal
  re sponse in humans.
 A nothe r the or y is that pe ople who
  de ve lop attachme nts to animals are
  incapable of forming re lationships
  with othe r humans, so we cre ate
  artificial re lationships with
  substitute pe ople , or pe ts.

 T he primar y re ason f or ke e ping
  companion animals today is
  companionship. 60% of dogs sle e p
  with the ir owne rs at night in the
  be droom, e ithe r in or on the be d,
  and while in the past, most cats
  live d outside , today most cats are
  ke pt indoors and conside re d part of
  the family.
 Living with animals give s pe ople
  ve r y re al e motional, psychological,
  and e ve n physical be ne fits. The
  companionship of animals
  de cre ase s lone line ss and
  stimulate s conve rsation,
  e ncourage s laughte r, and facilitates
  social contact, which adds up to an
  improve d se nse of we ll be ing.

 Why do animals have such an important inf lue nce on human we ll
  be ing?
 The biophilia hypothe sis state s that humans and othe r animals are
  naturally drawn to e ach othe r, and that this re lationship is mutually
  be ne ficial.
 A nothe r approach sugge sts that humans are hard -wire d to pay
  atte ntion to animals since for much of human e volution we de pe nde d
  on the m as a source of food.
 A dif fe re nt approach is known as the social support the or y, and
  state s that anything that provide s social support (such as marriage ,
  be longing to a church, me mbe rship in a social club) is be ne ficial to
  human he alth be cause of our ne e d to have social contact.

 Companion animals have a “social place ” in our f amily, house hold,
  and daily routine s.
 The human-pe t re lationship is dif fe re nt from most e ve r y othe r
  human-animal re lationship, in that it is not base d primarily on utility,
  and in that it is truly a two -side d re lationship, in which both partie s
  play a major role .
 Whe n we inte ract with a companion animal, we are inte racting with
  an animal who we know as an individual, and whose purpose in our
  live s is one of companion, f rie nd, and e ve n f amily me mbe r. In the
  most ide al circumstance s, the re lationship is structure d not simply
  by the human’s ne e ds or inte re sts, but by the animal’s as we ll.
 Having a name symbolically and lite rally incorporate s that animal in
  the human dome stic sphe re . Having a name also allows for human -
  animal communication: we can talk to animals., and many can
  unde rstand some of what we are saying.
                   TALKING TO ANIMALS

 L ike baby t alk, human -pet c ommunic at ion has a c lear s t ruc t ure, and, as w ell,
  a dis t inc t ive t one, s et of bodily ges t ures , and c omport ment .
 B eyond immediat e c ommunic at ion, t his t alk s er ves as a glue in human -ani mal
  relat ions hips and, more broadly, enhanc es t he s oc ial lubric at ive f unc t ion of
  c ompanion animals in human -hum an relat ions hips .
 Clint on Sanders maint ains t hat language enables human and c anine
  int erac t ant s t o c ons t ruc t and s hare a mut ually def ined realit y. A nimals ,
  bec aus e t hey lac k human language, are normally exc luded f rom s oc ial
  exc hange w it h humans , but in t he domes t ic realm, pet ow ners have made a
  number of allow anc es f or t hat lac k of language.
 P et ow ners s ee c ros s -s pec ies c ommunic at ion as pos s ible, and t his pos s ibilit y
  it s elf allow s f or t hat c ommunic at ion, and f or t he rec iproc al relat ions hips t hat
  w e have developed w it h our c ompanions .
 B y opening up t he door t o c ros s -s pec ies c ommunic at ion, and by inc luding
  (s ome) animals in our ow n w orlds , w e humaniz e (s ome) animals , giving t hem a
  “pers on-like” s t at us .
 Sanders des c ribes a f orm of s oc ial exc hange involving his dog as king (t hrough
  body language or barking) t o be let out , and Sanders ac quies c ing and let t ing
  him out . B ot h part ners played an equal role in t hat exc hange, and bot h w ere
  able t o ant ic ipat e and ac know ledge t he needs and int eres t s of t he ot her.

 One of the major reasons we keep
  pets is because we value having
  someone “love” us unconditionally.
 Our pets’ attention enhances our
  egos, defines us as lovable, and
  reaf firms our humanity even in
  social isolation.
 Many dogs treat their caretakers like
  the Messiah
 Dogs who wait for their owners to
  return—is this because of love or
 What about dogs who seem to know
  when their owners are returning?
                               G RIEF

 How do pe ople cope with loss whe n a pe t die s?
 Studie s have shown that grie f is highe r whe n pe ople have a gre ate r
  attachme nt to the animal, whe n the y have ve r y little support or
  unde rstanding from othe r pe ople , and whe n the re are othe r stre ssful
  e ve nts in a pe rson’s life . Contrar y to what some pe ople might think,
  grie f is not gre ate r for pe ople without childre n than it is for those with
  childre n, nor is it ne ce ssarily gre ate r for pe ople with a single pe t than
  for those with multiple pe ts. Finally, while wome n appare ntly grie ve
  ove r pe ts more than me n do, it may be that me n mask the ir fe e lings,
  be cause it re mains socially unacce ptable for me n to display fe e lings
  in public.

 Pets are different from a loss of a
 person, because when a dear friend or
 family member dies, they are gone
 forever. When a pet dies, that space is
 filled again with a substitute for the
 dead animal.
              T HROUGH PE T S

 Pe ople with pe ts may have a more positive attitude towards othe r
  animals, and attitude s towards pe ts in adulthood are corre late d
  positive ly with having had f amily pe ts as childre n, and having had
  important pe ts.
 A numbe r of re ce nt studie s points to a corre lation be twe e n positive
  attitude s toward companion animals and a more humane attitude
  toward othe r animals, and e ve n some ve r y pre liminar y studie s are
  showing the re is a link be twe e n positive attitude s toward animals
  and a more compassionate attitude toward pe ople .
 Today, some scholars think that living with animals may in f act
  te ach empathy and compassion—towards animals and pe ople .

   Pets are many things to us. They are beloved family
    members lavished with attention, love and money. A t the
    same time…
   The “production” of those animals is often driven by profit,
    rather than concern for animal welfare.
   Once they are here, many companion animals experience
    neglectful and even abusive treatment at the hands of
    those who are supposed to care for them.

 A nd whe n we are done with the m, we bring the m to the she lte r (8
  million pe r ye ar) whe re 4-6 million of the m are e uthanize d.
 It costs tax paye rs about $105 f or an animal control of f ice r to pick
  up a stray dog or cat, transport the animal to the she lte r, provide
  f ood and wate r f or the animal, e uthanize the animal if not adopte d
  or re unite d with his f amily, and se nd the body to the landf ill.
  A nimal control programs in this countr y alone cost $2 billion pe r
  ye ar, and this doe s not count the millions that inde pe nde nt animal
  organizations spe nd to re scue and re -home animals.
 How can we simultane ously lavish e x traordinar y amounts of love ,
  mone y, and care on our be love d companion animals, ye t at the
  same time , allow millions of those same animals to suf f e r and die ?

 Pet animals suf fer from cruelty and neglect.
 According to The HSUS, the most commonly repor ted cruelty
  of fenses involved shooting, animal fighting, tor turing, and
 Of neglected animals, seventy percent are malnourished, and
  thir ty percent suf fered from star vation.
 One type of “benign neglect” is the plight of the “backyard pet,”
  an animal who lives chained or caged outside, isolated from the
  family and facing health problems, injur y, boredom, and
  behavioral problems.
 Chained dogs are more likely to bite people, and are more likely
  to be found in inner cities and poor rural communities.

 In the 19 th centur y, the linkage of af fection towards pets on the
  one hand with the notion of control and domination on the
  other came together.
 The early pet fanciers were also pet breeders, and the breeding
  of pets is one of the most concrete, corporeal way in which
  humans exercise control over animals.
 This is one reason why for so many years, and still today in
  fancy pet circles, mixed breed animals were viewed with such
  distaste—animals that are allowed to have sex on their own,
  with their own par tners, and create their own “mongrel”
  of fspring, are seen as vulgar and uncontrolled.
               PETS AND DOMINATION

 Today we se e this le ve l of control not only in the controlle d bre e ding
  and ge ne tic manipulation of pe ts, but in the forms of surge r y which
  the y unde rgo as we ll.
 The re liance on cosme tic surge r y for dogs is one re sult of the
  bre e de r’s focus on bre e d pe r fe ction. Ce rtain bre e ds of dogs re quire ,
  for example , in orde r to conform to bre e d standards, docke d tails,
  croppe d e ars , or both. Some dog be haviorists worr y that be cause
  dogs use the ir tails to communicate with othe r dogs, tail docking puts
  the m at a disadvantage whe n socializing, and may provide physical
  functions such as stability as we ll.
 Pe rhaps cats are le ss popular than dogs is be cause the y can’t be as
  e asily controlle d.

 Is it cruelty or playfulness to breed a
  variety of goldfish with dysfunctional
  bulging eyes? Or to breed cats who
  can’t walk?

 Many modern breeds of companion
  animals are bred for qualities that we
  find attractive, but that are harmful to
  the health of the animal.

 How much do we really love our pets if
  we continue to breed them in a way
  that makes them less healthy and that
  shortens their life expectancy?

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