Who is really damaging the earth, humans or dogs?
Unless you live in a very unique pocket of our society, most people still consider animals as being inferior to humans. People may appreciate them or even work hard to improve their lives, however, on the subconscious level they still consider themselves and their lives to be more valuable.
There are many people who find it absurd that some dogs get “human-grade food” and are treated with the same care and respect as humans. They find it hard to accept that, from nature’s point of view, the value of human and animal life is undeniably equal and not more or less meaningful.
Just because humans have self-proclaimed their supremacy over animals, it does not mean that we are supreme. We just have a higher ability to invent, think and get organized in the process of destroying this planet. Perhaps my opinion is rather callused, but it would be hard to dispute that other life forms would have a much easier time without us.
In fact, we fall short in areas where animals excel, such as living a sustainable, eco-friendly existence, navigating terrain, surviving in challenging environments and being in tune with nature.
I am not writing this piece to burden you with an everlasting guilt of being human because I believe we are capable of living in harmony with animals and nature. We just have not figured it all out yet. There are historical and religious origins to our self-proclaimed human supremacy. People had to find a reasonable excuse to use and exploit animals, and these societal norms gave them a green light.
Accepting that animals have emotions and are equal, from nature’s point of view, would throw a giant wrench into many industries and entertainment, such as dairy and meat production, hunting, rodeos, and using animals in dangerous jobs or for laboratory experiments.
People also wanted to feel special in the often dangerous and unpredictable world and that is why they made up stories that they're more important than everything else. Who doesn't want to be the proverbial favourite child?! 😉
Most people agree that animals should be treated well, yet, to be fair, almost everyone participates in some form of animal cruelty. In other words, animal mistreatment is the giant elephant in the room.
So what can we do to repair our reputation? First, I suggest humility and reminding ourselves that while we are more influential than other animals, we are not more important.
Second, we can start to cultivate respect and acceptance of pets in our society, the same way we accept children. Most dog and animal lovers understand this, but most others still feel that humans deserve more and better.
A story that inspired this newsletter
During my recent trip to the Rocky Mountains, I met many people who enjoyed my dog Pax’s company, but I also encountered those who would rather not have him around.
The most common argument I heard was that “dogs” cause damage to the environment and disturb wildlife, hence they should not be allowed at all or at least leashed at all times.
At one point on our trip, I encountered a family of two parents and three children. We were hiking to a glacier that has receded more than 2 miles (3km), in less than 100 years and it will be gone in a few years. The father of the family gave me a big lecture that my dog should be on the leash, and because I didn’t want to argue, I had Pax on the leash for most of the 5-mile trail. It was tough and no fun!
In retrospect, I wish I took a different approach and said to him: “Thank you for expressing your concern, perhaps you forgot that your children each produce 60 metric tons of CO2 per year. It is us, people, who are the real cause of the destruction of this beautiful glacier and park, not my dog.”
This would have been my authentic reply.
I have come to accept that the relationship between animals and humans is complicated, and that change will not happen overnight. However, I refuse to settle for the fact that this is simply how things are and always will be.
The most meaningful changes in our society happen slowly, but the undeniably positive effect of dogs on our emotional and physical health may already be helping.
For example, when I visited my friends in Austria and Switzerland, I saw dogs in restaurants, on trains, on gondolas and mountain trails, happy, socialized and well mannered.
Having had the opportunity to see dogs in many countries and places, I observed that the more rules and restrictions the less socially adjusted dogs are, which leads to behavioural issues and ultimately increases anti-dog sentiment in society.
More than 40% of families in North America live with dogs. We are taxpayers, we are voters, and we deserve to be heard and have equal access to public parks and spaces. It is true that there a few dogs that are problematic, but this also applies to people. Punishing everyone for the offences of a few makes no sense for people or animals.
One of my favourite quotes of all time is one from Mahatma Gandhi:
“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”
I cannot agree more.
© Dr. Peter Dobias, DVM