This is my dog Bart. Anyone who knows me, knows that I am completely and utterly obsessed with him. I am definitely guilty of anthropomorphising him, I constantly call him baby and my best friend, I talk to him regularly and make up scenarios for what he might be thinking whilst he’s doing some strange doggy activity. I am aware this is a projection of my own needs and a process of humanisation for my own pleasure. As Una Chaudhuri puts it “As pets, as performers, as literary symbols, animals are forced to perform us – our fantasies and fears, our questions and quarrels, our hopes and horrors (2003)”. This certainly rings true to my own personal experience with animals. In the same way Desmond Morris said “The age of a child is inversely correlated with the size of the animals it prefers”, reflecting his argument that young children preferred larger animals because it reminded them of a parent and older children preferred smaller animals because it reminded them of a baby, which I can relate to.
But more importantly than this, why am I more inclined to feel this way about dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs and other popularly domesticated animals than say a pig?. After all pigs have even been known to out smart dogs, large amounts of research on pigs was conducted in the 1990’s and Professor Stanley Curtis of Penn State University, who discovered that pigs dominate at video games with joy sticks says, “Pigs are able to focus with an intensity I have never seen in a chimp”, so in theory humans should be able to recognise more potential in pigs. However, a prominent argument against this would be because we love to eat them. We label pigs as pork and bacon and cows as beef, making real animals vanish by putting names on them making it easier for us to ignore how these animals are treated in the meat industry. We have even concocted sayings like “I smell like a pig” affiliating pigs with being dirty and unclean when in actual fact pigs don’t even have sweat glands.
It can also be put down to how these animals are represented in the media. Dogs are often featured in advertisements for toilet paper, cars, food and even the super bowl. Dogs are allowed to have their own seats on trains in England and to sit in restaurants and cafes, whilst for Balinese people dogs are believed to be reincarnated thieves and criminals and are generally not kept as pets, so there can also be cultural factors involved too. However, psychologist and anthrozoologist Hal Herzog has recently written a book called ‘Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat’ in which he talks about factors contributing to our like and dislike of certain animals. He puts it down to the way they look and humans affiliation to connect to things that look like them, the closer the match, the more familiar the animal seems. For example, our canine friends, we teach them to sit and shake hands just to be more like us.
Humans have always tried to teach animals how to understand their language, but never tried to understand theirs. It is this primate mentality which allows us to treat some animals as family and others as objects.