It’s time to address the comment that got me vilified on WUWT: Animals are not people, do not think or feel like humans and that believing this does not make one uneducated, emotionally vacant nor does it require pity. Seeing the world as it is should never be a reason for pity—quite the contrary, it should be celebrated.
My disapproval of using human names for animals and assuming relationships that are not verifiable goes to my dislike of the “Walt Disney” phenomena, now also found on Animal Planet and other nature shows. As you convince children that deer have “families”, the hunter becomes the bad guy when your child reads Bambi. When you name meercats and give them a TV series, you raise the animal to star status.
I hear many times people calling themselves “pet parents”. The first thing that comes to mind is “these people cannot tell the difference between a puppy and a toddler”. That’s very frightening, mostly for the toddler. Imagine growing up with mommy and daddy equating you to the family’s golden retriever. Complain all you like about the statement. The fact is “pet parents” are equating the child and the dog.
What about people who claim the cat is just a member of the family? That would be the cat that runs the neighborhood and tears up flower beds, etc. Should the cat turn up dead, the family wails and moans about the loss of the family member. Do these people let their two-year-old run the neighborhood, play in traffic, etc? After all, that’s how they treated the small, furry family member. Either these individuals care very little for their offspring and do let the toddlers play in the street, or the cat was NOT a family member. It was a pet that they allowed to run wild.
One note on cats running: People constantly say cats are part of the environment, of nature. Killing birds is what they do and it is natural. Cats are DOMESTIC animals. By definition, they are NOT part of the greater ecosystem. They are part of the owner’s ecosystem (ie, house and yard). Bobcats, mountain lions and cougars are part of the ecosystem. Domestic cats are not.
My horrifying, evil claim on WUWT was that animals should not be called mommies and daddies and kids. These are human terms. They do not apply to animals, unless you are making the claim that “a rat is a pig is dog is a boy”. Science does not back up that claim. The claim was started by animal rights activists trying to wipe out “speciesism”. It was designed to force humans to stop eating meat, stop wearing fur, and, interestingly, stop keeping pets. It seems those who make this argument do not realize they are actually arguing against keeping the pets they are parents of.
People tell me they “feel sorry for me” because I don’t view myself as equal to dolphins. One commenter said “You feel superior to dolphins”. YES, I do and I am. Humans are the top of the evolutionary chain. Humans are the ones that build, adapt and progress. Dolphins live in the ocean where evolution left them. They have no ability to overcome changes in the ocean. They cannot move to a land environment and build themselves water tanks, thus expanding their living options. Dolphins do as instinct tells them. To me, saying you are the equal of the dolphin is backward evolution. Worse, you are proud to be evolving backward and consider that morally superior. It does explain many of the problems of the world today. Marilyn Vos Savant once answered the question “Can single mothers do an effective job of raising children?” by saying lions do this. The females hunt and raise the young. Yes, and the males fight over territory and breed the females. Sound familiar? Males forming gangs and fathering as many offspring as possible, leaving the women to raise them? Of course, in humans, there are hypocritical complaints about men not supporting their offspring. The gestalt of a situation is very important to consider.
There was also the statement that I live in my mother’s basement and need to get out more. I am a wildlife photographer and conservationist. I have thousands of photos of animals and insects. My adventures include:
Walking within 30 feet of a badger and watching it interact with me
Photographing an hours old antelope fawn
Watching a golden eagle and a red-legged hawk spar over a dead rabbit I had thrown out into the open in my yard
Watching a hawk and other raptors feed off a dead deer fawn in my yard
Gathering Hera buckmoth caterpillars to see if I could get them to hatch
Identifying hundreds of plants, insects and birds for my DVDs on nature in Wyoming
Does this sound like someone who lives in a basement? Yet, because I did not approve of calling animals mommy and daddy, I am a clueless moron detached from nature. This says a lot about the people doing the name-calling.
Which brings us to “why”. Why do people say dogs love unconditionally when this is clearly false. Stop feeding your dog and have the neighbor put out a steak. Check where the dog ends up staying. Dogs “love” you because you meet their conditions, not the other way around. The same is true of your cat. Stop feeding the cat and see if it sticks around. However the reason people love animals is they cannot talk. Humans can ascribe any description they like to animal behaviour and the animal cannot disagree. Your cat will never say, “This food is crap. If you loved me, you’d buy better food”, unlike your 10 year old who doesn’t want to eat his broccoli. Your dog can’t say “Your dress makes you look fat and old” unlike your spouse. Your hamster can’t say “You look like an idiot dancing around the living room” unlike your teenager. Your guinea pig can’t say “You’re a failure. Get a better job and move up in the world” like your wife. Humans are free to ascribe whatever fantasy they want to the animal and no one can prove them wrong. They are the perfect ego booster and a great way to feel like you’re king of the world. Your dog loves you. Your cat loves you.
People tried to tell me when my Yorkie died that my Pommie was grieving when she would go around the house looking for him. She didn’t want treats much anymore. She was sad her “friend” was gone. No, she was looking for where the little monster was hiding and waiting to jump out and steal her treat or just knock into her for fun. She wasn’t mourning, she was cautiously exploring whether the house was finally safe. After a year or so, she returned to eating treats. She stopped checking for whether or not he was still here. Sure, it sounds so sweet to imagine she missed him, but she didn’t.
Attributing human attributes to animals also makes us feel like we have more “kinship” with the world. It expands our importance and belonging. Again, we can “save the dolphins” or rescue a beached whale (even if there is a reason in nature this happens, we will override nature to save the whale. It matters not if by saving it we actually increase the whale’s suffering. We feel good and that’s what counts.) The best thing is the creatures being saved can never write a headline that says “Whale suffering increased when humans interfere with natural dying process. How can we stop this cruelty?” Humans never have to take responsibility for any actions except those they choose to. It’s the perfect charity. It’s the perfect ego booster. Rachel Carson saved the birds and caused the death of millions in Africa by pushing to make DDT illegal. Trust me, she never would have gone to Africa where the relatives of the dead could vent their anger on her. She sat in the forest listening to the birds that “loved” her for saving them. The saddest thing in Ms. Carson’s case is the Africans died for nothing. The birds were fine. It was Rachel Carson that was the mess. She elevated birds above people. Birds sing, people can complain and condemn. That’s the pattern.
As for the idea that because I do not name animals and attribute human behaviour to them somehow makes my life less fulfilled, I would say that it makes my life fuller. I am free to observe the animals for what they are—a beautiful part of the world that are different from me but infinitely fascinating. Their behaviours are complex and fascinating. Badgers are not “mean” like I hear often. Badgers have territories, they defend them. When walking toward them, I watch very carefully for signs I am invading that territory. I don’t watch them roll over on their backs and think “Look, he’s just like my dog. He wants his tummy rubbed.” No, the badger is testing my reactions. If I am quiet and respectful, he will allow me to stay fairly close for a long period of time. It is an amazing experience. Without my feeling he should be named or considered my equal.
Watching hawks and eagles requires distance and respect. Allowing the raptors to work out who ends up with the rabbit or the largest share of the deer fawn is quite interesting. In the “red-tailed hawk vs golden eagle”, the hawk won. In the end, the hawk snagged the remaining carcass and flew off with it.
As for elephants “grieving” we have no evidence this is true. Elephants behave in a way we as humans label “grieving”. Humans all grieve differently, yet we feel we can say elephant behaviour is so simple and straightforward that the elephants not only “grieve” all in the same fashion, but also we are so smart we know how elephants would “grieve”. One may not recognize grieving in a spouse or child, but we are so smart we know how animals do this. No, it’s highly improbable.
Animals obviously take care of their young. They mate and the male and female may both raise the offspring, or one or the other will. If we start calling the participants “mommy” and “daddy” and “kid” we immediately taint our observation. We impose our own ideas of mommies, daddies and kids on the behaviours. We may interpret female/babies relationships incorrectly. I cannot count how many times I have read of people “saving” a baby that was abandoned by it’s mother. They drag the poor thing home, try to rescue it (which is illegal in many states). The baby may live, though maybe not since in spite of our beliefs, we are not good deer mother. If so, the fawn will lose all fear of humans, making it a target for hunters and less afraid of traffic (probably). The animal may become aggressive in mating season and have to be destroyed or relocated if it is attacking people. None of this is caring, except about one’s own need to be a hero and save the animal. Worse, in most cases, the female did not abandoned the baby. She went away to draw predators to her rather than the baby. She know where the baby is and will return. In our insistence on describing animals in human terms, we cared nothing about the reality that their world is not like ours. Generally speaking, humans do not have to lure predators away from their babies on a regular basis. Deer do.
One of the most disturbing assignments of human behaviour to animals is that of prairie dogs. Prairie dogs will run out on a road and drag another prairie dog that has been hit off the road. Oh, that sweet, heroic animal. He cares about his relative so much he risks his life for the relative. Actually, the prairie dog retrieves the body because prairie dogs are cannibals. He’s dragging lunch off the road. If you truly love the cannibal side, that’s fine. As long as you are realistic.
Seeing the world as it is does not mean one misses any wonder in the world. It just means you see animals for what they are—animals that are very different from humans and very fascinating in their own right.