People shouldn't treat their dogs as if they were humans


CLEVELAND -- I don't like French Poodles. They're too yappy for me.

Their fur is too kinky and they give me the impression that their dog food isn't quite up to their standards. Maybe it's just the baggage of their ancestry's preoccupation with food. But I do know my comments about French Poodles do not make me a racist.

And yet there is a growing group of animal rights activists who would disagree. Who have made the argument that city ordinances banning certain breeds like pit bulls amount to racial profiling. These groups have also argued that the concept of pet ownership is the moral equivalent of slavery.

In Berkeley, Calif., the city council, under pressure from animal rights groups, voted to change language in the city's leash law from "pet owners" to "pet guardians."

These groups actually believe that dogs should have legal rights. Well, I'm not about to grant my dog the right to get braces for her overbite or anti-depressants when she's feeling a bit dowdy, as a growing number of dog owners are doing for their dogs. Nor will my dog have the right to health insurance even though 500,000 dogs in America have their own insurance policies. Not when 40 million two-legged Americans are uninsured.

The anthropomorphizing of dogs is endearing when it's done as an expression of love. It's sickening when it's done as an expression of law. This is a movement utterly without merit.

It is the most indulgent, worst side of our American psyche, the side that proclaims, "If I feel something strongly enough, it must be true." This thinking is partly to blame for our high divorce rate: "I am unhappy; therefore, something must be wrong with my spouse."

Our pathetic savings rate and growing bankruptcy rate are also an expression of the belief that "I feel unhappy; therefore, I deserve more stuff."

I don't care how much you love your dog; that doesn't make it a person. And I don't care how many pet owners feel the same way you do. And unfortunately, a lot do.

A survey quoted in the New York Times shows that three-quarters of pet owners consider their pets akin to children. And half of all female pet owners rely more on their pets for affection than on their husbands. I feel sorry for these people.

Deeply sorry. And profoundly embarrassed for them that they would admit this to a stranger asking them questions on a survey.

But I'm also filled with fear. This survey doesn't reflect the beliefs of a small fringe group -- it amounts to a majority opinion when you consider that most Americans own pets.

And this tendency to regard pets as human does more than degrade humans; it translates into action. In Seattle recently, two forums were held on the same night, one on dogs in the park and one for citizens to ask questions of finalists for the position of superintendent of schools. Four times more people showed up for the dog hearing.

And in San Francisco a reward of $25,000 was offered in a child kidnapping case while at the same time a reward nearly twice that much was offered in a dog killing case. Which naturally raises a few questions: What if the dog was killed by another dog? Would that dog then be charged with murder? If so, would it be pre-meditated or a crime of passion? Would the defense argue mental incapacity since dogs have such low IQ's?

Yep, treating dogs like humans raises a lot of questions, not the least of which is, "Have we lost our minds?"

Jim Sollisch is a free-lance writer who lives in Cleveland.

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