Wednesday, September 19, 2007

A shared history

Couldn't help but notice the always entertaining, if often prickish, "BackTalk" in the Trentonian yesterday*:

Puppies in peril
Hi, Ed, this is for the idiot from Trenton who owns two beagle puppies. He previously owned three before he decided to take them to an open lot on Klockner Road to run. Now one is dead, and this idiot needs to be brought up on animal cruelty charges. Give me his address and I'll run him over.
The anti-Michael Vick

Why doesn’t anyone get that worked up about the 18 murders of human beings we’ve had in Trenton this year?
— Ed. Note

Why do certain staff members of the Trentonian always freakin' assume that just because people have strong feelings about ANYTHING at all, especially animal cruelty, that we don't care about human beings? Why? I don't get it. It's almost like saying just because you like zucchini you cannot possibly like tomatoes. We are complex beings, able have opinions on a multitude of injustices in our society, at the same time. And there are obvious, disturbing similarities between those who harm companion animals, and those who harm humans; that's documented over and over again.

Furthermore, people have the right to get indignant about crimes—and they are crimes, Ed—against dogs, because dogs and humans share a sacred, tight history that goes back before history was even recorded. We MADE dogs what they are now; our ancestors saw greatness in them: friendship, loyalty, protection, service. Throughout the ages, dogs were bred BY US to have the best of those characteristics. There was a recent article in Discover magazine which further illustrates the connectedness we share with dogs: even those of us who do not like dogs, or ever had one was a pet, can understand a dog's message:

What Humans Know About Dogs
When dogs bark, people understand. They don’t need to know the dog or even like dogs in general, says Ádám Miklósi, a research fellow in the Department of Ethology at Eötvös Loránd University in Hungary. They can tell fairly accurately what a dog is trying to communicate.

To test this, Miklósi and his colleagues recorded barks of the mudi, a Hungarian sheepdog, in six scenarios ranging from play to attack. Thirty-six people were asked to match each recorded bark with the emotional state of the dog and the context in which it was delivered. The listeners scored well, correctly matching deep barks with aggression triggered by an intruder and higher-pitched yelps with the despair of an abandoned dog. “Dog barking was a kind of behavior that emerged with domestication,” says Miklósi. Dogs who could convey meaning through sound—a useful trait to warn the cave clan that trouble was on the way—were favored.

When we consider all that dogs do for us as a society, we got the better deal with domestication, to be sure. On a very basic level, we get protection and companionship; at best, we have seeing-eye dogs; dogs trained to sense brain seizures; cadaver-, drug-, and weapons-sniffing dogs; rescue dogs; and farm hands. But most dogs—though 100% dependent on good will from us humans—make out okay, too: they get a warm place to sleep, regular meals, and companionship. It's a decent deal for all parties involved.

At the core of our humanity, there is dog. So when someone abuses a dog, society gets offended because it violates that ancient bond we share, it violates a societal value that we do not harm those who cannot take care of themselves. To not speak up when a crime against a dog is taking place does a grave disservice to US as a species. Dogs are, in their own way, members of our society. Lower-ranking members, to be sure, but members nonetheless. If we sit idly while dogs get abused, it erodes our humanity. We are lesser for it.

*The rest of yesterday's BackTalk was fairly horrifying as well. Check it here.

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