I recently read an email sent out from Dr. Nancy Kay (http://www.speakingforspot.com/) regarding some negative “fanmail” she has received.  I will not reprint the disgruntled fan’s quote here, but suffice it to say that when this radio listener sees a nation that cares for its pets, she sees a nation in trouble.  We sick Americans dote on our beloved dogs, paying large sums for their food and veterinary care, not to mention their designer accessories, and this–according to her–is a sad reflection of our country’s priorities. 

As you might imagine, I beg to differ.  Mahatma Gandhi said, “The greatness of a nation, and its moral progress, can be judged by the way its animals are treated,” and I do believe he was right (pretty much all of the time). The sad state of affairs going on in American morality (for I do believe we are a nation largely void of the kind of empathy and kindness a truly progressed nation would have) is not reflected by the love and affection endowed on the dogs.  I would say our glimmer of hope, the thing that keeps my faith in Americans, is the people who truly love their dogs, and choose to treat animals with kindness.  No, the lack of morality and progress is reflected in how the other dogs, the unloved dogs, are treated (and that’s not even to tap into the OTHER animals Americans abuse and exploit, the ones unfortunate enough to have something the human race craves). 

Dogs as Commodities

It is estimated that the United States animal shelters kill 3.7 million animals each year.  Think about that. That’s about how many human beings live in the entire state of Connectitcut. Now imagine all of them struck down, dead by lethal injection or gas chamber (yes that still goes on). Now does that number seem real? I hope so. These dogs are killed by the thousands daily, because people are too selfish to give their lives enough consideration to spay/neuter their pets, call a behaviorist when things go wrong, or personally rehome the pets they can no longer keep. Way too many dogs live in puppy mills, the factory farms of the pet industry where their lives are not considered at all except as a means to make money. These commodified pups wind up in mall pet store windows or–more popular these days–on fancy puppy shop websites where you can purchase them via PayPal and have the pup shipped to you.  It is this commodification of living beings that reflects the sad state of our nation, not the humanizing of them.  People think if they can swipe a credit card they can buy a dog, and do not take into consideration that the dog has her own needs, her own feelings, and her own life.

Dogs as Subordinates

Perhaps even stranger than this commodification of our furry best friends is the power some individuals feel when training them via methods of force.  The rights of dogs are not really considered in traditional dog training, and most dog trainers even today (especially the popular ones like a certain mysoginist on National Geographic–but that’s another blog entirely) use whatever “gets the job done.”  We have collars designed to choke, pinch, shock, and spray dogs with chemicals–much thought has gone into the design of these instruments (how we do so love violence) of pain, and these are the animals we fawn too much over?  I agree in part with this harried radio listener, I do think our nation is in trouble, but I think the reflection of that trouble is not in the love some of us shower on non-human individuals, I think the reflection is in our love for dominance, violence, and punishment that is so prominantly displayed in “popular” dog training. 

A Light at the End of the Tunnel

When are we going to stand up and say enough? When are the same individuals who buy their dogs designer clothes, organic food, and the best possible medicine going to stand up and say it is no longer acceptable to strap electricity to a dog to keep it near your home, or to choke a dog to the point of shock on national television?  When are we going to decide something serious has to be done about pet overpopulation? WHEN? The answer, as always, is now. Now is the time for organizations like the APDT www.apdt.com to step up and take a stand (regardless of controversy) against people employing cruel, aversive training methods.  Now is the time to end America’s love affair with power, violence, and greed, if not for the dogs, then for the human beings.