Of Dogs and Men

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Comedian Jerry Seinfeld once joked that if aliens came down to earth and saw how humans treated their dogs, following them around, picking up their excrement in little plastic bags, it would be obvious that the dogs and not the humans were the dominant species. It seems ridiculous, but alas, as a friend of mine says, it’s funny because it’s true.

Since I moved to the city, I have discovered that there are few things more loathsome than trendy city-dwelling dog owners and their dimwitted dogs. These people are everywhere, walking around with their little bags full of poop, forever anxious to swoop down and pick up after Fido who’s been cooped up all day in some 500 square foot apartment. The stupidity of having dogs in the city was showcased recently when dog owners spontaneously took over a grassy field for their dogs’ "playdates" and Frisbee retrieving exercises. When the owners of the field decided to fence off the field to keep the interlopers out, the cries of moral outrage were deafening. Acting as if they had been robbed of some fundamental American liberty, they cried, "where will we take our dogs to play?" Solution: Lose the dog, get a gerbil.

These "animal lovers" are generally the same people who would rather pull the plug on their grandmothers than put down an injured dog. They’ll step over a legless bum to save a kitten in a tree, or give thousands to the local animal shelter while their parents rot in nursing homes. How can we be surprised then, when after a local police dog is shot, that the dog’s "partner" calls for legislation equating shooting a police dog with shooting a police officer. The negative repercussions of such an abominable law would be numerous.

When animals are exalted as worthy of human or near human rights, any interaction between humans and animals must thus result in a diminishment in the value of human life. For example, if a defendant were to be charged for injuring a police dog on a par with assaulting a police officer, this necessarily diminishes the status of the accused to that of a dog. Such a law would shout loud and clear that such a defendant enjoys no preference over an animal. He now ranks among the brutes, for now his life is no more valuable than that of a dog. In contrast, Catholic theology, based on Thomist and Aristotelian philosophy, maintains that only human beings have immortal souls and are subject to salvation and damnation. Apparently, all dogs do not go to heaven. Is this philosophy promulgated to oppress our poor animal companions? Of course not. The teaching against the immortality of animal souls exists to elevate mankind and to drive home the point that human beings are worthy of special treatment and dignity separate from all other life forms. While the Church prohibits the gratuitous infliction of pain upon animals, it also prohibits the excessive valuation of animals by devoting resources to animals that would best be devoted to one’s fellow humans. Translation: Don’t spend twenty grand on Spot’s kidney transplant.

Setting aside moral theology for political philosophy, though, it is clear that heaping money upon one’s pet can be viewed as a personal luxury for the owners of dogs, and in a free society, there is nothing the government should do about this. But when laws are passed elevating the status of pets to that of their masters, the pets become like their masters, and the masters become like their pets. The special rights known as human rights extended to all people in a just society cease to maintain their special significance when extended to mere animals.

Many have claimed, most notably the philosopher Peter Singer, that the arguments made above are the arguments made by slave-holders in the days of old and that we are simply blinded by our prejudice. Nonsense. Even limiting our arguments to the case of Negro slavery where the slaves were regarded as the least human, we have numerous examples of slaves escaping their masters or buying their freedom and becoming merchants, musicians, artisans, and intellectuals. If taught, black slaves could learn to read as readily as any other human, and some even taught themselves. Animals can do none of these things. Show me a dog or even a chimp that can read a book, write a poem, or negotiate a business deal and I might change my mind.

All the zeal for special protection for animals should be even less surprising when we consider the fact that police officers have long enjoyed super-human status as the beneficiaries of tougher penalties for attacking or killing a police officer as opposed to doing the same to a mere civilian. As agents of the State, state, local, and federal police are protected by legal privilege much the same way that various interest groups are protected by "hate crime" legislation that imposes greater penalties for attacks against people who can prove they are members of some protected group.

Even if we don’t reject (as we should) the argument that police officers’ lives are somehow special, this does not in any way necessarily extend to their dogs. Many have commented on the "courage" of police dogs, but courage is a meaningless concept to a dog. Dogs know nothing of their own mortality, they cannot conceive of eternity or death or speculate on the future consequences of present actions. They can’t even recognize themselves in a mirror. So what exactly is so remarkable about these dogs? They have been trained to attack people that the police tell them to. When it’s all over, they get some kibble. There is no "courage" anywhere in the equation. The dogs are useful tools utilized by their human masters. Those who injure them should be charged with destruction of property, for that is what dogs are.

I would like to take the opportunity to make it clear that I have nothing against dogs or their fellow animals. In a saner age, however, dogs were something that stayed in the yard and were seldom seen running through people’s living rooms knocking over lamps and rubbing up against company as their adoring masters looked on. For all their ability to provide help and companionship to humans, dogs and other animals will never be anything more. However, if Peter Singer is right and we were just oppressing these poor animals as we have so many races of human in the past, we should be careful. It can’t be too many more years before they realize that we’re the ones picking up their steaming piles of filth, and from then on, it’s sure to be all down hill.

Ryan McMaken [send him mail] is editor of the Western Mercury.

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