c1894 Hunting Bird Dog Chasing Rabbit
Endeavors to restore local forests have opened my eyes to Earth’s ultimatum of the day — domesticate or rewild– as shown in this case, the domesticated dog vs wildlife. Urban natural spaces are mostly perceived as places for dogs to be wild and free at best, as dog dump ground at worst. Focusing on true wild life, I see habitat harm in action. Their paws compacting native seedlings and disturbing soil, creating a condition favoring invasive seeds to set and sprout. Their noises, scents, and even just their presence alarming mammals and flushing brush birds, decreasing fauna diversity. Their feces and urine tainting the land and creeks, in the end polluting ocean habitation. Finally, it was their mauling of a forest’s sole remaining fox (see Animal Control Officer’s Report), and reading Lee Hall’s On Their Own Terms: Animal Liberation for the 21st Century, that motivates this essay.
May this serve as a calling to those who love and tend to dogs to reflect on their relationship and refocus concern to nature. Why them? Because they are the ones who tune in with empathy, who do not hesitate when compassion demands action, who sacrifice with eternal loyalty. Those are the qualities needed if a diversity of animal lives is to remain viable, even for entire species to exist. But an expanded mindset does not come easy. There is always a quandary. A barrier to overcome. A predicament. A hard choice that, in this case, is no less than life or death. Here a change in mind begins with a confrontation on the domesticated dog that challenges the core of what it means to be human. To domesticate is to dominate is to master another. No matter how compassionately it’s done, in the end perpetual states of this kind of control have regrettable outcomes. That outcome is approaching.
Accompanying the bloating abundance of domesticated dogs is the burst of businesses heaping ample attention onto them. Lesser but parallel attention is paid to waning wildlife. Where is discussion of domesticated dogs’ effect on wildlife decline? Does this candid conversation topic ring too taboo for mainstream discourse? There are professional studies in professional journals on specific species impacted by dogs, but the degree of overall impact remains unstudied and unknown. Still, a literature review confirms commonsense: human bred pet and feral dogs are degrading and displacing wildlife habitats, including that of their own free relations. (see resources)
While Earth’s ill-health has distended into conventional thought, contributing causes and consequences continue to broaden in scope. Most recent concern is launching into how human food procurement impacts Earth’s ecosystems, particularly animal agriculture. With a breech across the mainstream taboo of criticizing the custom of pets, a study revealed up to 30% of farmed animal ‘products’ are fed to pets in the US. (see Environmental Impact of Food Consumption by Dogs and Cats) While animal agriculture is targeted as the prime culprit, agriculture itself is beginning to come under scrutiny. Hall reminds fellow vegans that all farming displaces wildlife habitats. (p. 65)
The ‘dog in the family’ lifeway leading to ‘dog in the park’ conflicts is the ‘canary in the mine’. Domesticating animals serves as a litmus test on our aptitude to end our reign of destruction if not even to save ourselves. If we cannot reverse our ‘dominion over wild’ mindset, we are doomed to dominate bioregions across Earth to death.
Domesticated Human Mindset on its Domesticated Dog
(W)olves, who attend to the demands of their own communities, not ours, are vilified for existing anywhere near us. While our domesticated dogs number in the hundreds of millions, their ancestral community is deemed a collective threat to subdue. We have gradually exterminated animals who scare us, and produced other animals who will accommodate our desires. And we end up calling it love. Domestication has become so customary that few people question it and most extol it… Increasingly, animals who aren’t amenable to playing a role within our society are hooked off the world stage. (Hall, pp 77–8)
One characteristic that moves humans to keep animals in existence is appealing physical features or actions that humans cherish as ‘cute’. When some humans feel enchanted by a nonhuman animal, they want to bring her as close as possible, to touch her, to play with her, to feed her. Eliciting an animal to respond to cues is justified with a rationale that interaction with nonhuman animals is a human right, a pure ideal. That ideal is fixed to our dominant position. Free living animals by and large interact and share affection with their own kind. Why have we sculpted unnatural inter-species relationships? In Dominance & Affection: The Making of Pets, Yi_Fu Tuan asserts “…dominance may be combined with affection, and what is produced is the pet.” (p. 2). Are we aware of our dominance when we do something like separate an 8-week-old puppy from its mother and siblings? Hall challenges us to “recognize dominion in all of its forms: an imposed vulnerability to human control, no matter how adorable the dependent animal might appear to us.” (p. 8)
Our calling to connect with animals reflects our deep calling to return to nature. But like dogs, we no longer know our place in the wild, or how to live mutualistically with wildlife. The pet dog normative is at its very essence a grieving of and striving to restore lost connections. Through domestication our kind has stripped from both ourselves and dogs the wild connections for which we both intrinsically yearn. Misdirected attempts to quench our longing only remove wildness from us further. In our very existence as civilized beings, we and our domesticated animal extensions are bound to degrade and displace our longed-for nature home, making our return from civilization to nature imperative.
When confronted with environmental harm of their pet, dog activists’ denial runs swift and steep. Some reactive minds extend concern for wildlife to concern for domesticated dogs, somehow including pets in the sphere of wildlife. This confusion hints at humans’ innate focus on animals, while disremembering how we have bio-engineered the wild out of some of them. When they concede that their dogs do not live free in the wild, and probably couldn’t, another flawed justification inevitably springs forth as reason their dogs are entitled to priority over free living animals.
The dog activist mind positions dogs as victims while ignoring dogs’ harms to wild animals and wild habitat. They express their motives as altruistic for the dogs; they are humbly taking on responsibility to ‘rescue’ pets from abuse and certain death. Their motives are stated as altruistic for humans; there is scientific evidence that dogs make humans happy. Reminders of the plight of wildlife, species extinctions and such, does not relent their attention, time, energy, money, or undying devotion to their dogs — their choice is made. And when the harm is direct, in front of their eyes dogs disturbing birds or squirrels, their poor dogs are deserving of the harm they do. Dogs are ‘part of the family’. To judge dogs is to threaten a family member. Besides, they spay and neuter to help bring down dog overpopulation. It’s the breeders who are to blame. They are trying to fix the problem the breeders create.
In civilization and particularly under capitalism, ‘rescuing’ pets is self-defeating merely by contributing to the pet hype. Partaking in pet customs inevitably feeds the frenzy. The more dollars humans spend on dogs (currently billions/year) the greater the quantity needing ‘rescue’ will inevitably be. It’s market principles, high demand will draw up supply. And the market too is manipulating demand through advertising and such, spiraling into a dizzying fury of pets and profits. Those who conform with the pet normative are colluding with packaging dogs as products. Ah, but they can’t help that, so says the dog activist mind.
Just as they can’t change that early humans bred the wild out of wolves. It was a symbiotic relationship and remains so today, they claim. Wolves and humans grew close through mutual aid. They helped us with the hunt, provided us protection, and we fed and protected them in return. While it may have been a symbiotic relationship at one point, humans have bred select canines to the point where they are now parasitic, and not by their choice. By hyper-molding dogs to suit our pleasures, our species has genetically altered dogs into forms that have lost ability to thrive independently. Airs of mutuality between today’s dominant humans and their reliant dogs are incredulous. If there was at some point human-canine agreement to aid each other in lives of our own pursuits, it vanished long ago.
In reply to the damage dogs do to wildlife habitats, there is also the ‘they do it too’ defense. Wild animals disturb soils and water and other animals too, wild animals are no different. But they are different. Over time wild species co-adapt and form thriving, biodiverse, resilient communities. An ecosystem is flush in a symbiosis that humans have domesticated out of dogs. If a free-living species grows too prolific, adjustments and adaptations are made to maintain homeostasis. Wildlife control their own and others’ population rates. On the other hand, a hallmark of domestication, including human domesticated dogs, is over-breeding, invasion and colonization. The more dogs encroach into wild communities, the less healthy and resilient those communities become.
Humans have bred dogs for a life outside nature, like them. As much as humans adore and try to encourage dogs’ connection with nature, they are now too far removed. The feat of the modern human-dog relationship has external impacts that contradict and impede altruistic motives. “Domestication, captivity, or control are often taken for symbiosis. But these actions don’t bring us into harmony with the rest of the living world.” (Hall, p. 116) In their current form, the core role dogs have in nature is destroyer. Destroyer of the place in which descendants of their living genetic ancestors are struggling to live. How did we end up here?
History of the Human-Dog Association
The dream that ferocious animals, on the approach of man, would kneel in docility and thus be a fit companion in a perfect world may be among the most vainglorious of human aspirations. (Tuan, p. 85) Continue reading