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Our relationship with food, animals, and our planet grows increasingly convoluted every day. One of the issues at the forefront of media and public attention is our complicated marriage with consumption, ownership, and protection of the millions of other species we share this planet with. Do you own a pet? Would you feed a kitten to a boa constrictor? Are you a meat eater or a vegetarian? In seeking a way to better examine questions such as these, look no further than Hal Herzog’s intuitive book titled, “Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat.”
Herzog is an anthrozoologist dedicated to specifically examining the complicated relationships we have with the animals we keep as pets, consume, and see at the zoo. Organized into ten easy-to-follow chapters, he discusses the science behind his research, our choice of the animals we keep as pets, gender differences in animal affinity, our “omnivorous dilemma,” and the use of animals in scientific research. Herzog does an exceptional job of answering almost all the most common predicaments people face when thinking about animals.
The opening remarks are clearly designed to make you think critically about our animal decisions. Perhaps the most abhorrent of these is his address of the morality of feeding kittens to boa constrictors. To the common US citizen’s ear, this sounds like a horrific endeavor. Who would feed something so sweet and cute to an animal many people are deathly afraid of?
On paper, however, Herzog points out that two million cats are euthanized each year in shelters, and many more live ferally, recreationally killing birds and other small mammals. According to a recent study conducted by Scott Loss and Peter Mara, free-range cats kill up to 3.7 billion birds annually—so really, we would simply be promoting the circle of life. The question is then, would feeding cats to boas, versus rodents, actually mitigate the loss of bird life?
In the last century, our relationship with animals has evolved greatly. According to the American Pet Product Manufacturers Association, over half of American households are shared with a pet. The most common pets are dogs and cats, followed next by fish. When college students were asked to rate 16 types of animals on how many “pet” qualities they exemplified, animals like hamsters, tarantulas, and boas ranked lowest. Yet, all of these are considered pets by many, and in recent years have evolved more into family members than pets.
The pet industry brings in nearly $43 billion annually, which has developed as a result from our ever changing—and strange—relationship with animals. To this day, “the human being is the only animal that keeps members of other species for extended periods of time purely for enjoyment.” Pets can make us happier and healthier, foster human relationships, and entertain us. Despite this, pet ownership isn’t for everyone—and not everyone feels so fondly about all species. Stephen Kellert of Yale University has consistently found that women are more concerned with protecting animals than men are. In contrast, men are the most common animal abuse offenders, involved in 70% of instances; however, women are more likely to become animal hoarders. Do you consider all animals to be protection-worthy?
Another commonplace issue in the modern-day animal rights movement is the process in which we raise animals for consumption. In his chapter titled “In the Eyes of the Beholder” Herzog uses cockfighting to illustrate his point, a topic on which he wrote his doctoral dissertation.
Cockfighting is a sport fueled by people with a deep love for their birds. The roosters are raised for up to two years, free range, and most birds participate in some sort of daily “training” to prepare them for fights. Eventually, these prized birds travel to the ring and are pitted against each other, and the fight concludes once one bird is dead—something they are bred to do, and arguably comes naturally. In comparison to a common broiler chicken, they live a life of luxury.
The average meat chickens live six or seven weeks in a windowless, close packed facility. They spend most of their time laying down in excrement, unable to support their own overweight bodies. At five to six pounds, they are stuffed into a transport truck by their legs, and then slaughtered upside down in an electric water bath. Despite this clear difference in quality of life, the Humane Society of America took on cockfighting and lead it to become illegal in every state in August 2008. Would you want to live a life in total darkness, or one of free-range?
Most die-hard animal activists also oppose the use of animals for research, another double- edged sword. Without “lab-rats,” we wouldn’t have the medicinal advances we do today. In addressing this issue, Herzog strongly urges readers to think about the mental capacities of different species.
For example, research indicates that mice may feel empathy, elephants grieve, and dolphins can understand pointing and imitate actions. We are forced to wonder why we always consider other species to be beneath us, when many of them exhibit comparable levels of complex moral thinking. Some experts have indicated over 17 million mice are used for research in a single year.
Interestingly, mice, rats, and birds are not covered in the Animal Welfare Act, meaning “90-95% of the animals used in research in the United States are not covered under the main federal animal protection legislation.” Again, we ask questions: makes a hamster an animal, but not a mouse?
Herzog’s book offers incredible insight into the multifaceted world of our relationship with other species, backed up by real science. His witty humor and true knowledge of the industry provoke the reader to reconsider how they think and feel about animals. Ultimately, he reveals his conclusion—the relationship is complicated, and we are hypocrites.
For further information about Herzog and his book, you can access his website here: http://halherzog.com, or listen to his interview on NPR’s Hidden Brain podcast titled “Our Animal Instincts.”
WORDS: Elizabeth Kantra
IMAGE CREDIT: Creative Commons