Companion Animals as Targets of Impolite Human Comments
We all know people who have no qualms about making hurtful or boorish remarks to others. In fact, such people are common enough in our society that learning how to deal with them gracefully is just another part of becoming a mature adult. But what’s with the people who call themselves animal-lovers who aim such remarks at other people’s animals? What’s the motivation that drives them to assume this anti-animal stance?
Let’s look at a couple examples of this, beginning with breed assault. Picture this scenario. You’re walking down the street with your hound mix or sitting on your porch with your domestic shorthaired tabby and a complete stranger starts haranguing you about the evils of such animals and how you should be ashamed of yourself for owning one. Most likely you initially would be shocked by this unsolicited lecture, but then quickly realize this person is obviously deranged and remove yourself and your animal from their presence as quickly as possible.
However, if you own a certain breed of animal this could be an almost daily occurrence. There you are, walking your well-behaved Rottweiler or pit bull down the street, both of you minding your own business, and up comes someone who feels compelled to tell you how bad your dog is—and how awful you are for owning her. Anything you say, or try to say, to convince this person otherwise will be dismissed as denial on your part. Anything your dog does to disprove the other’s certainty about the inherent evilness of the breed will be dismissed as a fluke.
Or consider verbal reproductive organ assault. Let me pause here to note that I’m not choosing animal reproductive organs to stir the pot on this subject yet again. I bring it up simply because this subject so commonly elicits unwarranted remarks from others that it serves as a good example of this phenomenon.
In canine testicular assault, an otherwise seemingly normal person marches up to strangers with intact male dogs and commences lecturing those people about the need to get their animals castrated. If the dogs’ owners are women, the assailant may act like the women are, at best, incredibly naïve or, at worst, incredibly ignorant. Both will get an unsolicited discourse on all the horrors caused by canine testicles although those owners perceived as pitifully naïve may be treated with more respect. Nary a word will be spoken about the medical and behavioral problems that are more common in castrated dogs, and any attempts by more informed owners to bring these up will be met with anger and denial. Instead, they will be told that, if they cared about their dogs as well as all the unwanted dogs euthanized for lack of good homes, they would have their dogs castrated immediately if not sooner.
If the owners of the testicle-bearing dogs are men, they will be told (often in no uncertain terms) that their dogs’ intact status is strictly and can only be “a guy thing.” In other words, the dog’s testicles are a symbol of their owners’ manhood: to castrate their dogs is the equivalent of castrating themselves. Hence their reluctance to do this. Such accusations are based on nothing more than the fact that the dog has testicles and the owner is a man who presumably has testicles, too. Anything these owners bring up about the negative effects of castration will be met with responses that roughly translate, “You’re just not castrating your dog because your machismo won’t let you, you stupid pig.”
The distaff version of testicular assault is ovarian assault and it, too, can take one of two forms. In the first, after the owners disclose or the assailant deduces that a female dog is pregnant, the attacker launches into the aforementioned tirade about all the unwanted dogs in shelters, as if this particular pregnant dog and her owner were personally responsible for all of them. As in the situations described previously, attempts to challenge this view will fall on deaf ears and prolong the distasteful encounter.
The second form is a selective-assault. The potential attacker first asks, “What breed of dog is she?” Purebred dogs and owners who fulfill whatever criteria the ovarian police officer adheres to will be spared a lecture. But woe betide those who would dare breed a mongrel based on the fact that the dog was only physically and mentally sound! These people, too, will be subjected to an unsolicited sermon regarding their and their dogs’ many shortcomings, the negative effect of these on dogdom and society, and what they must do to repent.
Considering how many studies make it clear that the majority of American pet-owners consider their animals members of the family and specifically one of the kids, it’s surprising to me that self-proclaimed animal-lovers would even consider abusing other pet-owners like this. What makes it all right to do that in these people’s minds? I’ve thought about this a fair amount because multiple times a year I get calls or emails from friends as well as strangers who have been the target of this behavior. Although a few of these folks can find humor in the event, all of them want to know why someone who otherwise appears normal would harangue someone they barely knew or even a complete stranger in such an ill-mannered way.
My conclusion is that the behavior is fueled by two factors. The first is that the target usually is a stranger or someone about whom the abuser knows little and cares about less. Because of this, they can project any negative qualities they want on those people. That makes me think these people might not feel comfortable forcing their views on those they know personally. And it seems that the most likely reason for that is because they don’t feel secure enough in their beliefs to risk healthy debate on the subject.
The second is that these people relate to companion animals as symbols. Perhaps the animals merely represent some animal-related cause (universal spay and neuter, breed-specific legislation, specific kinds of diets or training methods, etc.) to them rather than real animals. This would explain why, in spite of their zeal to judge others, they so often energetically resist discussion of any negative effects their particular cause may have on the animals themselves. For them, it’s not about the animals: it’s about the cause. Or maybe they don’t have that much interest in any animal-related cause per se, but see their unsolicited lectures and any negative emotion they generate in their targets as a way to wield power over others for personal reasons that have meaning only to them.
Whatever the reason, the best way to deal with these folks is not to react to them and reinforce their impolite behavior. As the old saying from the sixties reminds us: it’s their war. There’s no need for us and our animals to get involved in it.
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