“Abuse grows from attitudes and values, not feelings. The roots are ownership, the trunk is entitlement, and the branches are control.”
~ Lundy Bancroft
There are profound differences in how we relate to our dogs whether as owners or as friends, and the two are not compatible. There cannot be a “happy medium” between them, because a friendship is based on equality whereas ownership is based on inequality.
Yesterday, I was reading on the American Kennel Club’s website about “responsible dog ownership”. I wasn’t surprised to read this from an organization that makes millions of dollars every year from the mass production and commodification of genetically manipulated organisms (dog breeds). What I didn’t find anywhere was “responsible dog friendship”, which implies a relationship based on equality and respect, rather than control and ownership.
This attitude of ownership is rooted deeply in the idea of human superiority, dominance and speciesism. In our culture, as in many other cultures, the ownership of non-humans is a legal term. However, can one sentient being ethically and morally own another sentient being? And, if so, what would be the consequences of this arrangement? This is easy to answer. Just look at the millions and millions of unwanted dogs, cats and other non-humans that populate our shelters every year. Look at the thousands upon thousands of animal abuse and neglect cases that human officers have to deal with, not to mention the untold number of those that go unreported or unseen. This stems precisely from the idea that we (humans) are the owners of these living creatures, and since they are possessions, we can do with them as we please. The problem lies in the fact that possessions are for the pleasure of the possessor. Once the pleasure ends, we try to control or “fix” the possession, and if we can’t, we dispose of it. This is exactly what we do to dogs when we feel that we are their owners, not their friends.
Friendship is the natural path to take with our dogs, as that is how humans and dogs evolved together for thousands of years. Ownership is a recent distortion of that relationship. If friendship is the natural way that Humans and Dogs “grew up” together, and anthropologists and ethologists find that it most likely was, then ownership is an unnatural, contrived and manufactured relationship, compared with the growth of a friendship. It takes longer to grow something than make something, and in our culture of instant gratification, we have lost the virtue of patience. We want everything NOW. But any good gardener or farmer will tell you that genuine and healthy growth takes time. If we pull up on the stems to make the flower grow faster, we kill it.
Ownership is control-based. Therefore, it is dualistic. That is to say that we see ourselves as very separate from our dogs; and it is reductionist – we break the relationship into irreducible “parts”, like a machine, compared with the organic and holistic nature of a friendship, which is non-dual, and integrated.
Ownership is one directional: Top-Down. It is based on a hierarchy, where friendship is bi-directional and horizontal and is based on equality.
The approach with ownership therefore is control: mechanical and Skinnerian – where the only thing that matters is what the dog does. It’s a business transaction: “Do this, and you’ll get that.” It’s a monologue and a lecture. Friendship, by contrast, is humanistic, that is to say it takes each other’s feelings and aspirations into account. It works on growing the relationship. It’s a dialogue and a conversation.
An owner “does” training to his dog, where friends collaborate with each other and trust and respect each other.
And finally, ownership is often externally and extrinsically motivated, “What can I get from my dog?” Friendship is internally and intrinsically motivated, “What can we give to each other?
Ownership is a self-serving relationship. It exists to please the owner, not the possession. If we are to end the continued mass production, and consequently the mass disposal, abuse and neglect of dogs, our supposed “best friends”, then we must strive to actually be their friends, and not their owners. We owe them that.
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