“Friendship is a serious affection; the most sublime of all affections, because it is founded on principle, and cemented by time.”
~ Mary Wollstonecraft
Today is National Dog Day, a commemoration that increases awareness of Dogs that need to be rescued. It also is a celebration of how Dogs throughout history have helped Humans lead happier, healthier and safer lives. The day brings attention to the “plight of animals”, yet it falls short in bringing awareness to the fact that although we call Dogs our “best friends”, our relationship has been one of owner/pet rather than true friends.
Today is also Women’s Equality Day commemorating the nineteenth amendment to the constitution in 1920 prohibiting states from denying women the right to vote. This celebrates the equality of all humanity regardless of gender (as if that ever had to be questioned in the first place).
National Dog Day should take a page from Women’s Equality Day to encourage genuine and equal friendships between Humans and Dogs. The founder of National Dog Day, Colleen Paige, speaks about why so many Dogs are surrendered to shelters and given away:
“Millions of dogs are killed each year because they’re simply unwanted, says Colleen Paige, founder of National Dog Day. They’re unwanted because no one realized how to properly care for the demands of the breed. They’re unwanted because they were bought as a Christmas gift for a child that didn’t keep their promises about caring for the dog…unwanted because they shed too much…unwanted because they bark too much. UNWANTED…simply because someone changed their mind…”
Although I agree in with her in part, she’s missing the bigger picture. She’s describing the symptoms and NOT the disease. The root cause of Dog surrenders is that Dogs are seen as less important than Humans. Their lives are seen as less valuable, less deserving, and less equal. Yes – we call them our friends, but do we walk our talk? Friends never abandon friends.
There are no friends in animal shelters – only pets.
By exploiting Dogs for our own selfish amusement and utility, they may become manipulated, dominated, neglected, abandoned and sometimes abused. That is not how friends treat each other.
We selectively breed our supposed “friends” for physical abnormalities that can shorten their life and cause suffering, e.g.: bulldogs, great Danes, teacup poodles, etc. We “install” behavioral drives that create perpetual frustration. For example, we breed in strong predatory drives not based on hunger, which can never be satisfied, so the dog is condemned to live with an itch that can never be scratched. We perpetuate “fashion” breeds to suit the whims of people who want to own the newest creation. Being true friends with our dogs means ending the genetic manipulation and breeding for our own pleasure and nostalgia. Most purebreds are never involved in the tasks they were originally “designed” for, and are being bred now because of our desire for a specific “style”. This serves our pleasure alone and does nothing to serve the Dogs. (Shame on you AKC).
If we are to truly respect and honor Dogs, as so many claim to, then we have to treat them with equal consideration. In other words, we have to walk our talk and treat them as friends. This does not mean only babying them or indulging them with fancy beds and tons of toys. That stuff is great, but does not replace treating them as equals with respect, appreciation and dignity.
This also means putting an end to coercive tactics and “dominating” our Dogs. We are not a pack of wolves; we are friends. Humans and Dogs evolved together and helped to domesticate each other. Our relationship began as equal friends and partners and not as master and slave.
In addition, we also need to end our lust for control and stop micro-managing and manipulating our Dogs solely for our own enjoyment, even under the guise of “humane” training. Would you treat your friend as an object and use manipulative Skinnerian “puppeteering” to get your friend to “obey” you? Of course not. If you did, you would not be a friend.
As a society we need to open our doors to Dogs more, and allow them to accompany us to more places such as stores, National parks, restaurants, and other locales that discriminate based solely on species, and NOT on behavior. Landlords need to recognize that Dogs can be good tenants, and be more accepting of them in rental properties. There should be a universal code of conduct in public places. If everyone adhered to this code of conduct, then it wouldn’t matter if they were Dog, Cat, Human… if they violated the code of conduct they would be asked to leave instead of basing it only on species. I have been many places where the Dogs were fine, but the Humans were acting inappropriately. This does not mean simply being a “good citizen”. That implies blind conformity and obedience – Rosa Parks was not considered a good citizen, yet she she was one of the greatest influencers of freedom in history. It means being respectful, accepting, and tolerant of others as equals.
I’m amazed that we Humans actually need an amendment to our constitution that gives one gender the same rights as another gender. It boggles my mind that equality is something that has to be legislated. It’s even more boggling that even today, this equality is still something that has to be fought for. The idea that one person is less “equal” because of their gender, culture, religion, race, or even economic status is a shameful commentary on the collective consciousness of many Humans. Sexism, racism, and class discrimination are symptoms of self-absorbed, self-serving and ignorant minds. So is speciesism. We are better than that.
I am advocating for Dogs to be treated as equal friends, and not as pets. Friends in the truest sense, as in Aristotle’s highest form of friendship: the “friendship of the good”. It is only between those who can give each other equal consideration and not put themselves above or below the other, that a true friendship can form. If the relationship is unequal, one-sided, and based on utility or amusement, then it is not a true friendship, it is ownership. This requires continuous attention to our own actions and feelings, in addition to our Dog’s behavior, to ensure this equality. Mary Wollstonecraft, a pioneer of feminism once said: “Friendship and domestic happiness are continually praised; yet how little is there of either in the world, because it requires more cultivation of mind to keep awake affection, even in our own hearts, than the common run of people suppose.”
With all we know and understand about non-human consciousness, it’s hard to grasp the fact that we treat animals as less deserving of consideration than us, simply because they are a different species. This includes Dogs. I had a spiritual teacher who always said, “All life is precious.” I couldn’t agree more. Our Dogs, who have stood side-by-side with Humans for tens of thousands of years, deserve to be treated with equal consideration. They deserve (as do all non-humans) to be treated as equal friends – not just in words, but in actions. When that day comes, National Dog Equality Day will also be a day worth celebrating.