We as a society see kittens and puppies and naturally think things like, “I want to pet it!” or “what’s her name”…but have you ever thought, “hmm.. that dog looks delicious” or “that cat would make a great entrée”…Well, of course you haven’t, because that would be absolutely ABSURD and HORRIBLE. But who decided this? Of course dogs and cats are adorable, fluffy, and lovable, but wouldn’t pigs be just as adorable if we domesticated them, got them groomed, and didn’t slaughter them? Now don’t get me wrong, I eat pig. I’m not a vegetarian. I just want to get to the bottom of how our society decided that we would take wolves and wild cats and put them on a pedestal consisting of treats, cuddles, and unconditional love.
Through research, I found that the history of humans and dogs is in fact a blurry one; at one point around fifteen to thirty thousand years ago, man began building his relationship with dog. Dogs most likely grew accustomed to humans after many years of manipulation into being protectors, companions, and hunters. While some believe that dogs came to be our best friends because people randomly decided to take wolf puppies and domesticate them, others believe in a process called passive domestication. Passive domestication is a process of natural relationship growth between animals and humans. I personally have no position on which of these is true and think both are viable possibilities. This still doesn’t totally explain the whole question of, “why isn’t it socially acceptable to eat a dog” though. How did things go from using dogs for labor and protection to dressing them up in Halloween costumes? (Below is a picture of my cat, Batman, in a Penn State jersey).
Passive domestication is more clearly explained in cats. In the article hyperlinked above, the author discusses evidence regarding the idea that cats most likely came onto people’s territory to catch prey and in turn were given scraps of food for protecting crops. Thus, a passive relationship was slowly built. Unlike dogs, cats were not manipulated into being our pals. Cat domestication actually stopped far earlier than dogs because instead of using cats for various things, we just didn’t mind their presence. I wonder if this explains the stereotype that cats don’t care about their owners. Is this because we never forced them into loving us? Either way, we still aren’t eating our cats. Why?
I came across a very riveting point in the article that brings everything together and may actually answer my question. Recent studies have shown that dogs have a sense of jealously and ethics. They know right from wrong. They enforce righteousness. Although cats are much harder to study in lab, scientists such as Darwin use everyday observations to prove that cats are just as intellectual as dogs. Darwin has discussed his observations regarding cats always hunting specific types of birds to prove that cats can distinguish different species from each other. Although this type of conclusion is often criticized because it is not as invasive and revealing as an experiment, cats have still prevailed over thousands of years as one of our favorite household companions.
The concern among scientists today is as follows: If we as a society claim dogs and cats as our property and give them special treatment, who is to say that farmers can’t do the same thing for cows and chickens? Who is to say that animal testers can’t decide that rats deserve rights and stop testing on them? If the cycle goes on, will all animals become our best buds? In my opinion, I think this will never happen. In class we learned about rationality; no one is telling us that we can’t eat dogs and cats, but as a society we have made this a clear social construct. We have made the decision as a society to keep dogs and cats as our pets. It would be irrational to eat our pets. Due to thousands of years of relationship building, a natural barrier between these two animals and the rest of the animals in the world has been built. In my opinion, the evolutionary history of dogs and cats has spoken, and other animals will never be able to reach the pedestal. Once we as people start comparing these animals to our children, I see no possibility that we will ever eat them. I believe now that we have put all our efforts toward dogs and cats as our most favorable companions, we are content. We don’t mind leaving our house and buying a pound of ham, because our love for our pets distracts us from the fate of other animals.
Note: When I reference “society” I am referring to the Western world. I have been getting comments about dogs and cats being food for certain countries, but I am focusing on the cultures that do not see this as an acceptable activity.