Essay: For the Love of Dog
Warning: this post contains language and views likely offending to some people. Not that I care much about the feelings of said individuals, just thought I'd mention it. Right, let's move on.
Social media and news sites went ablaze during the last couple of weeks, regarding the infamous China's Yulin dog meat festival. Don't need to link images or videos here, nearly everyone got a nasty taste of how gruesome the whole situation is. Public outrage was (almost) universal and, with many celebrities getting actively involved, such as the great guy known as Ricky Gervais, it seems that, fortunately, the whole event is cancelled.
Of course, this means very little. These practices are traditional in several parts of Asia and are known for many years now. Just having internet access for the past couple of decades, doesn't make the fact that people kill and eat dogs (and cats), news.
I totally understand the blistering anger of any dog lover, seeing these images. Being rather impulsive by nature, I'll freely admit that, having to confront a situation where a human was having fun torturing a dog, would probably result in instant, violent and potentially lethal action on my part. This is the instinctive, bare bones reaction: "Dogs are my friends; you hurt my friends, I cut you".
That said, let me also point out how much I really dislike sentimentalism. Being naive and reacting only when there is a media outcry about animal rights doesn't really help. Getting properly informed does. But we have to recognize good intentions.
And here is the suitable point to start insulting people, people with "opinions". Because, according to some articles, all those aforementioned, admittedly, sentimental dog-loving people are horribly misguided.
The first batch of idiots is of the politically correct variety, insisting that we should respect "other peoples' traditions". You don't say. Like it was a tradition with some tribes, to eat the flesh of their enemies. Like it is still a tradition, in some parts of world, to mutilate girls genitals. Right... No. No, we'll not respect "traditions". You can go fuck yourselves.
The other source of criticizing opinion were those people arguing that we have the right to disapprove, basically, only if we are Vegan. Killing any animal for food is practically the same, in their eyes. Well, no. Any vegan pushing this concept, is basically a self-righteous bastard.
First of all, let's separate the acts of killing and torture. I can't imagine anyone being outraged with the Yulin situation while being ok with torturing bulls in the arena or on the streets, overlooking dog or cock fights, etc. Let's further dissociate useless and cruel killing, such as hunting for sports, or whaling, or shark fishing, from practices such as sacrificing lab animals or, indeed, breeding animals for food. I wish and hope we find other ways at some point in our evolution as human beings, and naturally I'd not attempt to convince anyone that the meat industry is clean and dandy, because it's anything but. This is, however, another matter all-together.
I'll try to present my thesis on why the matter with dogs is different. And, besides being emotional about it, there is definite and solid theory why "dogs are different".
The most recent research shows that, contrary to the previously prevailing theories, we didn't really domesticated the dog; dog domesticated itself.
In fact, dogs and wolves branched from an older wolf variant, some 40-50 thousand years ago. Those wolves that decided to come close to man became our best friend, the others became the modern gray wolf.
Here is a vital difference with other household animals, which man, more or less, forcefully domesticated. The only other exception is the cat, which also evolved in order to live among the human population. Of course, there are many other animals adapting to human civilization, such as rats and cockroaches to name just a couple. They just happen to be harmful.
If you think about it, all domesticated animals are basically in captivity. The first chance they get of escaping, especially if there is no available food or shelter, they will happily run away. This is also true of cats (sorry cat lovers). The dog is the only animal that seems to actually like us.
Let's also remember that this is basically a predatory animal. And indeed having evolved from wolf, an apex predator. This is most peculiar, but Evolution works in mysterious ways. In this case, what started tens of thousands of years ago, is indeed a marvel. Two highly evolved animal species decided to get on course on becoming something akin to a one symbiotic organism. Because, and here is the Really Big Thing, there is no human without dog, at least not THE modern human. No civilization. No Anthropocene. Nothing. Without the dog, we would still be hunter/gatherers, trembling around the fire listening to the frightening sounds of night.
If you never thought about it, do it now. No dogs: much less available pray to hunt for food, more difficult/dangerous to do so, very limited efficiency. Less food for the tribe, equals less children born, equals less chance of collective survival.
No dogs: forget agricultural revolution. In fact, even before that, forget permanent establishments. Who would guard fields, homes, villages, cities, alerting against intruders, protecting the household or keeping away harmful animals?
No dogs: forget about stock-farming. Simply no way to keep sheep, cows or other domestic animals in any significant numbers.
No dogs: you can forget about exploring the world too. We went to the far reaches of the earth and the dog was always with us. People went into sub-freezing environments, deserts and forests, and would be practically impossible without the dog.
In fact, other very useful domesticated animals are often absent from certain parts of the world. The horse, for instance, was non-existent in the Americas until the Spaniards introduced it. The dog was already there for thousands of years as it was present all over the world. In fact is seems that man/dog relationship has expanded extremely rapidly all over the globe, once initiated.
Let's not fool ourselves: up until the Industrial Revolution, and, in many ways, after it, the dog was the one thing that allowed us to advance our civilization. In the process, it became the only animal, even surpassing other primates by far, that can really understand us and, literally, love us.
Today, there are, alas, too many dogs in the world, for their own good. Although my own experience and preference is for working-breeds, we need to find ways to keep them with us regardless of breed. People don't use dogs for work like they used to anymore, but, apart from being a loving companion, there are dozens of things they can and still do for us. And because dogs have evolved with us, they can easily cope with modern demands, such as being therapy dogs. Or, indeed, preventing cancer.
This is the world they helped us made; damaged, ugly and frustrating as it might sometimes be, it's their world too. Don't tell me I need to look at them like "just another animal".