Category Archives: Animals

Pets Aren’t Human Substitutes

More than 80 million Americans are pet owners, and spend nearly 25 billion dollars on veterinary care.  Why do we do that?
Originally, animals served a largely utilitarian purpose:  horses pulled carts, dogs protected the farms, and cats ate rodents.  This dependency on animals to help us in our daily lives evolved into warm, close bonded relationships with them – and that’s a good thing, but only up to a point.
Taking on the responsibility of caring for an animal is a sacrifice, and requires an unselfish commitment that elevates human character.  Making sure that your pets have food before you do, and providing a safe haven for them is an expression of compassion.  Enjoying the enthusiasm of your dog or cat when you appear on the scene, having your blood pressure drop when you pet them – those are the perks of having a pet around.
However, if you are infinitely more comfortable with animals than humans, the scales have tipped way too far in the wrong direction.  Human communication is largely verbal, and give-and-take is an essential part of human bonding (along with trust).  When an individual is fearful or hostile about human connection, it’s nice if they have a pet (a warm mammal) to hold close, but it’s not a substitute for a human relationship. 
I get way too many calls from, for example, people like the woman who keeps a dangerous dog in the home (with little kids), because her husband chooses to keep the dog in spite of the threat to his own children; or the man who calls and complains that he has a ferocious allergy to cats, but his fiancée will not adopt her cat out to let him move in after the wedding!  If this sounds like you or someone you know, it’s time to revisit the situations, because choices like these are, obviously, the wrong choices.

Michael Vick Returns to Football

Every time a celebrity does something egregious (and only when they get caught doing it), they appear on Letterman (or previously on Leno) or some network morning show to self-flagellate as a method for gaining sympathy.  It’s a rather standard public relations maneuver, and I usually find it to be an example of false contrition.

There’s a big difference between having remorse because you were caught, as opposed to before you were caught.  Most people just say “Sorry,” because they were caught, and not because they have actual remorse for doing something wrong.  In other words, their “Sorry,” actually means “Geez, I’m soooo sorry I was caught,” which is vastly different from “Oh, I’m soooo sorry I hurt someone.”

This brings me to Michael Vick, who, with his own hands, perpetrated some of the most horrific torture of fighting dogs that I have ever heard about.  Frankly, it was hard to imagine the kind of dissociation from all compassion and emotion that goes into looking into the eyes of suffering animals, and enjoying watching the pain and enjoying having that much power over an agonized, terrified animal.  To me, that is sociopathic which is over the top in cruelty.  I would not like to see that person on the streets ever again.

Vick is now out of jail, and has been on 60 Minutes to explain his behavior and to make the case for his repentance.  Repentance has four parts:  1) taking responsibility for your actions (owning what you’ve done and giving no excuses or blaming others for your own actions), 2) feeling remorse (i.e., being truly regretful for the hurt caused), 3) repair (for example, going to the Humane Society and/or giving talks to change people’s minds and hearts about how they treat animals – and, by the way, Vick has been doing that), and 4) no repeat behavior.  Those are the Four R’s of Repentance.

On 60 Minutes, Vick took total responsibility for his actions.  He was even pushed by James Brown, who asked: “Who do you blame for all of this?”  Vick said, “I blame me.”  He didn’t use the words “but…” or “it’s just…” which I hear all too often on my radio program.  Instead, he just took responsibility.  He talked about his first experience watching dog fights at age 8, and, as a boy of 8, thought it was cool, fun, and exciting.  It was something a lot of men friends did together. 

It was poignant when he pointed out that it was time for him to pay the price with jail time, he did that alone, because all his so-called “friends” were gone.  He said, “I deserve to lose the $130 million.”  He also admitted to being lazy and arrogant while at the Atlanta Falcons. It seems he took his prison time to really assess his own moral character and his life.  He spent 2 years in jail, and was suspended from playing football, and he lost all his sponsorship dollars and his reputation. 

None of that really impresses me…not at all.  What does impress me is his statement that “football doesn’t matter at all,” because “…I should have [taken] the initiative to stop it all.  I didn’t.  I didn’t stop it at all.”

So, I’m okay with the Philadelphia Eagles giving him a job.  I think he’s taken a right-hand turn onto the correct road toward being a decent human being.  I’m willing to stand out of his way and let him do just that.

Do Animals Have a Sense of Morality?

Newsflash from the University of Colorado, Boulder:  scientist believes that animals can have a sense of morality that shows them the difference between right and wrong.  Professor emeritus Marc Bekoff explains in his new book that morals are “hardwired” in a mammal’s brain and has gathered – he says – evidence showing how various species appear to have a sense of fairness, will help other animals in need, and can even show empathy.

First of all, the very word “hardwired” indicates a lack of choice.  There is no knowing or choosing between right and wrong without a clear conception of the notion of consideration of options.  Animals other than humans are, indeed, “hardwired” – that is, they act by instinct.  Secondly, using anthropomorphic terminology is misleading.  I remember being on a morning television show eons ago, when some feminist was pointing out that rape was ubiquitous, and then showing a clip of alligators mating.  Trust me…that wasn’t a pretty or comfortable sight…but it wasn’t rape.  Alligator males have to overcome resistance so that the best sperm wins.  That’s the female alligator’s world of making a choice with whom to hook up – as violent as it appears to humans.

A hungry lion coming into a room with ten frightened human beings is not going to starve to death because it isn’t “nice” to kill innocent humans.  He’s going to eat the first guy or gal he clamps his jaws on.  That’s not an immoral act.  Morality requires a choice.  The lion is “hardwired” to eat meat.  That’s it.

Here’s an example from Dr. Bekoff’s book that I believe is way off base:  “Vampire bats need to drink blood every night, but it is common for some not to find any food.  Those who are successful in foraging for blood will share their meal with bats who have shared with them.”  He considers this a reciprocity which indicates the acting out of moral precepts.  I think that conclusion is just silly.  Bats are gregarious and need to be in “packs” for safety and comfort.  Therefore, they are wired to keep each other alive.  You’ll see competition when they’re mating.

Ants will pile up over waterways to allow other ants to pass.  This is not self-sacrifice after kissing your family goodbye – this is instinct built into the tiny brain of an ant, over which he has no control.

And that’s the point.  Morality is an issue of making a choice between personal gain and the welfare of another which may even take away from the self.  Risking one’s life to pull a child out of a river in which you might very well die is not an instinct.  Most people would never set a toe in the water.  That’s their choice.  However, some souls will put their lives on the line, because their compassion overwhelms their sense of personal survival.

That’s what makes some human beings magnificent.  The stories of people standing by and not helping others in other in need are legion, and include individuals, groups, and even whole countries.  This sort of analysis about animals is emotional, not scientific, in my opinion.  And it seems important fodder for PETA-types to argue their points.

The good and bad point of the human brain is obvious:  we can figure out how to walk on the moon and discover penicillin.  We can also think of ways to fly airplanes into buildings to kill as many innocent people as possible for the sake of our “god.”  CHOICE is wonderful in concept, but either beautiful OR deadly in actuality.