Last week in the Chinese city of Yulin, 10,000 dogs were eaten as part of the worldwide spectacle known as the Dog Meat Festival.
The local media here in the dessert also reported heavily on the improbable survival story of a puppy that was tossed out of a moving vehicle by it’s meth-addled owner.
As I was reading through the comments sections of several of these stories, I was reminded that the majority of this country loves man’s best friend as much, if not more, than they love their fellow man.
While I was pondering this subject last night, a local columnist named E.J. Montini, whose columns I’ve been reading ever since I learned to read, put out an article that was seemingly meant to pre-empt my train of thought:
Sooner or later one of my brothers and sisters in the media is going to come forward and say something to the effect that people in the Valley seem to care more about 20 dead dogs than we do about the immigrant children crammed into a Nogales facility, or the homeless men and woman on our streets, or the latest victim of murder, or the thousands upon thousands of innocent families suffering in war-torn parts of the Middle East or Africa.
Before that occurs, let me say this: Shut up.
Good people do not care more about their pets than about suffering men, women or children.
But they do care about their pets. A lot.
Mr. Montini makes a fair point that sets an interesting moral directive: in order to be a “good” person you must elevate your level of care for humanity above your care for animal welfare, no matter how high that personal bar has been set.
I love animals. I’m skeptical of people who don’t. I have an aunt who claims, and seems to have, an almost spiritual connection with our domesticated furry friends. Sometimes I wonder if my middle child is the same. I never see him more focused and at peace than when meeting an animal for the first time. It’s weird, but it speaks to the narrative that some of these creatures are much more than just protein. However, when Mr. Montini advocates that anyone who expresses the opinion that our care for animals has exceeded where it needs to be should “shut up,” I think he’s making a mistake. To care about others is to desire to understand or empathize with them. Let’s say that one of those people expressing that opinion about us Arizona residents is a refugee from the ongoing genocide in Darfur, who has seen the funding for people in camps along the border in Chad cut in half over the last 10 years. Do they need to shut up, or does that only apply to local columnists who feel as though they are speaking on that refugee’s behalf?
I love my dogs. My first dog was a timid American Eskimo named Murphy (after Murphy Brown… seriously). He bit people all the time. Sometimes he bit people I didn’t like. That made me like him even more. When he became too much to handle, my parents said he was sent to a farm in Colorado where he could continue propagating timid, inbred Eskimo pups. To this day I’m afraid to ask if the farm was a real farm, or, you know, the farm. My best friend growing up was my grandparents’ Chinese Shar Pei, Scruffy. I could write for hours about him. My wife and I have two mutts, Willa and Cash, who we do our best to care for in a home with three boys who treat them as miniature ponies. I feel terrible for what happened to those dogs in Gilbert and Scottsdale, and my heart hurts for their owners. Still, I can’t help but watch the outpouring of empathy and vitriol, as well as the media coverage that people facing injustice in this very community desperately need, and at least have the thought creep into my head that our priorities are a little off.
In 2011, the median amount an American household gave to charitable causes was $870, while average household amount spent on pets was just over $500. Some people might find those numbers shockingly close to each other- some might not. It all depends on your perspective, but I’m not sure I’d advocate anyone who has a different perspective than I do should “shut up.”
I learned a lot from listening to some of the criticisms the African-American community had over the mainstream media’s (and the pet owning public’s) reaction to Mike Vick’s incarceration for animal cruelty. I hated what Vick did to those pit bulls, and still do, but the fact of the matter is the treatment of animals has no absolute cultural consensus. How many people discussed the evil of Michael Vick’s actions over a meal, perhaps a cheeseburger, ignorant of the sacred status of cattle according to several world religions, including Hinduism. Gandhi himself even called cattle “the mother to millions of Indian mankind.”
Montini is right when he insinuates that in order to be “good,” we need to care more about suffering men, women and children than our own pets, or the pets in our communities. Where he falters is not taking the first step to show how we care for men without lessening our care for animals- by letting them have a voice.
I don’t think our society likes dogs too much. I think our collective conscience about animals is a national point of pride, but I do imagine a day when our collective conscience gives elevated concern and attention to the sufferings of our fellow man. I think we’d move mountains.