Humanization of pets: Little pink polka dots for you and me
There’s this new client I have. She’s one of those ideal finds—the kind of client that will do anything you recommend, but never fails to ask questions, do her own research and bring in a list of issues to discuss. I’m thankful for these, much as they might tax my schedule with their personal due diligence.
Problem is, this one’s pet wears a dress with a frilly skirt on nearly every visit. It’s a little weird but it’s indisputably sweet—in its own strange way. This owner loves her dog so much she over-humanizes it—the pup is her child in a [slightly bizarre but] very concrete sense of the term.
We consider our pets family (those of you reading this, I mean) but we all have degrees to which we humanize them. Sure, the skirt and French kisses thing (she does that, tooo) might seem weird to you, but is it pathological…or wrong in some way?
I’m not really complaining, I’m just saying…
You may think you’re one of those die-hard pet persons whose view of pets is as perfect family member—no harsh opinions, gleeful demeanor…in short, the excellent pleasant companion, even when something ails him. You’d never think of disgracing him with an outfit. That’s not really putting him on the level with humans, is it? Maybe not, but he definitely serves as something of a human substitute (a better alternative, you’d perhaps admit). I see this as one level of humanization.
The Barbie dress-up and full-tongue contact kisses? “Yuck!” you might say. But how different is that from our own take when you factor in our cultural norms and deep-seated needs? (OK, it’s still weird.)
Many self-proclaimed (and sometimes worthily so) dog experts often decry these practices as an offensive denial of our pets’ dogness and a recipe for behavioral malfeasance—by both canines and humans.
Cesar Milian is one prominent proponent of this anti-humanization, yet he makes most of his money on the very concept he dissuades clients from accepting: dogs are our friends and family and should be treated as such. And this partnership implies a level of fraternization on a near-human level—the very humanization he disparages so through his oft-brusque tactics and see-it-like-a-dog mantra.
That’s all well and good (and it works, depending on your goals)—but we are human after all. And humanizing pets is not stupid, evil or wrong…it’s human.
There are others who use the concept of humanization to imply that our increasing isolation (among other existentialist cultural adaptations) in the US has promoted pet ownership almost single-handedly. These same people will also suggest that humanization is a Madison Avenue construct designed to sell mountains of pet food and piles of frilly outfits.
Tell that to the French whose dogs have been lolling their tongues under white tablecloths for decades (and Camus is no excuse). They just love their dogs. Humanize them? Sure, the same way we all do—we call them “domesticated” for a reason.
While the most freaky, dress-your-pet-to-the-nines deviant might suffer in the extreme, we all hold our own [not necessarily misplaced] delusions that pets are more friend and family-worthy than their human counterparts.
Of course we all know they’re still animals. Of course humanization has its drawbacks (especially when used to spoil our pets senseless). But have you looked at our children recently? I’d counter that humanization isn’t so much the problem as our general inability to raise behaviorally healthy animals…of any species.