Yes, my title is shocking. It’s an attention-getter, but I didn’t use it as clickbait and I didn’t make it up. It was the working title for a book by psychology professor Hal Herzog. His publisher wasn’t a fan of that title and it was published as Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It’s So Hard to Think Straight About Animals.
Herzog’s work examines the contradictions in our relationships with animals. He wanted to answer questions such as “Does living with animals really make us healthier?” and “Why do we eat some animals and keep others as pets?”
On that first question, research shows that pets make people happier and healthier. There is also research that shows that pets, by way of caring for them and losing them, make people unhappy and unhealthy.
There is also research that posits that it is happier and healthier people who are more likely to have pets.
Pets also limit us with their needs, cost us money and cause much grief when they die. Americans spend $80 billion a year on their pets.
Cats that are allowed outside contribute to the deaths of 1-5 billion birds per year (estimates vary widely). So then is it better to trap cats indoors for their entire lives? Is it right to trap any animal in a cage, tank or wandering a mostly empty house or apartment?
Herzog’s work is in the field of anthrozoology. I don’t think I knew that word before I read the book. It is the study of interactions between humans and other animals. I knew anthropomorphic, which is the way we attach human characteristics to animals. This is not just the way a monkey or ape appears human, but how we attach human qualities to our pet dogs and cats.
The book is a nice combination of personal anecdotes and scientific research. Of course, this line of inquiry also has to consider moral and ethical positions we have, often paradoxical, about our relationship with animals.
For example, vegans buy animal flesh for their cats to eat.
Herzog had boa constrictors in his lab and they needed to be fed. Typically, they would buy live mice for them to eat. But he realized that there were kittens being euthanized at a local shelter that he could get for the boa constrictors. Feeding dead kittens to the snakes seemed more moral than killing mice. Right?
We generally don’t think of mice in the same way that we think of kittens. To further muddy the moral waters, Herzog’s daughter had a pet mouse. When it died, they made the shoebox coffin and the backyard burial with the typical ceremony. Later, he caught a mouse that had been trying to break into their kitchen in a trap. It was disposed of unceremoniously in the trash. Why the differences?
That vegan with the cat will need to buy about 50 pounds of meat a year. Why not own a snake that requires about 5 pounds of meat per year? Cat versus snake. Not much of a contest.
He tells the story of someone who decides that keeping a bird caged is wrong. So, he frees the bird. And then he realizes that the bird will very likely die out in the wild.
It is no surprise that the World Wildlife Fund chose the Chinese Giant Panda as its symbol instead of the Chinese Giant Salamander.
Another story to consider is on a trip to Africa when he asks a native a few questions about dogs. “Would you allow a dog in your home?” The native is shocked. “Never!” Would he allow it to eat food from the family table, or sleep in his bed? Would he give it hugs and let it kiss him? Looks of shock and disgust. Cultural differences. Some we love. Some we hate. Some we eat.
For an easy entry into this difficult topic and more on Herzog’s research and book, listen to Our Animal Instincts, an episode of Hidden Brain from NPR.
You might also like to read Hal Herzog’s blog for Psychology Today. He addresses other animal-human issues like Should Self-Driving Cars Spare People Over Pets? and Why Do Kids Become Less Attached To Pets As They Get Older?