“Dogs can be loved here in the United States, but loathed in Saudi Arabia, and then looked at as dinner in Korea,” said Dr. Hal Herzog. “The same animal that looks cute in all these places, but there are tremendous differences in how they’re viewed around the world — culture seems to be more important than biology in our interactions with animals.”
Professor of Psychology at Western Carolina University, Herzog is one the leading researchers when it comes to human nature and how animals — as pets or for food — affect our physical and mental health. Author of the book Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat — Why It’s So Hard to Think Straight About Animals, Herzog aims to not only make sense of animals and their societal role, but also make it clear as to what we may or may not be doing right to our furry and feathery friends (or foes).
“Most people weren’t conflicted about these issues 20 or 30 years ago,” Herzog said. “But, what’s happened is that we’ve humanized groups of animals in our culture, which are known as our pets. I mean, there’s a TV station for dogs nowadays. You can even buy a wedding dress for your dog and have them get married.”
And don’t get Herzog started on the cat phenomenon in modern times.
“The cat fascination is huge,” he chuckled. “There are YouTube videos now just for cats, and my cat loves to watch these videos. There’ll be mice running the screen of my iPhone, and now my cat and I have something to do together.”
But don’t be fooled, Herzog said, for just when you think you know what’s best for your cat, you may want to dive a little deeper into the issue.
“There’s a huge topic of debate whether to let your cat outside or not. I stand firmly with letting my cat outside because animals should be able to exhibit their natural behaviors, like if your cat kills a bird,” Herzog said. “Sure, by letting the cat outside, you may cut their lifespan in half due to getting hit by a car or eaten by a coyote, but you’re also giving them their freedom — a fish has got to swim, a bird has got to fly, and a cat has got to kill.”
So, where does one draw the line when it comes to what animals we bring home to love, and what animals we bring home to eat?
“If you’re a dog person, then why not also be a pig person, too? Why do we eat one and not the other?” Herzog said. “And yet, we’re the only species that has these moral dilemmas. I can’t explain to my cat that killing a bird is wrong, that she should be punished.”
When speaking at length about human/animal interactions, Herzog shifts his thoughts to animal shelters. In 1975, more than 25 million dogs and cats were euthanized in animal shelters, where these days that number has dropped to around 3 million.
“Our attitudes about animals are changing,” Herzog said. “The spay and neuter movements have been highly successful, as is the idea to not buy a purebred, but an animal from a shelter.”
As someone who has spent more than 30 years studying and researching humans and animals, Herzog sees huge imbalances in where we stand as a world in the 21st century. In essence, for everything good we’re doing, we’re also drastically affecting the animal populations of the world with our differing viewpoints on what is morally good or bad.
“In general, the downside is that things are getting very worse for animals. Americans might be eating less meat, but worldwide the number of meat consumed is expected to double in the next 30 years. And this consumption will be largely supplied by huge factory farms that contribute to global warming,” Herzog warned. “But, the upside is that in developing nations we’re caring more. We’re learning so much about the effect that animals have on humans, and their importance to our daily lives and well-being of the planet.”
But, all is not lost or somber, Herzog emphasized.
“What we’re learning as a society is how to temper logic with common sense and emotion, with emotions a good part of making ethical decisions,” he noted.
That said, how does one keep from going crazy when it comes to your moral compass in regards to animals, loved or consumed?
“With my book, I concluded that moral consistency is overrated,” Herzog said. “You have people who feel guilty driving down the road because their vehicle is killing bugs. Then you have people who spend twice as much on a piece of chicken because that label says ‘free range’ or ‘organic,’ and it’s in an effort to feel better about yourself. But, what one should do to keep from going crazy is simply take small steps and make smarter choices in what they eat and how they treat or interact with their pets — it’s all connected.”
When reading his book, Herzog said there were meat eaters who became vegetarians, and vegetarians who reverted back to meat eaters.
“I don’t want people to read what I have to say and think they’re worthless or a bad pet owner or a bad member of society,” he said. “People can’t beat themselves up over these things. It’s about being aware of your place in society and how to make positive change.”
And after one converses with Herzog, you tend to find yourself with more questions than answers. It’s a sentiment Herzog himself has been wrestling with for his entire career. For each piece of information cultivated and cataloged, another piece is discovered, ready to be held up to the light of scientific merit and public scrutiny. It’s a rabbit hole with no light at the end of the tunnel. But to Herzog, his colleagues and pet lovers, the work goes on, and hopefully in the right direction of sensible progress amid an ever-growing world.
“Animals occupy virtually every aspect of our lives,” Herzog said. “And it’s only now that people are starting to realize this amazing window into our lives, and in the lives of animals, where it all has deep ramifications for human health, and for societal culture.”
Want to know more?
For more information about the works of Dr. Hal Herzog or to purchase his book, go to www.halherzog.com, which also includes links to his popular blog that encompasses a variety of topics about the human/animal interaction.