Caring for animals.

Some humans seem to care more about pets than people … but why?

This intriguing headline was the title to a recent post published by Mother Nature Network.

Coincidentally there was some useful material in the article that I could use in a chapter in the new book. But I did think the whole article should be shared with you good people.

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Some humans seem to care more about pets than people … but why?

Mary Jo DiLonardo   November 3, 2017

Unconditional love is one things pets can give us that humans can’t — but that’s only part of the story. (Photo: Soloviova Liudmyla/Shutterstock)

A Facebook acquaintance of mine recently posted about walking past a pet store where volunteers were outside pleading for pet rescue donations. They pointed out how many dogs and cats were euthanized each year, which made her wonder how people could be so fervent about animals when there are so many sick babies in the world.

It’s not that those volunteers dislike babies — or grown-up humans, for that matter — but in some cases, they might simply like animals more.

You know the type, and you may even be one yourself. Some say it’s due to unconditional love. Your cat doesn’t care if you are in your pajamas all day. Your dog doesn’t talk about you behind your back. But when it comes right down to it, does anyone really value animals above humans?

The story of two shootings

A photo posted by supporters on the ‘Justice For Arfee’ Facebook page. (Photo: Justice for Arfee)

Psychology professor and author Hal Herzog looks at the “humanization of pets” in an editorial for Wired. Herzog is the author of “Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It’s So Hard To Think Straight About Animals.”

“Newspaper editors tell me stories about animal abuse often generate more responses from upset readers than articles about violence directed toward humans. But do Americans really care more about pets than people?” Herzog asks.

He tells the story of two shootings that happened within 50 miles of each other in Idaho in 2014. One was Jeanetta Riley, a pregnant mother of two who was shot by police outside of a hospital while she incoherently waved a knife. The story didn’t make much of a blip on the news radar.

Less than 14 hours later, police in another Idaho town were called about a report of a barking dog locked in a van. An officer claimed when he approached the vehicle the dog (which he misidentified as a pit bull) lunged at him, so he pulled the trigger. Turns out “Arfee” was a Lab and people became incensed at the shooting, which made national news. There was a “Justice for Arfee” Facebook page and a rally. In the end, the shooting was ruled unjustified, and the police department issued an official apology.

“The bottom line is that, at least in some circumstances, we do value animals over people,” Herzog writes. “But the differences in public outrage over the deaths of Jeanetta Riley and Arfee illustrate a more general point. It is that our attitudes to other species are fraught with inconsistency. We share the earth with roughly 40,000 other kinds of vertebrate animals, but most of us only get bent out of shape over the treatment of a handful of species. You know the ones: the big-eye baby seals, circus elephants, chimpanzees, killer whales at Sea World, etc. And while we deeply love our pets, there is little hue and cry over the 24 horses that die on race tracks in the United States each week, let alone the horrific treatment of the nine billion broiler chickens American consume annually.”

Creating a moral dilemma

We obviously love our pets. But to what extent?

Researchers set up a moral dilemma where they asked 573 participants what they would do if they had to choose between saving a dog or a person who had darted in front of a bus. The answers varied depending on the relationship they had with the dog and with the person.

In some scenarios, the dog was the participant’s own personal dog versus a random canine. And the person was either a foreign tourist, a local stranger, distant cousin, best friend, grandparent or sibling.

The dilemma is something along the lines of, “A bus is traveling down the street. Your dog darts in front of it. At the same time, a foreign tourist steps in the path of the bus. Neither your dog nor the tourist has enough time to get out of the way and it’s clear the bus will kill whichever one it hits. You only have time to save one. Which will you save?”

The subjects were much more likely to save the pet over a foreign tourist, versus someone closer to them. People were also much more likely to save their own dog versus a random dog. And women were twice as likely as men to save a dog over a person.

The study was published in the journal Anthrozoos.

Empathy for animals versus people

Researchers hypothesized that people would feel more empathy towards babies and puppies because they were vulnerable. (Photo: Africa Studio/Shutterstock)

In another study, sociologists at Northeastern University had college students read made-up news stories in which a victim was attacked by a baseball bat “by an unknown assailant” and left unconscious with a broken leg and other injuries.

The participants were all given the same news story, but the victim in each case was either a 1-year-old baby, a 30-year-old adult, a puppy or a 6-year-old dog. They were asked to rate their feelings of empathy toward the victim after reading the story.

The researchers hypothesized that the victims’ vulnerability — determined by their age, not species —would be the key factor in triggering the most concern in the participants.

The baby elicited the most empathy, with the puppy and adult dog not far behind. The adult person came in last.

“Contrary to popular thinking, we are not necessarily more disturbed by animal rather than human suffering,” said study co-author Jack Levin, professor of sociology and criminology at Northeastern University, in a statement.

“Our results indicate a much more complex situation with respect to the age and species of victims, with age being the more important component. The fact that adult human crime victims receive less empathy than do child, puppy, and full-grown dog victims suggests that adult dogs are regarded as dependent and vulnerable not unlike their younger canine counterparts and kids.”

The research was first presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in 2013 and has recently been published in the journal Society & Animals.

Although the study focused on cats, Levin says he thinks the findings would be similar for cats versus people.

“Dogs and cats are family pets,” he said. “These are animals to which many individuals attribute human characteristics.”


Mary Jo DiLonardo writes about everything from health to parenting — and anything that helps explain why her dog does what he does.


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So all you wonderful followers of this place – what do you think of some humans seeming to care more for animals?

22 thoughts on “Caring for animals.

      1. This comment captures a discussion my friends and I have had many times. We are animal lovers but we continue to eat meat… it does feel like a moral conundrum. One of my girlfriends is now vegan but the rest of us procrastinate. I think part of the delay in making a change is that we have been “taught” that a balanced diet includes animal protein 😦

      2. Understand precisely where you are coming from. Tell you what! What with your reply and the depth of Colette’s reply I’ll write a separate post for next week describing what we eat and including many links to other articles.

  1. I think animals are more honest than people and perhaps we empathise with them more because we feel responsible when they are betrayed in one form or another.

    I do not eat meat or fish. I cannot bring myself now to ignore the plight of farmed animals now that we are in the age of factory farming and mass production methods that care little about the emotions of any living being. It is unconscionable (IMHO) to sing the virtues of dogs and cats, but turn around and eat a pig or a cow… They are as smart, if not a whole lot smarter. They care about each other, support family and engage in survival techniques similar to our own. We don’t eat each other, (thank goodness), so why should we eat them?

    1. That’s a very sincere response and one that I tip my hat to you over.
      Jean is on a diet that is predominantly fruit and vegetables as part of slowing down the progression of her Parkinson’s disease. The diet is essentially a no-dairy, no-grain, no-meat diet to eliminate the risk of any gut inflammation. She is advised by a professional nutritionist here in Grants Pass, OR. I follow along with Jean motivated to slow down my own cognitive decline.
      But we do eat chicken and fish and there lies a moral dilemma for us. For despite the fact that the chickens are ‘free range’ and fed organically I have no doubt that they are raised and slaughtered in a manner that would upset me if I knew the details.
      Then what the fishing industry is doing to our oceans does upset me.
      Sorry, I mumbled on a tad!
      Colette, I would love to have more details of your diet to understand how you manage to maintain all the elements that a human body requires. Have you posted any of this on your blog?

      1. Paul, I haven’t really mentioned my diet anywhere (and admittedly don’t blog much).

        But to answer your question…

        I have some food sensitivities that started my dietary changes a number of years ago. I found I was allergic to eggs after struggling with severe joint pain that doctors couldn’t explain. Then I began to find that a few other things were problematic including gluten, also prompting dietary change. The animal protein side came into sharper focus during a moment of epiphany at an elephant sanctuary and I started a vegetarian diet. However, I soon switched to a completely (almost except for some contamination in the odd thing now and again) vegan diet.

        I am healthier, my cholesterol dropped from a total of 212 mg/dlto 135mg/dl and I have more stamina, fewer infections, colds and illness. (Nothing terrible to put me to bed since I became Vegan).

        I do try to get a balance of a variety of fresh fruit and veg, protein and fats in my diet.

        A typical day:

        Breakfast
        Three rice cakes with peanut butter
        A bowl of fresh fruit sprinkled with walnuts, sunflower seeds and oat flakes

        Lunch
        Sometimes skipped, but if not…usually oat cakes with humus and veggie sticks or something equally light.

        Dinner
        This can take a variety of forms

        Steamed Kale with coconut oil, garlic and peanuts, served with sweet potatoes and maybe baked beans or some form of lentils or chick peas.

        Conversely, I might have a stir fry of Fried Tofu cubes, fresh bean sprouts, mixed veggies and beans over rice noodles, or red or black rice.

        Sometimes a baked potato with coconut oil, black pepper and garlic served up with baked beans.

        For snacks
        I eat fruit and nut mixes, homemade oat flap jacks or occasionally, my husband makes fruit and nut chocolate out of cocoa and coconut oil, raisins and peanuts or almond pieces.

        Weakness…potato chips…the only junk food I indulge really. I usually feel bloated after that particular indulgence.

        People look at me with pity if I tell them that I do not eat bread, pastry, cakes, meat, eggs, fish, seafood or most processed foods… And yet I don’t miss any of them.

        My diet does make it difficult to eat out at a restaurant, but I feel just fine. I am 5’4″ and weigh 54 kg. I walk up to 6 miles without feeling particularly tired and while I am no fitness buff, I don’t think I’m doing too badly for a sixty year old.

      2. PS…while my husband is not vegan, or even vegetarian, he does enjoy a Vegan meal very often. There is a myth that we cannot survive without meat…it depends on what you replace meat with…Tofu, soya protein, nuts and beans and lentils are all excellent sources of protein and more absorbable by the body.

        Kale, broccoli and other dark leafy veggies are great sources of Calcium and again, more bioavailable to us than dairy calcium.

        I supplement with only two vitamins that I know that I am not getting in my diet in adequate amounts… Vitamin D3, and Methylcolbamin (Vitamin B12). These are often the source of minor animal product contamination (like lactose) used as a carrier for the nutrient.

      3. I drink tea and coffee black, and lots of herbal teas, green tea and water. I rarely drink fruit juice because it is full of sugars and it is healthier to eat fruit and benefit from the fiber content.

        I don’t drink much alcohol…but do enjoy a gin & tonic now and then.😄 So I’m not totally boring!

      4. Colette, that is very interesting indeed and later on I will digest 😉 what you have detailed and tomorrow give some details of what we are now eating and drinking. Thank you very much indeed!

  2. I agree with Val Paul, Our animals are not caught within this Game of Life which inflicts wounds upon each other for the mere spite of it.. If we all could live from the heart of a Dogs perspective I daresay this world would not be the world we see today.. ❤ An interesting and informative share Paul Thank you

    1. Yes, Sue, so much we could say about this world. Indeed, so much that has already been said, and in my heart I wonder if these affairs of man will ever be reversed! Sorry, didn’t intend it to come across as quite so gloomy a reply. Early morning blues, I guess!

      1. No worries Paul. understandable when all we are shown is gloom.. lol.. But when we shift our perspective, once we wake up to our day 🙂 all will seem right with the world, even if it is within our own four walls 🙂

      2. And no better endorsement of your positive response than to tell you that I am writing this reply sitting up in bed on top of the bedspread, my beloved Jeannie just to my right, Pedy nestled by my right elbow, Oliver sleeping on the bed by my feet, Ruby likewise, Sweeny by Jean’s feet and beautiful Brandy asleep on the floor right next to my side of the bed. Indeed, my left foot is resting on Brandy’s warm, furry body.

        Plus outside 9 wild black-tailed deer are feeding on the many small piles of COB I put out for them when I went to feed the horses some 15 minutes ago.

        If I paint an idyllic scene it’s because it is!

        Thank you, Sue, for ‘waking’ me up! 😊

      3. Haha.. yes.. beauty is in the eye of the beholder.. and we have many such blessings to be grateful for.. And that sounds a wonderful scene you have painted.. One that is filled with love, and contentment.. 🙂 Say Good morning to Jean for me.. And oh to look at deer through the window.. But I have my birds.. .. I think often of those living in high rise flats looking out onto other highrise buildings and when we look at life from another perspective, we can always let go of gloom and find happiness in the moment.. 🙂

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