From Pets to Persons?

Friday, April 11, 2014

David H. Grimm, deputy news editor at Science and the author of Citizen Canine: Our Evolving Relationship with Cats and Dogs (PublicAffairs, 2014), talks about how our attitudes toward cats and dogs have changed over time and what their status as surrogate family members could mean for us and for other animals.

Note: Due to a technical mishap, the conversation with David Grimm ended mid-answer as he was answering a final question about what the treatment of feral cats has to say about the status of pets. To complete the thought, here's what he told Wired Magazine on the topic:
Grimm: ...That’s one reason I wrote about the feral cat issue. They take this bifurcation to an extreme. There are cats on the street that genetically are the same as the cat in your house, but many people view them as vermin. There’s actually a federal law that classifies cats around shipyards as vermin, the same as rats and mice — yet there are 49 felony anti-cruelty laws that say you can go to jail if you hurt a cat or dog or other animal. But even though those laws technically apply to all animals, they’re only enforced for animals in our homes. In our hearts, we’ve made this bifurcation. The animals in our homes are family. They’re like children. But as soon as we leave the house, we have a different relationship with animals.


David H. Grimm

Comments [35]

L from New York

Susan Burger from Upper West Side, the incidents you cite are those in which criminally-minded and/or mentally ill people somehow became pet owners.
Those people who un-apologetically let their dogs bite, attack, harm, or annoy others are using their pets as extensions of their own hostile or angry or neurotic attitudes.
Actually, most people are not fit to be pet owners any more than they are fit to be parents of children.

Apr. 12 2014 12:25 PM

After reading all the complaints about badly behaved dogs, it occurs to me that it is really their people who are badly behaved and don't teach them manners. But they don't teach their own children manners, either. I've seen human beings get into fights over nothing or sit on subway steps, obstructing access or stealing food. If this is what they do, their dogs and children learn it from them.

Apr. 11 2014 05:45 PM
Guy from NYC

Dog owners are a plague on NYC.
The loons are unbalanced and will react violently if their imagined "rights" are violated--right to disregard public safety, right to disregard the majority that does not want to pay to eat with animals, right to lie about their medical disabilities and invent wholly mythical hypoallergenic status for their animals.The responsible ones are tolerable, but still seem to expect us to thank them for littering our streets with urine and feces, tying up our high traffic sidewalks for no apparent reason, trapping their poor animals alone in tiny apartments all day, etc.
A public policy that coddles this self centered minority is bad bad policy.

Apr. 11 2014 11:50 AM
Susan from Upper West Side

Just to be clear - you'd think from my post that I hate dogs, but I don't. I grew up with them and have plenty of friends who have well-behaved dogs. It is unfortunately the small minority of irresponsible pet owners - or perhaps I should say "entitled" pet owners that can sometimes make it challenging to us humans when we are merely trying to walk the streets of NY City or sit in cafes. I'm not sure if their "entitlement" is associated with their thinking of their dogs as people.

Apr. 11 2014 11:37 AM
Listener from New York

Brian, Your previous caller pointed out that more litigation by pet owners results in higher malpractice costs, and this,in turn, results in higher vet bills.

Please think back to yesterday, when you discussed doctors' reimbursement and repeatedly referred to doctors who "rake in the big bucks," without ever addressing the high cost of doing business, including malpractice insurance and the practice of defensive medicine. Yes, your caller, Angelie, the ER doctor, raised the issue of patient expectations and lawsuits that result from patients who are unhappy with a bad result. This causes malpractice costs to go up, and of course, spurs doctors to order more tests. Moreover, it results in overuse by patients (as in, "I have a virus, doctor, so I've come in to see you even though antibiotics are not for viral infections.") But doctors are blamed for billing patients.

Sigh. I wish yesterday's segment on Medicare payments to doctors had not just relied on smart callers to round out the presentation. Perhaps more well-rounded attention to issues involving the medical care of human beings would create more sophisticated coverage than the media has thus far offered. Tort reform (and the fact the powers that be don't advocate for this) is one issue. But it's complicated, and there are a host of issues. Would love to see you explore.

Apr. 11 2014 11:29 AM

There are people who substitute pets for children, or as a substitute for "human contact" missing from their lives, and these people make awful pet owners and would have made bad parents had they had children.
The irony is that no child should have such neurotic, self-centered, and clueless parents as people who substitute pets for people, and some people think that people who love their own pets "too much" should instead have children to direct their emotions in the "right way."
Alternately, there are people who have children because of social expectations and because they had been told that children will bring them happiness that no pet could bring them, but then these people don't have the right emotional or psychological aspects so as to be decent parents.
You can't escape the fact that not everyone should have kids and trying to reason that all people who prefer a pet, just need families and/or human contact, does not "change" the fact that certain people are just dysfunctional.
I can understand that sometimes it is not good for pets to have complete human rights since they should be humanely spayed or neutered for their own good, but that can apply to people too, but that is considered unacceptable.
Regarding the veterinarian who said that pet owners protect their pets too much and make it hard for a veterinarian to deal with such a pet, I am sure that is true. But it is like the "helicopter parent" issue in which it can be said that too much coddling or too little coddling of a child or teenager is not relevant, depending on viewpoint, but it matters to the child or teen.
I have seen pet owners carelessly walking their dogs off leash and letting them run into traffic or risking getting attacked by larger dogs which are off leash. These people make just as bad pet owners as those who over coddle their pets. Also I have heard of incidents in which veterinarians have carelessly or corruptly harmed pets but little or nothing can be done.
It is not all a one sided issue.

Apr. 11 2014 11:23 AM
fuva from harlemworld

Zelma, thanks for the reality check here.
Dogs are great. But there are people allergic to dogs. There are people afraid of dogs they don't know. (You know your dog. Other people do not.) There are are people that don't want dogs approaching them. Etc. There must be restrictions on dogs in public.

Apr. 11 2014 11:21 AM
Jane Parkerton from Brooklyn

I was raised in a small farming community in the rural South. My parents were the products of a long line of farmers. My classmates were farmers. And although our few acres couldn't fairly classified as a farm, there were always large animals around depending on my father's current money making venture. And we always had pets from turtles to my tenth birthday gift of a pony. Cats and dogs were in the house and yard. Yet, the bottom line was, and still is for me, our pets are still animals. I would do a lot to save the life of one of my children, but when it comes a pet's time to go, I can make that decision. Mother Nature can be brutal and cold, unforgiving even at times. Although I love and care deeply for my cats, they are not the same as my children.

And, moreover, I do not want to have to navigate someone's else's poorly behaved pet as I try to shop or eat out. Pets are not people.

Apr. 11 2014 11:21 AM
NSNY from Brooklyn

It's become very hard to find an apartment in NYC that allows pets - especially dogs, even in less popular parts of Brooklyn. Perhaps greater pet rights will lead to greater human rights when it comes to finding places to live.

Apr. 11 2014 11:20 AM

Another April Fool's joke?

Apr. 11 2014 11:19 AM
Reuven from Washington Heights

With the parenting I often see, I pray for pets that are treated like children.

Apr. 11 2014 11:17 AM
Judith from Westchester

I love my pug Blackie. He is our family love object as everyone loves him and cares for him. When we visit friends, we always ask if he can join us. and when he can not, he stays home.

That being said, he is a dog. A well trained dog but a dog none the less. He pees and poops either outside or on a pad. If you do not watch him like a hawk, he will occasionally try to eat garbage from the street. And his nose is always seeking out pee and poop. People are allergic to him. He can not communicate very much to us. He is an animal.

I remember traveling in France a million years ago encountering smokers with their leased dogs on the Metro. No thanks.

Sadly, a pet is often a luxury one takes on understanding you are making a commitment of time, money and love to bring them into your lives.

Apr. 11 2014 11:17 AM
Jessie Henshaw from way uptown

I go with treating animals as themselves, and like one caller familiar with animal training mentioned, animals really are more secure and mentally healthy when able to enjoy their relationships with other dogs and cats too. It's not wrong for people to enjoy them too, but seems kind of unbalanced to treat them as imitation people.

Apr. 11 2014 11:16 AM
Lisa from Forest Hills, NY

We have 3 miniature dachshunds. I notice they respond to our "vibe" When walking with a person who doesn't want to interact with others, the dogs are antisocial. If the person does want to interact, the dogs are calmer. Dogs respond to the queues from people.

Apr. 11 2014 11:16 AM

What about treating cats like people?

Apr. 11 2014 11:16 AM
Nancy from NYC

So a lapdog that weighs 5 lbs shouldn't be carried? That's the whole point of having a dog like that!! To have them inside, on your lap, and carry them around.

Paper training is so you don't have to take out a teeny-tiny dog into a snowstorm or rain storm. They don't want to go out in that (and neither do I)!

Apr. 11 2014 11:15 AM
Sally Campbell from Upper West Side

Making all shelters No Kill Shelters is a very important aspect of caring for animals that can become pets. Look up Nathan J Winograd's No Kill Advocacy Center.

Apr. 11 2014 11:15 AM
Susan Burger from Upper West Side

Sometimes people need to be protected from other peoples pets. I was once bitten by a dog who was tied up outside a store. The dog gave no warning signs whatsoever. He appeared to be sleeping. I didn't walk close to him, nothing that I could ascertain that might have threatened him. The dog lept up and bit me straight through my thick wool coat leaving bad bruises. I found the owner who acted completely clueless about how dogs behavior and didn't even apologize.

My husband was badly bitten by a dog under circumstances that were slightly more understandable - he was rolling blading and the dog freaked out and bit him. MY husband's leg was so badly infected from the dog bite that he was hospitalized for three days. Then there was the St. Bernard whose owner allowed her St Bernard to swipe my muffin straight out of my hand - no apology whatsoever.

And finally, the owner who let her dog sleep right in the doorway of the entrance to a cafe so the waiters had to step over the dog. When someone politely asked her to move her dog she went wacko insisting on her right to leave the dog right in the middle of the doorway.

Apr. 11 2014 11:12 AM

Lisa, I understand where you're coming from, and I love the idea of encouraging everyone to adopt. However, I've also seen a lot of friends who have recently experienced financial issues, which become even more complicated when sudden emergency or chronic pet care is involved. They often turn to crowdfunding sites to ask their friends to cover the expenses for pet surgeries. I wish we could find homes for all the no-kill animals, but is it worth persuading potential adoptive parents to take in a pet that he or she might not be able to afford should a unexpected condition arise?

I have only respect for veterinarians and their work, and have no qualms about pricing. I realize medical care is expensive. I hate when you have to make a decision based on age, condition, risk, stress for near-end care vs allowing home "pet hospice," and finally whether you're in the position to max out a credit card you might not be able to pay later. The decisions are heartbreaking, and the animal can't give you a pain scale number.

Apr. 11 2014 11:12 AM
Beatrice from westport ct

what about people like me who are wildly allergic to pets? Can't go anywhere where there are pets. Its like peanuts. There are thousands of people like me. In public they jump on me. That is very dangerous for people like me....

Apr. 11 2014 11:10 AM
Truth & Beauty from Brooklyn

I believe that each human being and each animal is an individual and needs to be treated like one. I have shared my home with numerous furry, feathery and scaly family members and each has an individual purrsonality. I don't consider that I own them. You can't own someone and love that purrson - especially if the purrson loves you in return.

Maybe y'all should be watching that PBS series on animals to see what their contribution to society is. And read all the articles about how dogs and cats have saved babies, saved families from home fires, diagnosed various forms of illness (cancer, diabetes), and generally protected their humans from disaster. They have musical preferences, favorite TV shows, meal preferences, massage preferences. They protect our homes with superior auditory, visual and olfactory senses. They bring in the morning newspapers. They care for sick family members. They even adopt members of other species. They tell the truth ALL the time.

I have NEVER dressed any of my non-human family members, though I do believe that short-haired dogs need to wear coats in cold weather. I recognize their differences and they recognize mine and we get along like best friends.

Apr. 11 2014 11:10 AM

Don't I have to encounter enough selfish people now their dumb dogs are with them

Ugh a dog is only as well behaved as his person.

Apr. 11 2014 11:09 AM
Alex from Astoria

I don't think that pets have changed their status as family members in the last twenty years. I think that it is hardwired in our DNA to form bonds with animals. Just look at Court Portraiture through history that have dogs included in the portrait (sometimes instead of their children). What about the popularity of Rin TinTin and Lassie? Personally I believe that this "Pet Renaissance" comes down to commerce. We have been made to believe that we need a special ball for Max or a deluxe bed for Felix. To draw a parallel, look at all the holidays (what I call Hallmark holidays) which have grown in popularity and economic venue over the last 20 years. It all comes down to what we are told we need to spend money on.

Apr. 11 2014 11:09 AM
bernie from bklyn

like many other issuea in this city, bringing dogs on the subway could never happen because the morons that we have to share our city with would ruin it for everyone. how about this scenario- stepping into a huge, hot steaming pile of dog shi*# when you're geting on the train in the morning? sound like fun? or getting bit by a mistreated pit bull?

Apr. 11 2014 11:06 AM

Please be aware that animal allergies are REAL. Animals shouldn't be in restaurants any more than cigarettes should.

Apr. 11 2014 11:06 AM
J from NJ

I have to License both my dog and cat, but not my kids...

I actually resent this, because I have to renew it once a year (or get fined), and the local community who charges me for this license does nothingin return for my pet or me...

Apr. 11 2014 11:06 AM
art525 from Park Slope

I have had cats and dogs all my life. I love them. I talk to dogs on the street. BUT I don't think it's appropriate to have dogs in stores. It is pretty self indulgent. And for pothers it is annoying. I see them at the corner store and they are sniffing the food on the lower shelves while the owner is blissfully unaware. If you're going to Home Depot leave your dog home.

Apr. 11 2014 11:06 AM
Henry from Manhattan

No. I don't want people with their dogs in stores.

Most pet owners don't know how to handle their animals on public sidewalks.

Apr. 11 2014 11:04 AM
The Truth from Becky

They are animals, they are not people. Simply put.

Apr. 11 2014 11:03 AM
Guest from Northern NJ

Please stop perpetuating this silly notion of pets as surrogate children. There's a lot that can be said about that, but I'll just say I know childless couples who have pets who find it truly insulting when people insinuate that "your pets are your children". Uh, no. No they aren't. While it's true we form strong bonds with both pets and children, they are not the same thing. If a person doesn't know the difference between a pet and a child, they probably shouldn't have either one.

Apr. 11 2014 11:02 AM
monique from nyc

There has to be some recourse when vets take advantage of situations. I had a vet tell me my cat needed $2500 emergency surgery. I went for a second opinion, we put the cat on a different cat food and he was fine.

Apr. 11 2014 11:01 AM

On two occasions in the West Village and Chelsea, I've encountered the same small white dog. He was attached to a bicycle basket with a bungee cord. The first time a fellow horrified stranger and I attempted to intervene with a call to 311, and the owner came out screaming. We were subsequently told by two intervening police that they were legally unable to do anything.

Apr. 11 2014 10:59 AM
Lisa from Inwood

Declawing should be outlawed, a barbaric practice; if someone is that concerned about their furniture, adopt a rabbit or get a turtle as a pet. Cats can be trained not to scratch at furniture or rugs.

Also, kill shelters should also be illegal. I heard there is a shelter in Philadelphia that gases animals as their euthanasia method of choice.

Apr. 11 2014 10:59 AM
Sheldon from Brooklyn

Western attitudes towards animals are subjective. We look down at cultures that eat dog meat. Pigs are probably just as intelligent and sociable as dogs, yet the ones raised on industrial farms, are basically tortured all their lives until slaughter, without as much as a finger from most.

Apr. 11 2014 10:08 AM
john from office

All animals deserve the respect and protection of law. The only way that that is possible is for people to speak for them. Anyone who ever had a pet knows that there is an underlying sense of self and of being a friend and companion. They need our protection and the protection of the state from harm.

Note how war dogs have gone from being viewed as property by the military, like a gun, to being buried at Arlington as true American heros.

Apr. 11 2014 07:26 AM

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