Thursday, January 20, 2011

See Spot Get Suffrage: Animal Rights, Language, and Why We're So Damn Nice To Things With Fur

Similarities between three year old children and a border collie: they're cute, annoying at restaurants, and can have a vocabulary of around 1,000 words. At least, that's what researchers found with Chaser, a six year old canine who knows a helluva lot more language than “sit” and “stay.” The study found he even knows some basic grammar, putting him head and shoulders over most people, let alone dogs.

Teaching a mutt to understand language may seem a little strange, but it isn't the weirdest shit science has pulled on our four-legged companions. That was when Karl Krall had nothing better to do than test to see if his pup was telepathic. Guess what? It wasn't.

This experiment also has some pretty serious implications. Language and animal rights have had quite a time recently, with gorillas being able to talk with sign language being a big draw for Spain to give them basic human rights in 2008. Maybe if Fido starts barking in Morse Code he can get the same respect.

Your pet getting some basic rights because of the study's results isn't as out there of an idea as you would think. Cambridge bioethics professor and zoophilia advocate David Singer makes a valid point that there's mentally disabled folks with equal or lower intelligence than animals, and they're not required to be on the end of a leash in public. Instead, the creature's ability to feel suffering should be the basis of how they're treated, with the goal of minimizing it as much as possible.

When it gets down to it though, we're not trying to reduce animal suffering but just feel we've got some goddamn control over our lives. Guess when the whole anti-animal cruelty campaign started? The Industrial Revolution. While parents were sending their children to work in textile mills for pennies on the hour, they were also making it illegal to be cruel to cows in 1822. Moving into an industrialized society they didn't fully understand made people feel powerless. If they couldn't take charge of their lives and improve conditions, at least they could do something for those poor stupid animals.

As society gets more complex, we get nicer to animals with groups like the Animal Liberation Front arguing that we shouldn't have pets or domesticated creatures at all. Hey, who can blame them? It's a lot easier to help a dumb little critter than to help yourself. Until we get out of that mindset, we're just animals too.


Daniel Mikelonis can often be found arguing with himself on street corners. If you want to give him some contact other than with the voices in his head, you can find him on Facebook here.


  1. Wow! A really surprising argument, Daniel, and the historical specifics and links really help you build your case. I would say that you've succeeded in taking your hilarious premise and using it as a way to make larger points about humans and animals in general, which was really my hope for you in this class. Not only do you have a succinct and cutting way of summarizing things, but you're also great about presenting startling ideas in a way that makes perfect sense. Really great work, D.

  2. this is really interesting and all that good stuff. I don't know why, really, but I thought this was Laura's article until I got to the very end. Maybe because there were no pictures of retrofitted penises..