Tuesday, April 27, 2010
In Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera, the stern physician Dr Juvenal Urbino justified his hatred of animals with some very amusing theories; dogs were not loyal but servile, cats were opportunists and traitors, peacocks were heralds of death, monkeys carried the fever of lust, and the people who loved their pets in excess were capable of the worst cruelties toward human beings. Despite having been the philosophical pretexts for baseless cynicism, Urbino’s ideas certainly nudge our attention to whether human beings may have misinterpreted, or at least exaggerated, their relationships with animals. I admit that at times I myself am guilty of over-anthropomorphising my beloved house pets, but how can one not? Pablo Neruda dedicated a devastatingly moving poem to his dog, lamenting the following verse at the time of its death:
My dog used to gaze at me,
paying me the attention I need,
the attention required
to make a vain person like me understand
that, being a dog, he was wasting time,
but, with those eyes so much purer than mine,
he'd keep on gazing at me
with a look that reserved for me alone
all his sweet and shaggy life,
always near me, never troubling me,
and asking nothing.
Aldous Huxley reasoned that “to his dog, every man is Napoleon, hence the constant popularity of dogs.” There is little surprise then that modern research is beginning to scrutinise the negative repercussions of our supposedly “unhealthy” attachment to our pets.
The bond between man and animal is almost taken for granted these days, with an estimated ownership of 63% of Australian households. Human-animal relationships are known to grant security to the anxious, companionship to the lonely, and recently, status symbols to the image obsessed. However some believe that human beings are beginning to substitute their pets for human companionship, crossing the line between respecting the natural bond between man and beast, and enabling a distorted set of attitudes and expectations. People dress their pets in fancy outfits. Some pets are treated to gourmet meals and perfume. Billionaire Leona Helmsley left her dog, Trouble, $12 million after she died, and left two of her grandchildren nothing.
Personally, the most fascinating trend I’ve heard of is cosmetic surgery for pets. Owners now have the option of paying money to rid their unsightly pooches of pug noses, droopy eyes, and several other typical “doggy features.” Even more absurd, there is now a patented testicular implant that sells for close to one thousand dollars a pair to restore the way your pet looked before being neutered. The irony is that while some owners declare an unconditional love and respect for their animals, they are attempting to manipulate their pets’ characteristics to make them more human-like.