Over the years I have heard many times: “We should be like our pets. They aren’t prejudiced, biased or racist.” While I don’t claim to be able to read an animal’s mind, I have studied their behavior and I am not completely convinced I agree with this statement.
The discussion of social justice as it pertains to pet families is so far below what human beings are experiencing everyday with one another, I hesitated to even write this article, but then I thought, if we can recognize bias even at the level of our beloved pets, maybe understanding what fellow humans are going through would be a little more clear.
For the sake of this article, I am going to assume that humans and animals have a lot in common, from DNA to physical characteristics to behaviors. Under this assumption, I believe we can look at our pets and see some of their traits in ourselves, thus allowing us to better understand social injustice in our world.
I will use the term “bias” throughout this article to refer to any form of prejudice, racism, sexism, anti-religion, gender equality, etc. And I believe our pets do display bias, but I don’t hold them accountable for their bias as I do humans. It is my belief that bias is based in fear and that fear typically comes from something or someone different than us. It is that simple, yet that complicated.
Having worked around animals for more than 20 years and having had pets for even longer, I have seen plenty of biased animals. I am 6’6” tall with a beard and often wear a hat. Many dogs and cats have “disliked” me from the get go because of how I looked. When I remove my hat and get down to their level, some relax a little bit while others still don’t like me. I have done nothing to them. I haven’t spoken a word, approached them, cornered them or made a move to pet them. They just didn’t like the way I looked. How about mail carriers? Regardless of skin color, the blue uniform often sends dogs into a frenzy and when those dogs see that uniform while on a walk, they are again unsettled. Maybe this isn’t the most heinous form of bias, but it is bias nonetheless. So what does this have to do with our human social justice struggles?
To make lasting change surrounding anything, we must first understand the problem. I think we can take our love for animals and learn a little bit about ourselves. We say our pets aren’t racist or sexist because they don’t know any better. They are just being themselves. Well, if we accept that bias is based in fear, and we share many of the same traits as animals, then we can safely say human bias is also based in fear – which is a very natural reaction. BUT THIS IS WHERE THE COMPARISON STOPS.
As humans, we have the mental capacity to take this knowledge and do something with it. Unlike our pet dog who barks at the mail carrier because he is scared, we can evaluate the situation, understand our fear is not grounded in any real threat and react differently. We do this when we look at animals. Why can’t we do this towards each other? I am not scared of a german shepherd just because it is a german shepherd. Why would I be scared of a person who is different from me just because they are different? It makes no logical sense, yet it DOES take conscious thinking to overcome our initial fear of someone/something different than us.
When dealing with animals, we are extremely compassionate and understanding. We don’t judge, sometimes to our dismay, at first sight, but instead we wait to see how the animal reacts to us before we decide what to do. Doesn’t it make sense, at the very least, to extend this same consideration to our fellow humans?
Now, back to the question of why is this an appropriate article to write for pet people. The answer lies in the question. We are people. We are human beings that have practice in understanding those not like us, AND there are millions of us in the US alone. Think of the impact we could make if every pet parent took a lesson from our own “how to judge a pet” book. What a difference it would make if we reacted to humans based on their behavior instead of their looks.