c1894 Hunting Bird Dog Chasing Rabbit
Endeavors to restore urban forests have opened my eyes to Earth’s ultimatum of the day – domesticated or wild– as shown in this case, domesticated dogs vs wildlife. Urban natural spaces are mostly seen as places for dogs to be wild and free. But focusing on the true wild life, I see habitat harm in action. Their paws compacting native seedlings and disturbing soil, creating a condition favoring invasive seeds to set and sprout. Their noises, scents, and even just their presence alarming mammals and flushing brush birds decreasing fauna diversity. Their feces and urine tainting the land and creeks, in the end polluting ocean habitation. Finally, it was their mauling of a forest’s sole remaining fox (see Animal Control Officer’s Report), and reading Lee Hall’s On Their Own Terms: Animal Liberation for the 21st Century, that motivates this essay.
May this serve as a calling to those who love and tend to dogs to reflect on their relationship and focus concern to nature. Why them? Because they are the ones who tune in with empathy, who do not hesitate when compassion demands action, who sacrifice with eternal loyalty. Those are the qualities needed if a diversity of animal lives is to remain viable, even for entire species to exist. But an expanded mindset does not come easy. There is always a quandary. A barrier to overcome. A predicament. A hard choice that, in this case, is no less than life or death. Here a change in mind begins with a confrontation on the domesticated dog that challenges the core of what it means to be human. To domesticate is to dominate is to master another. No matter how compassionately it’s done, in the end perpetual states of this kind of control have regrettable outcomes. That outcome is approaching.
Accompanying the bloating abundance of domesticated dogs is the burst of businesses heaping ample attention onto them. Lesser but parallel attention is paid to waning wildlife. Where is discussion of domesticated dogs’ effect on wildlife decline? Does this candid conversation topic ring too taboo for mainstream discourse? There are professional studies in professional journals on specific species impacted by dogs, but the degree of overall impact remains unstudied and unknown. Still, a literature review confirms commonsense; human bred pet and feral dogs are degrading and displacing wildlife habitats, including that of their own free relations. (see resources)
While Earth’s ill-health has distended into conventional thought, contributing causes and consequences continue to broaden in scope. Concern is launching into how human food procurement impacts Earth’s ecosystems, particularly animal agriculture. With a breech across the mainstream taboo of criticizing the custom of pets, a study revealed up to 30% of farmed animal ‘products’ are fed to pets in the US. (see Environmental Impact of Food Consumption by Dogs and Cats) While animal agriculture is targeted as the prime culprit, agriculture itself is beginning to come under scrutiny. Hall reminds fellow vegans that all farming displaces wildlife habitats. (p. 65)
The ‘dog in the park’ issue is the ‘canary in the mine’, a litmus test on our aptitude to end our reign of destruction if not even to save ourselves. If we cannot reverse our ‘dominion over wild’ mindset, we are doomed to dominate bioregions across Earth to death.
Domesticated Human Mindset on its Domesticated Dog
(W)olves, who attend to the demands of their own communities, not ours, are vilified for existing anywhere near us. While our domesticated dogs number in the hundreds of millions, their ancestral community is deemed a collective threat to subdue. We have gradually exterminated animals who scare us, and produced other animals who will accommodate our desires. And we end up calling it love. Domestication has become so customary that few people question it and most extol it… Increasingly, animals who aren’t amenable to playing a role within our society are hooked off the world stage. (Hall, pp 77-8)
One characteristic that moves humans to keep animals in existence is appealing physical features or actions that humans cherish as cute. When some humans feel enchanted by a nonhuman animal, they want to bring her as close as possible, to touch her, to play with her, to feed her. Eliciting an animal to respond to cues is justified with a rationale that interaction with nonhuman animals is a human right, a pure ideal. That ideal is fixed to our dominant position. Free living animals by and large interact and share affection with their own kind. Why have we sculpted unnatural inter-species relationships? In Dominance & Affection: The Making of Pets, Yi_Fu Tuan asserts “…dominance may be combined with affection, and what is produced is the pet.” (p. 2). Are we aware of our dominance when we do something like separate an 8-week-old puppy from its mother and siblings? Hall challenges us to “recognize dominion in all of its forms: an imposed vulnerability to human control, no matter how adorable the dependent animal might appear to us.” (p. 8)
Our calling to connect with animals reflects our deep calling to return to nature. But like dogs, we no longer know our place in the wild, or how to live mutualistically with wildlife. The pet dog normative is at its very essence a grieving of and striving to restore lost connections. Through domestication our kind has stripped from both ourselves and dogs the wild connections for which we both intrinsically yearn. Misdirected attempts to quench our longing only remove wildness from us further. In our very existence as civilized beings, we and our domesticated animal extensions are bound to degrade and displace our longed-for nature home, making our return from civilization to nature imperative.
When confronted with environmental harm of their pet, dog activists’ denial runs swift and steep. Some reactive minds extend concern for wildlife to concern for domesticated dogs, somehow including pets in the sphere of wildlife. This confusion hints at human’s innate focus on animals, while disremembering how we have bio-engineered the wild out of some of them. When they concede that their dogs do not live free in the wild, and probably couldn’t, another flawed justification inevitably springs forth as reason their dogs are entitled to priority over free living animals.
The dog activist mind positions dogs as victims while ignoring their dogs’ harms to wild animals and their habitat. They express their motives as altruistic. They are humbly taking on responsibility to ‘rescue’ pets from abusers and certain death. There is scientific evidence that dogs make humans happy. Reminders of the plight of wildlife, species extinctions and such, does not relent their attention, time, energy, money, undying devotion to their dogs – their choice is made. And when the harm is direct, and in front of their eyes, their poor dogs are deserving of the harm they do. Dogs are ‘part of the family’. To judge dogs is to threaten a family member. Besides, they spay and neuter to help bring down dog overpopulation. It’s the breeders who are to blame. They are trying to fix the problem the breeders create.
In civilization and particularly under capitalism, ‘rescuing’ pets itself is self-defeating merely by contributing to the pet hype. Partaking in pet customs inevitably feeds the frenzy. The more dollars humans spend on dogs (currently billions/year) the greater the quantity needing ‘rescue’ will inevitably be. It’s market principles, high demand will draw up supply. And the market too is manipulating demand through advertising and such, spiraling into a dizzying fury of pets and profits. Those who conform with the pet normative are colluding with packaging dogs as products. Ah, but they can’t help that, so says the dog activist mind.
Just as they can’t change that early humans breeding the wild out of wolves. It was a symbiotic relationship, and remains so today, they claim. Wolves and humans grew close through mutual aid. They helped us with the hunt, provided us protection, and we fed and protected them in return. While it may have been a symbiotic relationship at one point, humans have bred select canines to the point where they are now parasitic, and not by their choice. By hyper-molding dogs to suit our pleasures, our species has genetically altered dogs into forms that have lost ability to thrive independently. Airs of mutuality between today’s dominant humans and their reliant dogs are incredulous. If there was at some point human-canine agreement to aid each other in lives of our own pursuit, it vanished long ago.
In reply to the damage dogs do to wildlife habitats, there is also the ‘they do it too’ defense, Wild animals disturb soils and water and other animals too, wild animals are no different. But they are different. Over time wild species co-adapt and form thriving, biodiverse, resilient communities. An ecosystem is flush in a symbiosis that humans have domesticated out of dogs. If a free-living species grows too prolific, adjustments and adaptations are made to maintain homeostasis. Wildlife control their own and others’ population rates. On the other hand, a hallmark of domestication, including human domesticated dogs, is over-breeding, invasion and colonization. The more dogs encroach into wild communities, the less healthy and resilient those communities become.
Humans have bred dogs for a lifeway outside nature, like them. As much as humans adore and try to encourage their dogs’ connection with nature, they are now too far removed. The feat of the modern human-dog relationship has external impacts that contradict and impede altruistic motives. “Domestication, captivity, or control are often taken for symbiosis. But these actions don’t bring us into harmony with the rest of the living world.” (Hall, p. 116) In their current form, the core role dogs have in nature is destroyer. Destroyer of the place in which descendants of their living genetic ancestors are struggling to live. How did we end up here?
History of the Human-Dog Association
The dream that ferocious animals, on the approach of man, would kneel in docility and thus be a fit companion in a perfect world may be among the most vainglorious of human aspirations. (Tuan, p. 85)
The symbiotic relationship that dog activists highlight was present in Neolithic settlements. Over 5,000 years ago humans began to exploit dogs through breeding for specialized uses, such as guarding or hunting for sustenance, much later hunting for sport. As civilization crept forward humans bred for pleasure of play or companionship. Compared to other animals their temperament was more mailable to manipulate, which resulted in high interest. Desired traits were playfulness, dependence, socialness, loyalty and compliance. As hierarchy intensified so too intensified biological manipulation. Refined humans bred for status, with beauty and rarity of very precise physical features deemed valuable. (Tuan, pp 103-104) The more specialized the desired traits became, the more the breeding process required human intervention. Breeding ranged from humans choosing the dog mates and keeping them alone during the time the female is in heat, to physically binding the female down for the male to mount against her will. All pet dogs today are contrived constructs of human design, and the product of human coercion and rape. (Tuan, 106-109)
Dogs have been methodically manipulated into a fixed state of biologically dependent juveniles to ease the task of keeping them. Humans bred obedient disposition to acquire their compliance with being restrained to the confines of domesticated places. The dogs of today were bred for our chosen interests, not theirs, to fulfill our uses and desires, signaling human power over them and human power in general. It is not a coincidence that as civilization rose, so rose human’s desire for a sense of power over animals. Canines proved to be the perfect mark.
While in the beginning free living human-canine interactions were mutual, freely choosing to meet their interests with one another, as humans civilized the relationship transformed. Basis underlying subconscious feelings and motivations is implied. For example, as humans disconnected from life in nature, the human-canine relationship took on the role of filling the void of humans’ diminishing intimacy of natural human lifeways.
It was easy to entertain warm feelings toward animals that seemed to have no other function than as playthings. Moreover, humans needed an outlet for their gestures of affection and this was becoming more difficult to find in modern society as it began to segment and isolate people into their private spheres, to discourage casual physical contact, and to frown upon the enormously satisfying stances of patronage, such as laying one’s hand on another’s shoulder. (Tuan, p 112)
An interesting topic to study further would be how human touching has evolved from primitive to civilized cultures, and how our biotic social needs such as touch are misdirected, and consequences when our basic needs remain unmet.
Today human domination, much less affection through domination, has grown to be a prevalent accepted norm to the point that it no longer requires justification. Dogs are outright exploited for hunting, police, companion animals for civilization’s lonely, etc. Motivations are not questioned even if they are for pride, or entertainment. The happy nuclear family with a thoroughly tamed dog family member myth prevails. Under capitalism fury humans’ subjugated dogs’ interests are gaining in expense. It almost appears dogs are the masters. But humans’ seemingly submissive acts of spending money on dogs and picking up dogs’ feces reveals the lengths to which human masters will go to maintain their arrangement of dominance. It is still the pet owner who decides how and when his dog property will live or leave or die, not the other way around. While wolves and pre-civilized humans may have had a mutual relationship, the relationship between domesticated humans and domesticated dogs is forever destined for power imbalance.
As for intangible costs of having dogs, they are not questioned, even if the cost of running dogs off trail to play wild is the sole remaining fox in a forest. Where resistance rises against humans dominating wildlife via their domesticated dogs, it is ignored or put down. To this indifferent audience Hall puts forth the fateful assessment humankind needs to heed: “(T)he idea that our domesticated animals trump animals we haven’t domesticated is… self-serving and environmentally dangerous.” (p. 116)
Aligning Motives with Actions, Journey Back to Nature
Assuming the motive is altruistic, beware that our caring ways can be succumb to distortion. Hall explains:
Are we taking a hard look at how our good instinct to help and care has given rise to a custom that forces other beings to look to us for care, and to be stuck inside this reliance? When we bring into existence other animals whose very being involves dependence upon us, a dependence they cannot outgrow, the unequal relationship is not mitigated by caring…
We need a social movement that inspires us to respect nonhuman animals, to want them to remain capable of living and thriving in the habitats to which they’ve naturally adapted, rather than be alienated from those spaces… To let wolves… run their own lives. After all, why should any one group (humans, that is) come along and expect all others to conform to its desires – and then justify this by applying the governing group’s idea of care? (p. 5)
If pet customs do more harm than good, what next? Hall calls animal liberationists to “transcend the urge to tame” ( p. 88) Here, humans who are considering taking a dog to a natural area, or breeding or adopting a dog, or in other ways getting involved in the pet ethos, are called to transcend the urge to participate.
This is an either/or dilemma, pets versus wildlife, and even domesticated pets versus domesticated ‘food’ animals. The decision to curb or abstain from participating is mandated by all the farmed animals kept and killed for dog food, all the wild animals whose habitats are encroached into or replaced by farms and garbage dumps speckled with empty dog food containers and plastic bags of dog feces, and by wildlife pushed out of space, and suffering direct encounters like the mauled fox. In memory of them, this is a calling to reflect on wilderness, to become aware of feelings for and motives with nature, and to act.
Some may wish to first raise their awareness in regards to their underlying feelings and motivations with dogs. Feelings and motives can be redirected away from domesticated life toward nature connection. For example, someone’s motives for adopting a rescue dog are giving and receiving unconditional love (redirect – give more love to humans by inviting them to join you on nature walks). Comradery with a community of dog owners who gather at the park (redirect – join or organize groups that gather together to remove invasive plants from wildlife habitat). Prestige of the breed as a status symbol (redirect – either explore releasing that drive of power or readdress it into volunteering at a rehabilitation center for healing wild animals). Self-reliance by using their dog for hunting (redirect – explore less intensive food finding like foraging, food forests, permaculture, wild tending). While this shift intentionally curtails hierarchal thinking and actions, power and control can be helpful if directed toward assisting wilderness vitality. Hall calls for both a “serious movement for animals’ autonomous lives.” (p. 15), and further “an exciting movement, full of risks and bound to meet resistance, but one that could ultimately safeguard Earth’s great biotic community.” (p. 78)
Deeper still, Hall questions humans’ reign over other animals with the broadest scope, “How do they (wild animals) stand a chance as long as we entitle ourselves to the lands on which they live?” (p. 7) How do we change our culture to end our destruction and reverse our domination? As beings ourselves in domesticated form, we instinctively long for a return to our place in nature, but how?
When we become aware that our obsession with dogs represents our misdirected longing to return to nature, we can reengage the nature connection we truly seek. That may be the beginning of humans’ rewilding Earth and ourselves. We can heed the calling to give back, to protect and let expand wild places for wild animals. We can transition, redefine what a human being is. Hall posits that humans shift our self-identity to contributors in an interconnected bio-community,” that we
“cultivate an attitude of respect for other animals by demonstrating that we can stop manipulating them. This means… being mindful of their interests in their lives, communities, and futures on this planet free from our dominion. (p. 70)
We can shift from dominating and destroying to co-existing and co-relating. As to the question of how to proceed with the superfluous, domesticated dogs, a change in our focus from domestication of animals to free life with free animals will eliminate the desire and populist reinforcement to continue breeding them into existence. As free, nature-centered humans rid their desire to play master, we will no longer need dogs to serve us.
The problem is not merely of domesticated dogs, but of humans domesticating. Humans’ habituation into playing master of the world is a hard role to drop, especially in this unavoidable civilized landscape we’ve constructed. As much as we think our reign empowers us with freedoms, it inescapability ensnares us and everything we touch with it. Renouncing our wrangled rule is a last hope for true free life and a feasible future.
(R)elinquishment of dominion is the final frontier – the greatest risk the human spirit could take. For we are primates. In some regions of the planet we’re still the lions’ prey. Maybe it’s no surprise that we’d fashion weapons, and set out to vanquish and tame. That we’d reformulate food chains; invent, subscribe to, and jump to the top of hierarchies, and then justify oppressions – from the “man the hunter” identity, to… everyday bullying… Meanwhile, the planet’s communities of free-living animals are dying… (W)e could challenge ourselves to change: to cultivate respect for… the ecology and the life force that sustains us. (Hall, p. 92)
Wilderness awareness beckons a change that affirms and restores thriving life communities. To give to a nature community is to belong to it. We find our way back to nature by responding to the awareness of domestication’s damage with proportional healing action. That is at first how we will find the place for which we long, in nature.
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Yu-Fai Leung, Chelsey Walden-Schreiner, Katharine Conlon, Anna B. Miller. (2015) A simple method for monitoring dog leash compliance behavior in parks and natural areas. Journal of Outdoor Recreation and Tourism 9, 11-16. Online publication date: 1-Apr-2015.
Jaroslav Červinka, Lucie Drahníková, Jakub Kreisinger, Martin Šálek. (2014) Effect of habitat characteristics on mesocarnivore occurrence in urban environment in the Central Europe. Urban Ecosystems 17:4, 893-909. Online publication date: 2-May-2014.
- Holderness-Roddam, P.B. McQuillan. (2014) Domestic dogs ( Canis familiaris ) as a predator and disturbance agent of wildlife in Tasmania. Australasian Journal of Environmental Management 21:4, 441-452. Online publication date: 24-Sep-2014.
Zach J. Farris, Sarah M. Karpanty, Felix Ratelolahy, Marcella J. Kelly. (2014) Predator–Primate Distribution, Activity, and Co-occurrence in Relation to Habitat and Human Activity Across Fragmented and Contiguous Forests in Northeastern Madagascar. International Journal of Primatology 35:5, 859-880. Online publication date: 15-Jul-2014.
María Marcela Orozco, D.V.M., Ph.D., Luciano Miccio, D.V.M., Gustavo Fabián Enriquez, B.Sc., Fabián Eduardo Iribarren, D.V.M., and Ricardo Esteban Gürtler, B.Sc., Ph.D.. (2014) SEROLOGIC EVIDENCE OF CANINE PARVOVIRUS IN DOMESTIC DOGS, WILD CARNIVORES, AND MARSUPIALS IN THE ARGENTINEAN CHACO. Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine 45:3, 555-563. Online publication date: 23-Sep-2014.
Michael A. Weston, James A. Fitzsimons, Geoffrey Wescott, Kelly K. Miller, Kasun B. Ekanayake, Thomas Schneider. (2014) Bark in the Park: A Review of Domestic Dogs in Parks. Environmental Management 54:3, 373-382. Online publication date: 1-Jul-2014.
Hari P. Sharma, Jerrold L. Belant, Jon E. Swenson. (2014) Effects of livestock on occurrence of the Vulnerable red panda Ailurus fulgens in Rara National Park, Nepal. Oryx 48:02, 228-231. Online publication date: 13-Mar-2014.
Robert Moss, Fiona Leckie, Amanda Biggins, Tim Poole, David Baines and Kenny Kortland. (2014) Impacts of Human Disturbance on Capercaillie Tetrao urogallus Distribution and Demography in Scottish Woodland. Wildlife Biology 20:1, 1-18. Online publication date: 6-Apr-2014.
Dagny Krauze-Gryz and Jakub Gryz. (2014) Free-Ranging Domestic Dogs (Canis familiaris) in Central Poland: Density, Penetration Range and Diet Composition. Polish Journal of Ecology 62:1, 183-193. Online publication date: 2-Jan-2015.
Martin Šálek, Jaroslav Červinka, Eliška Padyšáková, Jakub Kreisinger. (2014) Does spatial co-occurrence of carnivores in a Central European agricultural landscape follow the null model?. European Journal of Wildlife Research 60:1, 99-107. Online publication date: 20-Jul-2013.
Roberta Chirichella, Simone Ciuti, Marco Apollonio. (2013) Effects of livestock and non-native mouflon on use of high-elevation pastures by Alpine chamois. Mammalian Biology – Zeitschrift für Säugetierkunde 78:5, 344-350. Online publication date: 1-Sep-2013.
Jaroslav Červinka, Martin Šálek, Eliška Padyšáková, Petr Šmilauer. (2013) The effects of local and landscape-scale habitat characteristics and prey availability on corridor use by carnivores: A comparison of two contrasting farmlands. Journal for Nature Conservation 21:2, 105-113. Online publication date: 1-Apr-2013.
HEATHER A. LUMPKIN, SCOTT M. PEARSON, MONICA G. TURNER. (2012) Effects of Climate and Exurban Development on Nest Predation and Predator Presence in the southern Appalachian Mountains (U.S.A.). Conservation Biology 26:4, 679-688. Online publication date: 24-May-2012.
Loreta Rosselli, F. Gary Stiles. (2012) Wetland habitats of the Sabana de Bogotá Andean Highland Plateau and their birds. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems 22:3, 303-317. Online publication date: 20-Mar-2012.
G.D. Daniels, J.B. Kirkpatrick. (2012) The influence of landscape context on the distribution of flightless mammals in exurban developments. Landscape and Urban Planning 104:1, 114-123. Online publication date: 1-Jan-2012.
Jaroslav Červinka, Martin Šálek, Petr Pavluvčík, Jakub Kreisinger. (2011) The fine-scale utilization of forest edges by mammalian mesopredators related to patch size and conservation issues in Central European farmland. Biodiversity and Conservation 20:14, 3459-3475. Online publication date: 4-Aug-2011.
SARAH E. REED, ADINA M. MERENLENDER. (2011) Effects of Management of Domestic Dogs and Recreation on Carnivores in Protected Areas in Northern California. Conservation Biology 25:3, 504-513. Online publication date: 10-Feb-2011.
Julie K. Young, Kirk A. Olson, Richard P. Reading, Sukh Amgalanbaatar and Joel Berger. (2011) Is Wildlife Going to the Dogs? Impacts of Feral and Free-Roaming Dogs on Wildlife Populations. BioScience 61:2, 125-132. Online publication date: 11-Feb-2011.
ABI TAMIM VANAK, MATTHEW E. GOMPPER. (2009) Dogs Canis familiaris as carnivores: their role and function in intraguild competition. Mammal Review 39:4, 265-283. Online publication date: 1-Oct-2009.
Kathryn J. H. Williams, Michael A. Weston, Stacey Henry, Grainne S. Maguire. (2009) Birds and Beaches, Dogs and Leashes: Dog Owners’ Sense of Obligation to Leash Dogs on Beaches in Victoria, Australia. Human Dimensions of Wildlife 14:2, 89-101. Online publication date: 31-Mar-2009.