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Sunday, Feb. 20, 2011


Unrequited love for pet owners


In his Feb. 13 eulogy (Counterpoint article) to the sad fate of abandoned pets and his review of author Noriko Imanishi's book on the topic — "Japan's cull of once-loved pets cries out for German-style controls" — Roger Pulvers quotes Imanishi as saying, "It's a given that a society in which animals are happy is one in which humans are happy."

It pleases people to imagine that their animals are happy, but that's only wishful thinking. Who really knows what an animal "feels"? That's the sort of talk we hear from people who swoon before animals like pilgrims. Among animals we can properly speculate about high-order cerebral functions only in regard to primates and a very few sea mammals, and even then, speaking about it is problematic.

Familiar animals like pet dogs and cats do not "think," nor do they "feel" or "trust" in any way that we can understand. Their brain structures do not provide for it, or for consciousness and personality the way we usually imagine them. Even if the brain structures did provide for it, we must admit that no human can ever know what it is like to experience life like an animal. In fact, no human being knows the mind of another of our own species. Many of us don't even know ourselves.

Sorry, pet owners, but your dogs do not love you, and they are incapable of sadness or happiness in any way that you could possibly understand no matter what you think their behavior indicates. Analogy is the weakest form of comparison, and people say things like that for public relations and because it helps us live with ourselves in an artificial world.

As an explanation of animals, anthropomorphizing does more harm than good, and I sort of feel sorry for animals because so many of us want to offer them token humanity.

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer's own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.

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