Anthropomorphism Revisited: What is it Like to be a Pet?

PARO.jpgThere’s a great piece by James Vlahos on the growth of psychiatric medicines for pets here. The piece focuses on how pet owners’ empathy leads them to anthropomorphize their dogs and cats. Having worried about undue anthropomorphism earlier, I found the piece’s sensitive analysis of the many possible sources of bad pet behavior very helpful. And these two insights are particularly sobering reminders of humans’ demands on the environment, and vice versa:

Modern owners are increasingly trying to “sterilize” pet ownership, [Dr. Ian Dunbar says], trying to pharmacologically control dogs so that they don’t act like dogs. “What people want is a pet that is on par with a TiVo, that its activity, play and affection are on demand,” he says “Then, when they’re done, they want to turn it off.” . . .

But [Stephen] Dodman . . . [claims] that the causes of mood disorders and obsessions in humans and our pets aren’t so different — faulty genetics, dreary environments. Whether cubicle- or cage-bound, we get too little exercise; we don’t hunt, run or play enough to produce naturally mood-elevating neurochemicals. Strangely enough, I had already heard this theory — from a pharmaceutical company executive who, for obvious business reasons, didn’t want to be named. “All of the behavioral issues that we have created in ourselves, we are now creating in our pets because they live in the same unhealthy environments that we do,” he said. “That’s why there is a market for these drugs.”

As for those who want a TiVo-type pet–maybe they should try a PARO (pictured above)? These robotic baby seals will be here soon.

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