Having Our Dogs and Eating Them Too: Why Animals Are a Social Issue

This reading talks about relationships and interactions between human and other (non-human) animals. Animals has been part of the human life for as long as we can remember, they provide food, clothing and even act as a substitute for humans in medical and psychological experiments. Humans often exploit animals, as they do not have the linguistic ability to speak up for themselves.

Author James A. Serpell separated the readings into three main sections, which will be explained in the latter section of this post.

Attitudes to Animal Use

Knight, Vrij, Bard and Brandon (2009) analyzed the different factors that have a tendency to influence people’s attitudes to animal exploitation.

These include internal factors such as;

  • Personal beliefs about the mental capacities of animals,
  • The relative superiority of humans,
  • Or the availability of alternatives to using animals for various purposes

External factors such as group membership and whether the issue of animal exploitation has any direct relevance to the person are part of the factors as well.

These findings raise noteworthy questions about people’s true intentions for supporting or opposing a particular use of animals.

Humans have a tendency to compose our attitudes and beliefs regarding animals as a way of legitimizing and reinforcing their own selfish purposes.

Herzog and Golden provided evidence in support of the view with an assessment of the role of the emotion of disgust in shaping human attitudes to the treatment of animals.

Their findings showed that among those that are surveyed, high scores for disgust sensitivity were associated with greater concern for animal welfare, although it does not extend to eating meat.

They claimed that disgust sensitivity may be the primary motivating factor underlying a person’s decision to become an animal advocate.

The emotion of disgust, especially visceral disgust, is usually linked with the violation of social and moral taboos.

There are some possibilities that explain the reaction from animal advocates:

1) Activists relate to animals differently, not as members of a less worthy group but as family member or kin, and hence deserving of the highest moral regard. Example: Pets.

2) Activists are simply more susceptible to experienced emotions than the average person thus they are more likely to try to alleviate their feelings via activism.

It is also possible that all humans were once disgusted by animal exploitation, however due to long term exposure to social and cultural norms that approve such practices; some have been more or less desensitized.

The Benefits of Human – Animal Relations

There have been studies that claimed that interactions and relationships with animals might serve salutary or therapeutic functions for humans. However there are limitations in measuring the value of pet ownership empirically.

The theory that pets provide a form of social support for their owners is certainly plausible but one have to acknowledges that not all human–pet relationships are likely to be equally beneficial from a health perspective.

Some studies have showed that replacing living animals with robotic ones has serious implications among humans. As robotic pets has no ‘real’ feelings, humans would not care and this would affect their perceptions and attitudes towards to the real pets which will lead to denial or disaffirmation of the real pet’s mental and moral standing.

Animals in Society

Ascione and Shapiro findings claimed that the view that human–animal interactions and relationships is no different from interpersonal interactions and relationships.

Animal victims of abuse are presented as being both comparable to and interchangeable with human victims and the psychology of those who commit animal cruelties is depicted as identical to human abusers.

Podberscek, using the results of a recent MORI poll found that a slender majority of South Koreans are in favor of keeping dogs as pets and against eating them but most do not support a national ban on the consumption of dog meat products. Cats on the other hand were disapproved of both eating and of keeping them as pets, and the majority favored a ban on their consumption.

These interesting species-specific cultural customs shows that moral intuitions regarding the proper treatment of animals are socially and culturally determined.

North Americans and Europeans however, have a tradition of keeping dogs and cats as social companions which tend to render their slaughter and consumption taboo.

The species-specific cultural customs varies from countries to countries.


During the last 30–40 years, the so-called circle of compassion has expanded dramatically to encompass a wider variety of nonhuman beneficiaries, however there are no clear solutions on how and when to draw the line.

Some animals are included within the sphere of moral concern, while others are excluded on a seemingly arbitrary basis. Livestock such as chickens and cows etc. are often excluded from the circle.

Individually, most of us are inconsistent in the aspect that we wear leather but won’t eat veal; oppose animal experiments but use shampoos tested on animals; become animal activists but continue to consume the objects of our activism.

The truth is that we want to have our dogs (and cats) and eat them too.

We are, in effect, trapped between the proverbial rock and a hard place.

The only solution to exploiting animals for our own purposes is to disregard that animals have moral and mental capacities; we have no right to state that pets are regarded as our family, the subjects of profound emotional attachments, or sentient and cognitively sophisticated beings worthy of special treatment and protection.

However, these are, of course, precisely the same techniques that people have used throughout history to justify the abuse and persecution of other humans, and that, more than anything else, is why animals are a social issue.

How do you feel about this issue?

Serpell, JA 2009, ‘Having Our Dogs and Eating Them Too: Why Animals Are a Social Issue’, Journal Of Social Issues, 65, 3, pp. 633-644, Psychology and Behavioral Sciences Collection, EBSCOhost, viewed 11 October 2012.



3 comments so far

  1. janisuhoshi on

    In the last section of his paper, the author, James A. Serpell (2009), discussed about how animal abuse is linked to interpersonal violence. I would like to focus on this.

    Serpell (2009) opined that many analysis have reinforces the view that human-animal relationships do not differ from human-human relationships. In fact, research shows that the psychology or psychopathology of those who abuse animals is similar to those who abuse human. He also wrote that although there are studies that support the link between animal violence and interpersonal (human vs human) violence, the reliability of the findings are being challenged. Patterson-Kane and Piper (2009) pointed out that other studies revealed that animal abusers were leading normal and “not especially violent” lives.

    Serpell (2009) has a remarkable way of resolving this conflict. He said that what determines a violent act is the social acceptability of the violent act. To demonstrate this point, Serpell (2009) used the findings by Podberscek (2009) from a poll on South Koreans and the practice of cat and dog eating in South Korea. The poll found that most South Koreans were in favour of keeping dogs as pets and were against eating them, but most of them disapproved a ban on consuming dog meat in South Korea. However, most South Koreans were in favour of a ban on consuming cat meat in South Korea. Why so? This is because dog-eating is a deep-rooted culture in South Korea. Similar to cock fighting in Thailand and bullfighting in Spain, the treatment of animals are “socially and culturally determined” (Serpell, 2009). As such, we cannot entirely jump into conclusions that anyone who abuses animals is a potential violent criminal.

    How about people who are cruel to animals in a society or culture that does not condone animal cruelty?

    In 2006, there was a serial cat killer who killed at least 20 cats in two weeks. These cats were found to have their throats slit and bodies dumped in bushes and drains (Associated Press, 2006). It is disturbing to know that this happened in Singapore, a society that does not condone cruelty to animals. Can we trust that someone with such perverse behaviour to be sound and moral?

    Animal abuse is an “aggressive and antisocial behavior”, and it is a “reliable predictor” of interpersonal violence (PAWS, 2012).

    According to the U.S. National Museum of Crime & Punishment (2008), young people taking pleasure in harming animals is one of the early signs of serial killers.

    “They may provoke, torture or even kill cats, dogs and other pets. Even after seeing the results of their actions, the person will show no form of regret or morose. Serial killers generally seek control over the life of another, and at a younger age a small animal is the only type of creature they will be able to fully dominate. Any adolescent who displays this activity is an extreme risk of developing into an adult that could willingly hurt and kill human beings.” (National Museum of Crime & Punishment, 2008)

    In Singapore and many other countries, animal abusers are usually let off with light punishments. I strongly believe that animal cruelty should not be taken lightly because perpetrators of animal cruelties can potentially be cruel towards fellow human beings and capable of violent crimes. Serpell (2009) wrote that “we, as a society, should take animal abuse seriously” as it has serious social implications on our safety and wellbeing. People with violent tendencies are not selective with who or what they are violent to. An animal abuser do not ‘specialise’ at being violent to animals. The motivations behind their violent acts can lead them to be violent to just about anyone and anything. By being lenient to animal abusers, are we allowing potential violent crimes against human to breed?

    – janisuhoshi (20906271)

    • orube90 on


      I agree that Singapore is letting the offenders off too easily for abusing animals. Singapore has a really outdated law on cats stating them as a pest and thus not allowing people to have them as pets.

      Remembering the SARS outbreak several years, Singapore began culling all the stray cats that they could find on the streets as they suspected the cats of being a host for SARS. Even though the evidence of linking SARS to Cats is inconclusive and probably needs further research, Singapore began to cull them anyway resulting the death of 700 cats.

      Singapore used to have a Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) program, it is a method of humanely trapping unaltered feral cats, spaying or neutering them, and releasing them back to the same location where they were collected. This allows cats to roam freely on the streets without producing unwanted litter, which makes stray cats more manageable, it is a more humane method compared to culling.

      However it all changed when the cats were wrongly accused of being the host for SPCA, Singapore promptly ended the TNR program. Even after the SARS outbreak, Singapore did not resume the TNR program at all; Cat Welfare Society, a non-profitable organization in Singapore, currently oversees the TNR program with SPCA and some other animal organization.

      I find it difficult to change people’s mindset towards animals when our own country is being so insensitive to animals.

      “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated”. Mahatma Gandhi

      Back to the condoning of cruelty to animals, most of the perpetrators of animal cruelty are on the loose in Singapore due to the fact that they are no witness to the crime, not much people is willing to step up for the animals as they feel that they are a lesser race and that they should not waste so much time on them. Singapore has the mentality of ‘mind your own business’ attitude, which makes it difficult for SPCA to bring the perpetrators to justice.

      I feel that Singapore still has a long way to go with regards to animal welfare. However, baby steps can be seen in Singapore with the two-year pilot program of allowing HDB owners to own 1 cat per household at Chong Pang. The project aims to define what it means to be a responsible cat owner in an HDB estate.

      Ref –




  2. janesxm on

    I think the factors that have a tendency to influence people’s attitudes to animal exploitation which Knight, Vrij, Bard and Brandon had listed can be related to our everyday lives. For example, there are people who feast on sharks’ fins to show they are rich, or that they are of a higher class than others, disregarding the fact that the population of sharks is dropping massively due to worldwide consumption.

    On one hand, attitudes and beliefs do not change overnight. Such values and attitudes towards animals should be taught and inculcated into people from a young age. On the other hand, I would not deny that such values and attitudes might change as a person grows and adapts to his/her surroundings – the social and cultural norms, as what was pointed out.

    Here is an example of how animals fulfil a therapeutic function: http://vimeo.com/37335768

    All in all, I would agree with the reading that humans, in general, want to have our animals and eat them too – all these to fulfil our needs (Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – http://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html):

    Physiological – Food and Warmth
    Example: Dog meat that is eaten in many countries, Skins of exotic animals are made into coats

    Safety – Security, Stability, Freedom from fear
    Example: The video that I have shown above

    Belonging – Love
    Example: We have animals as companion

    Example: The sharks’ fin example that I have provided above, People who carry expensive bags made from animal skin to boost their status in society and showing superiority.

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