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Why Do We Treat Pets Like People?

Can We Take It Too Far?
Anthropomorphizing animals goes both ways. If by bestowing human characteristics and motivations on animals, we can see them as responsible parties worthy of care and consideration, we can also see them as worthy of blame. When an orca at SeaWorld recently drowned a trainer, witnesses and bloggers were quick to paint the marine mammal, who had been involved in two previous human deaths, as a killer. The Humane Society and the marine park responded with statements reminding people that animals’ behavioral motivations are complex. Tilikum the whale was certainly not a twelve-thousand-pound serial killer.

Many zoos raise specific animals to celebrity status. It’s a way for visitors to connect on, quite literally, a personal level, and it’s a marketing gimmick. About twenty years ago, some U.S. zoos, including those in Pittsburgh, Detroit, and Miami, tried to move away from this humanizing trend by no longer publicly naming their animals. They hoped that would not just move attention away from particular animals and toward the species in general, but also remind visitors that these were not pets but wild (kind of) animals.

Scott Blais saw that trend in a slightly different light: visitors becoming too sympathetic to zoo animals might start to take issue with the concept of zoos in general. “If [animals] have personalities,” Blais says, “how can you justify keeping them in that level of confinement?”

There’s a fine line between seeking to understand animals by conceiving their behavior as cohesive personalities with psychological or emotional motivations, and treating them like people. To respect any creature is to appreciate it for what it is. At the Elephant Sanctuary, an elephant—timid or brave, playful or reclusive—is still, first and foremost, an elephant.

Related: Unnatural States: The Ethics of Zoo Going, Free Willy Already! Looking at the Existence of Marine Parks

Read more: Animal Rights, Cats, Dogs, Humor & Inspiration, Nature & Wildlife, Pets, , ,

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181 comments

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10:34PM PDT on Aug 5, 2012

Of course animals have personalities! And they go through changes while in contact with human beings. My "wild" cat has calmed down and is more affectionate and trusting as time goes by. She still won't accept not having her own way, and slaps us when she doesn't but she has mellowed down. She is also a cat that loves water and used to get into the shower with me, drinks from the tap and puts her paws in her water bowl while drinking. She also loves going out in the rain. So, there's a personality!

4:15PM PST on Dec 6, 2010

Animals can feel pain and have feelings like us.That is the reason I watch Dogs 101.

9:58AM PST on Nov 25, 2010

interesting!

11:43AM PST on Nov 19, 2010

Animals have their own unique personalities and the more I see the dark side of hman nature, the more I like and appreciate animals. They are always true to their nature and cannot be corrupted like humans (unless trained to do so) and are more intelligent than we give them credit for.

5:26AM PDT on Oct 30, 2010

animals have better personalities then humans. Animals are intellegent and sensitive.

8:58PM PDT on Oct 27, 2010

Animals are beings with all the same feelings.

8:15AM PDT on Oct 26, 2010

they are incredibly intelligent, know us more than we want to admit, give undying love, loyalty and affection. pretty hard for a human to live up to i'd say. there isn't anything i wouldn't do to help animals. i love them all.

2:57PM PDT on Oct 24, 2010

many dogs have better personalities than some people I know!

11:21AM PDT on Oct 23, 2010

We're all looking for love ... and where else can you find it, unconditionally and at no-cost?

11:20AM PDT on Oct 23, 2010

We're all looking for love ... and where else can you find it, unconditionally and at no-cost?

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

people are talking

A sweetheart. She may have her problems, but she is all business when taking care of her mother.

Looking at the pictures made me want a snack.

Forwarded to those who need to see this article and are interested, Thanks for posting.

I love the ideas for snacks!!!!

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