Post by Jim Newman
Eskeptic has an article on pet therapy “Zootherapy Debunked” by Charles Danten. Starting with an examination of Boris Levinson, the early popularizer of pet therapy, he lists the various people who have published support for using animals for therapy. Originally popularized in the 60’s and 70’s, it was thought having pets helped with emotional problems in adults, discipline and maturity development in children, and physical health in adults.
Zootherapy or animal-assisted therapy is relatively new and popular but anyone reading old literature or Native American literature remembers well the eating of animals used for work, when food or need was low. Indeed we used to be often in opposition to animals–grizzlies were the biggest killers of California coastal Native Americans. The civilized desire to deutilize animals has imprisoned them and continued suffering. Schopenhauer the pessimist notes the benefit to horses when machines could provide transportation. Much of modern sympathy to animals results from the horrid ways in which they were used in the Civilization Infrastructure Process.
Like slaves the question became could you get more work out of them if you treated them better and did they really need to live longer? Are they easy enough to replenish? It sounds horrid to us now but lest you think you are above speciesism consider the following.
Dogs kept alone or isolated suffer severe separation anxiety. They are social animals and require tremendous exercise and companion animals. Barking dogs and meowing cats are never happy animals. Humans just don’t consider this suffering as important as their perceived need for the animal. We value freedom in ourselves but not in other animals. They are not trying to tear our flesh off, at this moment, so they must be happy. We breed out aggression but prize our pit bulls.
We assuage this feeling by thinking at least we don’t eat them. We act shocked that someone would eat a horse, dog, or cat—common foods in other countries—but really that is just a poor social construct. Horses and other pets are often maintained in bad circumstances because the owners become bored and can’t or won’t sell them off, even for food. Too many of them get dumped, often on my farm!
Hell, it’s popular to rescue pigs here and kep them in confinement rather than have them slaughtered. The belief is that enhancing the nurturing feeling toward animals encourages the pacifying and civilizing process. This panders to nurturing people and feminine personalities. At least this turkey, pig, goat got saved. But this animal was raised to be killed and can’t live in the wild, or even breed like a normal animal. The best way to save a pig is not to buy one and go vegetarian. Just keeping an animal alive isn’t a blessing. Most animals don’t know how to commit suicide but they do know how to bark, whine, yelp, scratch, shit, and have a desire to breed.
Danten debunks the following animal myths:
Alleged General health benefits. Dogs keep owners from walking fast enough, and are difficult enough to walk, they decrease the occurrence of walking; and not because unhealthy people use pets to make themselves more healthy.
“Leena K. Koivusilta and Ansa Ojanlatva showed that pet owners are sick more often and have a below-average amount of exercise: 26% of the pet owners in the study were overweight, compared with 21% for those who did not have pets; 16% of the pet owners exercised less than once a month in comparison to 2% for those without pets.
Alleged Educational Benefits. Pets actually teach children to be disrespectful of animals. They know they can be mistreated and survive. They learn to abuse animals and that it is acceptable.
“Man does not hesitate to control every aspect of his animals’ existence. He tampers with his appearance. He confines it to spaces under his control, imposing exclusive or near-exclusive proximity. He limits his communication with others like it. He imposes his whims and self serving decisions. He chooses for behaviors that meet his expectations and conditions his animal to follow rituals. He encloses it within his own emotions and projections.
Alleged Benefits for Disabled and Autistic Children. Research simply does not support this claim. Dolphin-assisted therapy has long been considered beneficial to people.
“Nearly a decade following our initial review, there remains no compelling evidence that Dolphin-Assisted therapy (DAT) is a legitimate therapy, or that it affords any more than a fleeting improvement in mood.
Alleged Redeeming Benefits for Prisoners. These studies were never peer reviewed or were never published in scientific journals. They are self avowed beneficial anecdotes full of conformation bias. What people love is control and if they can’t control their social circle they can control animals. But that feel-good feeling does not enhance health and is lousy for the animal. It prevents people from getting depressed or angry enough to get outside or gain help.
Just because an animal is alive does not mean it is good. Only when you believe in a soul does more life, more pregnancy, more birthing, have a benefit or meaning.
Alleged Social Benefits. Pets actually take one away from social exposure.
“The twice-daily obligation of taking one’s dog for a walk appears to be insufficient to promote the social interactions attributed to zootherapy, and all the more so for cats, which are more popular than dogs and hardly ever leave their apartments. In addition, the presence of an animal on the street can be just as easily an obstacle to haphazard social interaction as a facilitator of it. In reality, the dog walker often has to keep far away from others because of the fear he arouses (in children, in the presence of other, incompatible dogs, out of fear of allergies or of dogs in general).
It appears that some people enjoy controlling animals but that it doesn’t make them more healthy, physically, socially, or psychologically.
Going one step further, I maintain that our need to control animals is not just an extension of our past culture, it is legitimized by the bible and our generally religious cultural-underpinnings in the US and world. We are to be stewards, according to the best feeling of the bible, but we do not hesitate to hunt bison and other animals to near extinction or make then suffer to our benefit, which is not even necessary to sufficient to make us more healthy. A least a work horse produced corn–and we could blame resource need for that.
If we weren’t so able to be bipolar about animals, hunt them to extinction and keep them as pets, we could better control our population densities such that resource issues would be virtually nonexistent. Our ability to own animals is directly linked to our ability to hunt them to extinction.
I do have pets. But it is embarrassing. I often feel like Thomas Jefferson and slavery. I am not yet for full animal emancipation either. But my daughter has chosen to be a vegetarian and to not have pets at all. I wonder if I should get rid of the draft horses, chickens, hogs, and cat, and eat black beans and rice. But this article is not about that. It is about how animal-assisted therapy doesn’t work.
Jim Newman, bright and well