Pet Therapy Doesn’t Work

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 and

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2 Responses to Pet Therapy Doesn’t Work

  1. Ms. Crazy Pants says:

    “This panders to nurturing people and feminine personalities.”
    –Do you have a problem with feminine personalities?

    You say the article is about animal assisted therapy not working, but then touch on too many different concepts that could each be articles in themselves. I don’t see the connection between animal-assisted therapy not working and some animals being hunted to extinction to eating chickens. Also, it seems like a huge leap from the material you have to say that people have pets to merely exert control over animals.

    I think everyone, including farmers, agrees that large corporate farms are terrible, but the corporate farm phenomenon appears to be more a reflection a wider gab between the haves and have-nots. Greater corporate gain, while at the same time, the average American has less money to spend on food, thus forcing them into buying the cheaper corporate meat, instead of meat from small organic farms where the animals are treated better.

    “Pets actually teach children to be disrespectful of animals. ”
    —I’ve never met a child that got bit or scratched over any kind of mistreatment repeat that mistreatment. Animals have a way of enforcing the rules they decide on. (I’ve even been bit by a bird for not knowing what toys I’m allowed to play with…I learned quickly.) Also, I’ve never met a child that wasn’t miserable after their first small pet died, including goldfish.

    I highly doubt there’s any real correlation between pet owners and weight. America in general is getting heavier. 30-40 years ago, it wasn’t a big deal to have your dog live outside tied up all the time. When your pet lives most of their life outside, you walk them less, whereas if they live inside, you’re more compelled to take them out for a walk, which means people are actually walking more with dogs instead of less. People who don’t have pets at all are likely too busy and on the go all the time, whereas people with pets have to be around home a certain amount of time for the pet. The type of pet might make a difference too. Having an iguana means I have lots of vegetables around the house at all times. Some fur and feather animals contribute to respiratory issues, which can affect health and weight, and people just ignore that for the sake of keeping their pet, but pets like snakes and reptiles tend to not contribute to respiratory problems.

  2. JIm n says:

    No, I actually have respect for feminine personalities. I was raised by two women, my mother and my sister–I would actually say, as an aside, I have anger towards men, to be psychological. I agree with Hitchens that the biggest boon to the world would be to give women freedom. But I also get that women have contributed to the desire to breed like flies. The article is dense and I tried to make it interesting and expansive beyond pet therapy. Generally, our desire to control, eat, and tame animals is pathetic. It’s true we are predators and I am a reluctant predator. I also can’t totally diss masculine aggression as we need to kill, I guess, to survive–but less so as science progresses–yippeee. I just wish it were otherwise. I would like our species to survive but only if we get a grip on our domination! Pets haven’t helped us; it’s an extension of our control of the environment. Now that we fear bacteria more than grizzlies it’s time we gave animals freedom!

    best Jim

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