These days, we’re hearing Donald Trump go on and on about immigration, and cultures that he thinks are dangerous. They hate us, they don’t share our values, they’re undesirable – on and on he goes. So, being of a curious mindset, that kind of got me wondering how other cultures view dogs.
Now, let me say at the outset that I don’t care who you are or where you’re from. There’s a quote that’s widely circulated on the Internet, usually attributed to rapper Eminem. It turns out that Eminem actually never said it, and no one really knows who did. But the words are still good. It goes like this:
I don’t care if you’re black, white, straight, bisexual, gay, lesbian, short, tall, fat, skinny, rich or poor. If you’re nice to me, I’ll be nice to you. Simple as that.
You could add in virtually any other culture or ethnic background, and it would still work for me. If everyone felt this way, it would be a much better world. But how do different cultures view dogs? As you read through this article, please keep in mind that I am not disparaging other cultures. I am simply pointing out the differences in the ways that we view our dogs. I am not coming down on one side or the other, saying that our way is right and theirs is wrong.
The Western World vs. Other Cultures
Here in the United States, we love our dogs and consider them members of our family. We even include them in the special events in our lives, as I pointed out in 10 Tips for Including Your Dog in Your Wedding. We buy them expensive toys and treats, and we let them share our beds. We love them to distraction all their lives, and we mourn them when they die, often with special graves, urns, or other types of memorials. Many of us love our dogs more than we do the humans in our lives.
Other cultures, though, see dogs very differently. Could you imagine, for instance, keeping some dogs for pets while buying others as a source of food? Just as an example, in China and other Asian countries, people keep dogs as pets, include them in their zodiac (the Year of the Dog), and have very strict laws against abusing dogs, but also consider milk-fed puppy to be a delicacy. How in the world do you reconcile what seems to be totally contradictory?
I expect that you can’t. To us, eating animals that we think of as friends seems repellent. In other parts of the world, there is no such disconnect.
Is It Wrong?
This is a tough one. PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) would have you accept as indisputable, etched in stone fact that if you use any animal for food, you are doing wrong. Most of us make the distinction between pet animals and food animals. But if not a dog, why a cow? Should we abandon our position at the top of the food chain and rely solely on plant material for nourishment? And if we’re hell-bent on eating animals, then where can we ethically draw the line? Are people who see dogs as food somehow less compassionate than we are, or are we just so caught up in those soft brown eyes that we see only the emotions involved and not the reality?
Cows have soft brown eyes too.
I don’t think we’re ever going to resolve the food issue, as long as dogs are raised in cages for meat in other countries. We have laws to prevent that here, but we can’t control ingrained cultural attitudes in other countries. I find the idea of eating what we consider to be companion animals repugnant. But there worse things, too.
Debbie showed up at the dog park yesterday, just shaking with rage. She’d been at the drugstore to pick up her asthma meds, and when she came out, there was a woman who was obviously from another culture, waiting to get into her car, and demanding that Debbie remove her beagle, Chuck, from the passenger side of her car so that the other woman could get into the driver’s side of hers. Chuck was just leaning out the window, wiggling all over as he typically does, trying to make friends. Debbie didn’t get the adverse reaction, and asked, “Why? He’s not vicious, and he’s not bothering you.” The woman responded with “He is unclean!”
This is definitely a different way of looking at dogs than most of us have, and yet for many Muslim Americans, a dog is “unclean.” Not to be touched. Not dangerous, but not to be approached.
Debbie took this as a personal insult, and can’t get her head around why anyone wouldn’t respond positively to a dog. It is worth noting that the Qur’an absolutely prohibits harming animals, but most practitioners of Islam do not recognize dogs as pets.
Today, more and more Muslims are beginning to keep dogs as pets. In fact, some purebreds are considered to be highly desirable. Oddly enough, though, to keep a pet dog in many Islamic countries, you have to classify it as a working dog, whether or not it actually does a single day of herding or guarding in its entire life. You can keep it on a pillow and feed it treats from now until forever, but you still have to call it a “working dog.” Go figure.
So, as I said, I am naturally curious. I wanted a copy of the Qur’an, and I found one on Amazon. I could have downloaded a freebie, but I didn’t just want to read the text – I wanted to know how the text should be interpreted, so I chose The Holy Qur’an: English Translation, Commentary and Notes with Full Arabic Text, and it’s fully annotated. It tells you a lot not just about Islamic laws, but how they are interpreted in modern life.
The Final Word
You could come to a lot of different conclusions when it comes to how dogs are treated around the globe. You could excuse some behaviors on the basis of culture, or condemn several on the basis of a moral evaluation in which you say simply, “This is wrong on every level”. Right or wrong, though, there’s no denying that the way we see our dogs, and the way other cultures see dogs, can be very, very different.