The line between humans and animals can be thin

Recently, Mary Alice and I were sitting by a window at a popular hamburger restaurant, in Elmira, NY, when a family walked by with a medium sized dog on a leash. As the family approached the door, the dad picked up the dog and the family entered the eatery. I noticed heads turning toward the entrance but no one said a word. Today, it is not uncommon to see a person carrying a small dog or walking a leashed dog in a big box store. I do understand that some of these are service dogs. There have always been signs such as “No Shirt, No Shoes No Service.” Perhaps if this trend continues, we could see signs printed “No Pets allowed.”

A few examples of human characteristics given to non-human creatures are Smokey the Bear and Mickey Mouse.

When birds and animals have been given human characteristics it is known as anthropomorphism, which comes from two Greek words: anthropos, meaning human and morphe, meaning shape or form.

Most cultures have long standing fables, with animals depicted as characters that have been given human behavior.

Today, anthropomorphic animals are often used as mascots for sporting teams, represented by humans in costumes.

However, many people are against giving animals human qualities.

Many years ago, I knew of a supervisor that was vehemently against showing animals with human qualities. His belief was that this played into the hands of anti-hunting people.

The keeping of wild creatures was the first step that ancient people took towards domesticating animals.

The animals were either caged or encouraged to stay close, with offers of food. In return for their keep, these animals generally provided a service. The dogs were used for hunting, and the cats helped in reducing the mouse and rat population. However, by living close to these animals, humans became attached to them.

The Native Americans made animal articles and costumes to be as one with the animal. After killing an animal for food, they prayed for its soul and thanked the Gods for sending the animal to them.

Today, some pet owners treat their animals to all the comforts a human could require, such as special foods, beds, toys, motels, day care centers and clothes for inclement weather. I have even heard of taking animals to psychiatrists. Through the years, art has depicted animals dressed in clothing, walking on two legs, playing cards, etc.

On the other side of the coin, there are the un-wanted animals. Once the novelty of owning either a domesticated or wild animal wears off, the owner drops the animal off along a roadway, etc. Florida has had to open a season on exotic snakes because people have released their pet snakes into Florida’s swamps, where they have flourished. We have all heard on the news where so-called tame animals, such as monkeys, chimpanzees, lions, alligators, etc., have either attacked their owners or someone else, with devastating consequences. Many years ago I was called to remove a Cayman from a home in a nearby town.

The owner was keeping the six to eight foot cayman in a metal tub that had become too small. While trying to clean the tub, the cayman bit the owner.

Thankfully, the owner called me instead of releasing the cayman in an area pond.

Possibly, the most famous illustration of anthropomorphism is Aesop’s Fables, which is a collection of short tales written by Aesop, an ancient Greek. Aesop has used animals and the weather to give moral lessons such as the following tale:

A wolf had been prowling around a flock of sheep for a long time, and the shepherd watched very anxiously to prevent him from carrying off a lamb.

But the wolf did not try to do any harm. Instead he seemed to be helping the shepherd take care of the sheep.

At last the shepherd got so used to seeing the wolf about that he forgot how wicked the wolf could be.

One day he even went so far as to leave his flock in the wolf’s care while going on an errand.

When he came back and saw how many of the flock had been killed and carried off, he knew how foolish to trust a wolf.

The moral to the story: Once a wolf, always a wolf. However, my moral to this story is once a wild animal always a wild animal.

Should we be giving human qualities to our animals? To give human qualities to a live animal sometimes ends in tragedy. A wild animal is just that, wild.


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