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Pet peeve

Years ago, I watched all of the old BBC series All Creatures Great and Small, based on British veterinarian James Herriot's books about three Yorkshire vets in the 1930s and 40s—and not only watched them all but watched them several times over.  Each episode was wonderful. The interplay between the vets and their (largely) four-legged clientele was marvelous.  But that wasn't the best part.  It was the stories of the human relationships that really shone—amongst the vets themselves, as well as with wives, girlfriends, and all the other two-legged inhabitants of the Dales.

A couple of years ago, a California columnist, William Lobdell, wrote a piece entitled, "When did pets become more important than humans?"  Well, in some sense, it's not exactly a news flash.  I can remember as a little kid seeing those maudlin greeting cards in stores—you know, the ones that looked like these:
 
 
 
 
There's nothing new under the sun.  But as Lobdell implies, there seems to have been a seismic shift in people's priorities over the last several decades. And that's not a good thing.
 
People who follow the National Felon League or even just the news are familiar with this double standard.  QB Michael Vick tortured and killed pit bulls, served close to two years in prison for that crime—and yes, I do believe that it's a crime—as well as a couple of months confined to his home, was suspended from the NFL for two years, and ended up declaring bankruptcy.
 
At around the same time (and scenarios like this one have played out several times since), WR Donte Stallworth was DWI and killed a pedestrian.  He was sentenced to 30 days in jail, was released after serving 24 days, and was suspended from the NFL for all of a year.
 
In 2012, candidate Mitt Romney's dog being stowed in a crate on the roof of the family car generated much more outrage than candidate Bill Clinton's extramarital dalliances did when he ran for president in 1992.
 
Don't get me wrong—I think that animal abusers (and I don't include Romney amongst them) should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. But when mistreatment of animals trumps mistreatment of humans in many people's minds, there's something seriously amiss in the culture.
 
When a poll shows that a sizable percentage of married women think that their pets are better listeners than their husbands, when people are quite upfront about the parity—to them, anyway—between pets and human offspring, when pets are treated like children and dressed like them and given human-sounding names like Jake, Chloe, and Bella (Sparky and Spot? fuhgeddaboudit), when vet offices are routinely nicer than physician offices, society needs to take a good, hard look at itself.
 
Why is it like this now?  Academics have posited explanations such as the high divorce rate (and attendant loneliness, I suppose).  Maybe it's just a classic example of an avoidance mechanism—if you're busy with your own dogs and cats as well as nobly worrying about the entire canine and feline universes, then there's no time to deal with those more complicated, difficult, and pesky humans.
 
In addition, I suspect that many people may have lost the ability to prioritize effectively. The late Stephen Covey made an interesting distinction in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People between "urgent" and "important." Probably lots of folks treat those words as synonyms or nearly so.  Not Covey. Here's an example:
 
 
Covey was largely addressing time management in a business setting, but it translates to other settings as well. Spending all of one's time in the "both urgent and important" quadrant would surely be a path straight to the rubber room.  But it seems as though some people at least never make it to that quadrant or the one next to it—the one that says "relationship building"—and maybe the obsession with pets at the expense of humans causes inordinate amounts of time to be spent in the "urgent but not important" quadrant.
 
Why should it matter if people spend ALL of their time doing "urgent but not important" things? The problem is there's only so much time—we have to prioritize. I complain and listen to the complaints of others about how hard it is to get people to come forward and help out with the problems of humans. I have the uneasy feeling that the people busily becoming legends in their own minds by nobly empathizing with dogs and cats will be the first ones to wonder what happened when it all goes to hell in a handbasket. Why didn't somebody do something, they'll say—when in fact they were the "somebodies" the rest of us needed all along.
 
I could make a Biblical argument for why animals are subordinate to humans (Genesis 1:26), but that would probably have no impact on atheists or agnostics or anti-speciesists.  After all, there are many people who think this way:
 
 
So don't work on the problem of less-than-wonderful humans...put animals on pedestals instead.  That fixes everything, doesn't it?
 
I'm sure I'll catch lots of flak for supposedly denigrating dogs and castigating cats at the expense of those who are only human. I just wish that the pathos reserved for pets extended to people.
 
 
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