On the Petting of Animals

On the Petting of Animals

The domestic animals are necessarily the first with which children are brought in contact; hence such attempts as are made by parents and teachers to inculcate the duty of kindness are directed in most instances to animals of this class. And here, at the very outset, it seems to me that a mistake, however natural and pardonable in itself, is often made by Zoophilists in trying to teach humanity by the system of “petting.” In face of the shocking ill-usage to are so generally subjected, it is of course extremely difficult to know where and how to begin the lesson of humaneness; and the practice of encouraging children to keep pets, and to keep them properly, has the advantage of being the readiest and most obvious method, and up to a certain point a fairly successful one. In the long run, l believe it to be wrong and disastrous, and for this reason, that petting, like persecuting, draws away the attention from the very fact which it is most urgently necessary to emphasize—the fact that animals are not mere “things,” not mere chattels and automata to be used (however kindly) for the amusement and recreation of man, but intelligent and highly-developed personalities, whose innumerable services to human kind, faithfully performed through the centuries, have rendered them an integral and important element of civilized society. It is the individuality of animals that needs to be impressed on children, and for that matter on adults also, who for the most part treat animals as if they were utterly devoid of individuality or intelligence. What we should aim at is to make animals our friends, not our pets; for a pet, however carefully it is petted, can hardly be respected; and it is precisely this lack of respect for animals as intelligent beings that is at the root of so much brutality and roughness.

For the same reason great care should be exercised in appealing to the humane sentiment of children by means of poetry and fiction as is frequently done in Zoophilist pamphlets and journals. There is no more precious gift than the innate sense of humanity, when it is balanced and safeguarded by consistency and judgment; but it should be remembered that, without these qualities, it is apt to degenerate into that false sentiment, or “sentimentality,” from which it is most important that genuine humanitarianism should be kept free.

I suggest that the first object of the teacher—and in this case the parent and the teacher will often be identical—should be to diminish, rather than encourage, the practice of keeping “pets,” and to lead their pupils to regard animals seriously as intelligent friends, and not to sentimentalize over them as, puppets and playthings. There is no more miserable being than a lap-dog; and the lap-dog is the sign and symbol of that spurious humanity which is the final outcome of “petting.”

Henry S. Salt

The Animals' Friend, 1896, p. 112