An Unpopular View of Pets — and Pet “Lovers”

I’m conducting an argument on Facebook with a “lover” of cats, following the announcement of her soon-to-be-acquired hairless Sphynx cat. Argument follows:

SF: This is the Sphynx kitten I will be getting in a few weeks. [ Photo attached, not the one shown here ] Right now he will be two weeks on the 28th. If you have any idea’s for names let me know. Right now Mr. Wrinkles is what we have so far lol

Hank Fox: If this is one of those hairless cats … argh. I would never, ever own one, or support the breeding of them.

If you really LIKE cats, you have to have SOME feeling for their right to bodily integrity, to their health and comfort, apart from the freakish and cruel tricks breeders play on them.

Doing this to cats is a moral crime.

AA: I’m sure the SF has done his or her research on keeping a breed like this happy and healthy. Sphynx cats generally are a quite healthy and long-lived breed. I agree breeding certain types of cats or dogs is immoral (Scottish Fold cats can be unhealthy and many breeds of dogs are purposely bred to not be able to breathe properly, or the breeders don’t do the responsible thing by doing genetic health tests to clear certain breeds of inherited genetic illnesses. I’d be more worried about those types of breeds than simply a hairless breed.)

Plus, no hairballs.

SF: Hank Fox, I have never heard such crap. I have researched the breeder and they are wonderful with their cats. I have also spoke with several people that also have a Sphynx and they said they are a great breed very affectionate.

HF: Apparently none of you have any idea what I’m talking about, and I guess I’m not going to get it through to you in one conversation. But breeders who deliberately create genetic monsters for the amusement of fools and simpletons are not “wonderful” with their cats. They barely know cats exist; instead they have these amusing little toys that also happen to be hapless living creatures subject to human whims.

If the utterly defenseless cats could choose, you can be damned sure they’d choose to have good healthy fur. But screw them, right? They’re just stupid cats. Fortunately we “love” them enough to make these choices on their behalf.

AA: Defenseless, how, exactly? I’m presuming this will be an indoor house cat?

HF:  Defenseless how? Pets are absolutely unable to defend themselves against US. Against what breeders do to them. Against what people think is funny, or cute, or convenient, no matter what it does to the animal itself.

If you love animals at all, you have to recognize that they have SOME rights, SOME life apart from us. Otherwise they’re just furniture, or toys. Witness how many millions of them we casually throw away each year, because they’re no longer convenient, or fail to match the new furniture, or can’t fight anymore.

I think there are limits on how much genetic and surgical meddling we should allow ourselves to do to them, and still call ourselves animal lovers. Depriving a cat of its claws is horrible, in my opinion. Depriving it of its fur … something so basic it goes without saying in the definition of catness …that’s even worse.

AA: I don’t agree with declawing.

HF: AA, with a little bit of thought, you might also be against de-furring. Fur isn’t some jettisonable convenience for cats. It’s how they regulate their temperature, protect their skin against infection and injury, interface comfortably with various surfaces, guard themselves from injury by other cats, allow themselves to be readily RECOGNIZED as cats by other cats, so much more.

I adopted a feral cat a few years ago. She lived outside for at least two years, in the snow in winter, and she did it because she had a comfortable thick coat of fur. She belonged to somebody once — we suspect she was some elderly lady’s best friend and the lady died, after which she was left outside by uncaring neighbors or relatives and went looking for food. She ended up in our yard, which was well supplied with rodents from our bird feeders, and eventually we started feeding her too. And then, once she got used to us, invited her in.

She survived out there because she was still a cat. Still able to survive without humans. Still had her fur and her claws. A declawed cat would have been less able to catch rodents, a defurred cat would have died in frozen agony that first winter.

HF:  SF, I don’t necessarily want to hurt your feelings here. But … there are some things you may not have thought about. Not because you’re a bad person, but because NOBODY thinks about these things. Nobody talks about them. People filling the world up with pug dogs who can’t breathe and German shepherds with crippling congenital hip defects are absolutely convinced they love animals, and have no idea what ongoing agony they’re continuing to propagate.

But the thing is, animals have feelings. They have their own lives, their own existence, somewhat apart from us. And they suffer from the things we casually do to them. They may not even know they suffer. But WE should.

AA: Sphynx cats are meant to be indoor house pets. While I agree with most of what you say, I would say purposely breeding a dog that can’t breathe is worse than a hairless cat, provided the cat is kept indoors and is well cared-for.

SF: Hank Fox, I think you’re nuts. These cats are not genetic monsters. They happen to be very beautiful cats. Just because you do not like a breed does not mean you should be so nasty about it. The problem isn’t with the breeders. I have researched and talked with several if anything these cats are spoiled rotten. They are given baths weekly and have their paws wiped every time they use the bathroom.

HF: AA, And you have no consideration to what the cat might choose, if it could? No thought that a hairless cat, even kept indoors and “well-cared-for” might suffer discomforts that we humans are not well-equipped to recognize, or notice? And that IF there’s a chance that might be the case, it’s better to err on the side of leaving a cat with all its innate traits?

HF: SF, you’re still not getting ANY of what I’m saying. I can’t really blame you, I guess. It’s a tough thing to think about.

SF: Hank Fox, you could say the same thing about a dog or bird or another animal.

HF: SF, I DO. Often. And I usually get the same blank response. Like I say, nobody thinks or talks about this. Most “animal lovers” have no idea they don’t really understand the private lives and needs of their pets. They’re totally comfortable with dogs that can’t breathe, can’t run, can’t even breed on their own. The more hideously deformed a dog is — tiny delicate bodies, bugged-out eyes, mashed-in faces, long fur that would be constantly fouled with shit — the “cuter” it is.

AA: Define innate traits… we have to generally teach dogs bite inhibition from a young age. Shall we stop that as well?

We created/domesticated pets like cats and dogs and it only makes sense that we’d tailer some breeds to our vanity and needs, we’ve been doing it for thousands of years. I am a studwnt in the animal health sciences field and plan to get into shelter medicine, so I am all for protecting animals and encouraging breeding for health and temperament, but I have to consider if the animal is suffering in order to make an ethical decision about it.

HF: Oh, shit, AA. WTF: Bite inhibition?? If you’re determined to misunderstand, I can’t stop you.

If you’re going into shelter medicine, I do wish you’d think about this more than this superficial argument has shown. If you’re so casually comfortable with “tailoring” breeds for human vanity, you will never understand what sort of misery you’ll help continue.

In view of the rest of your convictions, I don’t really understand why you think declawing cats is any sort of problem. After all, they’re “happy,” right? As long as they’re kept indoors, and “well cared for,” what’s the diff?

AA: While bulldogs tend to have goofy, delightful temperaments, I do have more of a problem with the purposeful breeding of brachycephalic dogs. While I fully support responsible breeding (breeding for health, temperament as opposed to simply appearance) I find disregarding health in favour of an exaggerated breed standard (extreme wrinkles, extreme brachycephalic features, etc) is an ethical issue that should be addressed.

A reputable breeder of English Bulldogs should only be breeding dogs that, at the very least, have genetic health clearances for the following: [ link ]

HF: Amy, yes. You will. You’re almost with me on this. Collect up your convictions about declawing, and dogs that can’t breathe normally, and GENERALIZE those understandings into this larger view. There are some things you haven’t yet thought about, things that haven’t gotten real to you. I hope you’ll think about them.

There’s a bit of profound cognitive dissonance in realizing that some large fraction of animal lovers are nothing of the sort. Some of them, despite their ardent protestations of love, can’t see their pets as having any real existence.

AY: I have German shepherds. I’m not much of an animal lover, but they’ve grown on me. Mine had a few growing pain problems but are fine now. Humans also have generic problems specific to their particular race, should they quit having kids?

HF: Humans have a choice. That is VASTLY different from pets being bred by humans for purposes of amusement, or style.

I had a German shepherd too. Loved him more than anything, literally. The only time I might have killed someone was when a former roommate came close to threatening to hurt him. (I knew what he was about to say. He saw the look on my face and backed off in a hurry.)

Hated watching him, later in his life, struggling to run, or to do other things, with his slanted, loose hips. Hated having to force him to accept the eye drops that allowed him to not go blind. Hated having to watch him grapple with his miserable too-delicate appetite.

Argument ends. I probably came on too strong, but … this stuff really bothers me.

As Granny Aching said in Terry Pratchett’s “Wee Free Men”:

“Them as can do has to do for them as can’t. And someone has to speak up for them as has no voices.”


Followup: SF’s final comment, in reply to a question, is that she’s paying $1,400 for her hairless kitten.

I don’t buy into the too-common argument that anyone buying a pedigreed dog or cat is some kind of traitor to pet-love because of all the pets going wanting in shelters. It’s a huge and absolute tragedy, the number of unwanted pets in shelters, but the monied-person in question didn’t put those cats and dogs there, and people have a right to spend their money on whatever they want. If you think about it, anytime a friend told you he was buying a new car, or a house, or just new shoes, you could lay into him about how much he hated all the poor shelter dogs.

However … $1,400? Dayyum. Why not get a normal, healthy one?



Beta Culture: The Footprint of the Past

One of my many interests is the residual social / societal effects of historical events and social movements.

For instance, the fact that we still say “God bless you” when people sneeze, 14 centuries after the supposed origin of the practice …

One explanation holds that the custom originally began as an actual blessing. Gregory I became Pope in AD 590 as an outbreak of the bubonic plague was reaching Rome. In hopes of fighting off the disease, he ordered unending prayer and parades of chanters through the streets. At the time, sneezing was thought to be an early symptom of the plague. The blessing (“God bless you!”) became a common effort to halt the disease.

… means that when we get some idea in our little human heads, even crazy, useless shit, that crazy, useless shit PERSISTS.

WE KEEP ON DOING IT. Keep on teaching it, for decades, centuries, after it last meant anything real … if it ever did.

I know for a fact that the shadow of the slavery era, and the Civil War, still hangs over the Deep South where I grew up — in attitudes, government action, inter-racial relations, so much more — on both sides of the racial divide.

Living here in New York state, I’ve seen little hints here and there that the Prohibition era, the heyday of organized crime, still hangs over eastern cities. In police practices, in the attitudes and actions of elected officials.

It’s well known that Jews and Muslims still avoid pork, long after any evidentiary reason for it.

Speaking economically: considering the lengthy, ongoing failure of infrastructure in the U.S. – the desperate situation of roads and bridges, the school system, water and sewer systems – the beggaring debts of wars in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc., still hang over us.

I’ve considered that the ubiquity of religion worldwide has had massive and profound effects ranging from lingering social practices, government policy, language, understanding of history, even human psychology and our relation to the natural world.

But again on the subject of war, this catches my interest:

Historians have underestimated the death count of WWI by a huge margin

Look at these Austrian men murdering bound and blindfolded Serbian prisoners. Considering what we know about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, imagine what sort of psyche comes out of that. Imagine the millions of damaged young men coming home after this war, and that war, and all those other wars.

Few of us find it easy to kill others. The military takes mostly-peaceable nebbishes off the street and teaches them how to do it — to shoot, stab and blow up other human beings. It shoves them into the blowtorch of war where they experience the opportunity or necessity of killing and torturing others. After which, with full memories and attitudes intact, it releases them back into common society.

With that package of damage in their heads, essentially as functional sociopaths, they then attempt to reincorporate into society. Where they grapple with their attitudes about women, about freedom of speech, about foreigners, about religion. Voting those attitudes. Spreading them. Teaching them to their kids. Supporting new and more deadly wars, but also the conditions that cause those wars. Accepting without question or protest further government actions, or authoritarian proclamations, or even heinous lies propagated by such sources as FOX News.

Yes, we as an entire culture, an entire civilization, are damaged by the lasting cultural footprint of religion.

But now I’m considering this new idea, that war, just as deadly as religion to both individual human sanity and the sanity of entire cultures, may hang over us as an equally-dark social cloud.

One more reason to attempt to take a new path, develop a new culture, something more reasonable, more human and humane.

Killing People, With Kindness

Watch this video of a 94-year-old man in an epic 65-meter footrace last year.

Would it sadden you to know the winner, European masters athletics champion Emiel Pauwels, is now dead? And that he deliberately ended his own life a week or so ago?

95-year-old ‘Belgian Bolt’ holds big party before ending life by euthanasia

In his hometown of Bruges he held a big party with friends and family two days before his death – and even downed two glasses of champagne for the occasion.

Pauwels looked like he was ready to run another race but wanted to end his life before the cancer really got a hold of him.

His son Eddy told Belgian television that he ‘agreed 110 per cent’ with his father’s decision to end his own life.

Pauwels had been bedridden the past couple of months with stomach cancer. His choice was based on the certain knowledge that he wasn’t going to be getting well, and that whatever discomfort he was experiencing was only going to get worse.

(I chuckled at one indelicate but somewhat humorous headline: Emiel Pauwels, 95-year-old sprinter, euthanized after winning gold medal. Sounds like he broke a leg in the race and had to be put down like a horse.)

I am much in favor of every individual retaining the power to end his own life, and I like to know there are sane places in the world where such a choice is respected, even honored.

I don’t live in one of those sane places, and it saddens me to think of the people who might exercise this freedom, who might NEED it to escape intractable pain and progressive indignity, but who cannot. Over the final four days I sat with my Dad, a strong-willed, wonderful, much-loved man who refused all intervention beyond morphine, I watched him suffer at length and die slowly.  I asked the hospital staff at least twice if there was anything more that could be done, and the people I talked to slid away from answering, as I know they had to.

I wish I could say something more profound about it, but … lives end. They do. Where I live they end all too often with all dignity and individuality stripped away by a system that insists we do not have this choice, should not have this choice.

I see this as an avoidance of clear thinking on the subject, and I see that as the direct result of religion.

Once you get religion out of your head, once you step outside the religious paradigm and start looking back at what’s there, it’s obvious that the socio-cultural EFFECTS of god-belief persist, even in societies that don’t see themselves as powerfully religious.

Here in the U.S., one of our socio-cultural remnants is the idea that “suicide” is a sin, that “God’s will” must be respected to the bitter, painful end, even for those we already know — who they themselves already know — will die in medically-extended agony.

I’d like to see that change.

Belgium has a fairly sane view of the thing (story):

Euthanasia, for medical reasons, has been legal in Belgium since 2002 for people over the age of 18. More than 1400 people a year choose to be euthanized. Last year, the Belgium senate voted to allow euthanasia for terminally ill children as well. The vote passed overwhelmingly in the senate and is now being hotly debated in the lower house of parliament. If the bill passes, Belgium will become the first nation in the world that legally allows people of any age to be euthanized.




Susan K. Perry Reviews My Book!

Multiply-published author and Creative Atheist blogger here at Patheos, Susan K. Perry, reviewed my book!

Who Would Have Thought?

Reason makes strange bedfellows, so to speak. Sharp thinkers aren’t limited to blue states or big cities. Those who “get it,” those who think rationally rather than having mindless faith in the impossible, are everywhere.

Even after you’ve written and published a book or two, you still tend to think an “author” is somebody distant and impossible. Can’t be you. So it’s always strange, and strangely wonderful, to hear other people’s views of you and your writing, especially when it’s as positive as this.

His paragraphs are short, nothing like academic-ese, and his conclusions are sometimes pleasantly original. I heartily recommend book Red Neck, Blue Collar, Atheist for a bracingly imaginative take on the value of reason and the potential harm of faith. I, for one, will be looking out for his next two atheist-themed books, due out sometime this year.

(Sharp thinker! Pleasantly original! Hey, that’s ME she’s talking about!)

Thank you, Susan! You’ll be first on the list if — no, when, WHEN! — those next two books come out.


BTW, those of you reading this, take a gander at Susan’s own books. If you’re an aspiring author, read her recent piece in Psychology Today, 25 Truths Learned While Writing a First Novel.



Well, This Is Just Sad As Hell

Got this thing on Facebook, but it’s very little different from stuff I’ve been getting for years via email. Here it is in full, with picture attached:

***A MUST SHARE***A young man working in the army was
constantly humiliated because he
believed in God. One day the captain
wanted to humiliate him before the
troops. He called the young man and said:
– Young man come here, take the key and go and park the Jeep in front. the young
man replied: – I cannot drive! The captain
said: – Well then ask for assistance of
your God! Show us that He exist! The young man takes the key and walked
to the vehicle and begins to pray…… …He
parks the jeep at the place PERFECTLY
well as the captain wanted. The young
man came out of the jeep and saw them
all crying. They all said together: – We want to serve your God! The young soldier was astonished, and
asked what was going on? The CAPTAIN
crying opened the hood of the jeep by
showing the young man that the car had
no engine. Then the boy said: See? This is
the God I serve, THE GOD OF IMPOSSIBLE, the God who gives life to what does not
exist. You may think there are things still
To the person reading this, I pray the Lord work A SUPER MIRACLE in your life today that would look like a lie In Jesus Name I Pray..
Write ‘Amen’ to claim this prayer

The weird irregular line lengths, the punctuation, the rumpled language, all are verbatim from the Facebook post, and absolutely typical of the multiply-forwarded stuff I get via email. Whoever does these things has equally meager computer and linguistic skills.

There is so much wrong with this, but I’ll touch on only two items:

First: Considering the level of religiosity the military is known for, the claim that he was “was constantly humiliated because he believed in God” is pure horseshit. It’s KNOWN that atheists are the ones treated badly by the brass.

Second: To me, the really amazing thing about little stories like this is that they’re MADE UP. They’re complete fictions. And yet — and here’s the crucial point — THEY’RE USED TO JUSTIFY BELIEF IN GOD.

I have friends back in Texas who have sent me stuff like this for years. I just know they come across these things and nod knowingly to themselves “See?! See?! God can do ANYTHING!!” — never realizing if the story itself is false, the thing it appears to justify must be on damned shaky ground.

The comments to the piece are a mix of critical and fatuous, and some of the fervent believers — “amen,god can do all things, that man can,t” — are disturbing on several levels.

My daughter was healed of infantile spasms when I decided to take a leap of faith and take her off her medicine.. She has not had a seizure since. Our faith in Jesus is what will make us whole. By his stripes we are healed. Don’t listen to people who are Godless and faithless. Instead pray for them.

I especially liked this one:

To the people questioning if the Army is “serving for god”… I’m not serving for god. I do not believe in god. I believe in freedoms and rights, and I believe in your right to believe in whatever you please. Like, you can totally believe this bullshit post that is completely fake and would NEVER be allowed to happen, and would NEVER be able to happen.. considering all soldiers learn how to drive in basic training.

One commenter really nails it, though:

I’m all for a touching religious post. But this picture is of a soldier, SSG Lonnie Roberts, crying at the memorial service of a fellow soldier named Gregory Huxley Jr, who was killed in action. Whoring his picture out for cheap likes alongside an obviously fake story is shameful and wrong, and whoever created this post is a terrible human being.

And yes, that’s true about the source of the picture, as you can see here: Pulitzer Archives.


Help (Really, Sort-Of, But Often Maybe Not Really) Wanted

I know from my own experience of reading blogs that I generally expect the voice behind the screen to TELL me something, to clarify or assist me in understanding. Which builds a sort of weight into the fact that I’m a blogger myself.

I do try to live up to that sort of expectation. I look at larger issues – mainly atheism, sometimes politics, but lately also Beta Culture – so I can present more understandable or balanced analyses of each subject for readers.

At the same time, I’m also very much at sea on certain important aspects of life. Sometimes I feel like an alien dropped down into human society, trying to figure out why people do what they do, what I need to do to understand them, or fit in.

So I’m asking for some input. I’m hoping you’ll read this and reply, offering advice or perspective that will help me better understand this particular life skill. So:

How do you feel about accepting help from others?

As for me, I love GIVING people help, but I find it almost impossible to accept it. I feel guilty when I do, so I usually don’t allow people to help me. And yet, sometimes, I think I’m making a mistake by not accepting, or even asking for, help.

The danger, of course, is that you can become a manipulative leech about it. We all know some of them, and damn, I never want to be one. On some level, I feel I’ve consumed my lifetime’s share of other people’s energy, money, concern, etc. I tend to think adults should be givers of help rather than takers.

But the other danger is that it’s very difficult to get anything done without other people involved. If you DON’T ask, DON’T get others involved, you’ll be sharply limited in the things you can accomplish.

I’ve known since I was a kid that certain of my plans and goals will forever go wanting because 1) I can’t do them all by myself and 2) I can’t bring myself to ask for help.

Face it, when the thing you want to do requires an organization of people, but you’re habitually a one-man team, nothing happens past the idea stage.

You also close off certain possibilities of closeness. If you turn down offers of help or other sorts of gifts – which are usually, on some level, offers of closeness – you disappoint and distance the giver.

Your thoughts?

Population Pessimism and Diminished Personal Freedom

Face it, if your Superbowl party includes a sofa that comfortably seats four people, and you have game snacks for four people, but two more people show up … Everybody has less room. Less popcorn. Less beer.

Those two extra people COST something to the others.

Further, if you lived on an island with sharply limited resources, in a situation where growing population had finally bumped up against those limits, you’d be forced by the situation to demand less for yourself, to work more closely with others to ensure everybody got their share of what remained (okay, unless you were content to be a bully and grab everything for yourself, with no thought to how many were going without). The situation would become less a matter of “my freedom” and more a matter of “What’s possible, or allowable, considering this limited environment?”

Increasing island population would cost something to everyone there.

We in the U.S. live in a rich society, and we tend to think — and talk — a LOT about our freedom and our rights as individuals.

But the thing is, we DO live on a island like that. It’s called Earth. And we are already in the thick of that population vs. resources event.

Doesn’t matter what we think or feel. What matters is the factual matter of the situation. The reality of what we face.

As we get farther into peak oil, peak water, soil depletion and agricultural limits, groundwater pollution (fracking, but also seepage from garbage dumps, etc.), global warming (rising sea levels, erratic weather and food insecurity), extinctions and invasive species, damage to the oceans, strategic mineral exhaustion, antibiotic resistance and the certainty of pandemics …

We’re going to be forced to realize that some large part of our concept of personal freedom may be something of a social luxury.

Hell, sometimes our own innovations place limits on us. The mass marketing of entertainment – movies, music, books – reduces individuality and discourages the broadest possible range of human thought. The surveillance society, ostensibly created to counter terrorist activity, but gleefully pursued for its own self, steals the right of privacy from all of us. Even our waste disposal (toxics, nuclear waste, etc.) degrades the safety of those living nearby.

So what happens to freedom in a world bumping up against real limits? What happens to individuality?

In our probably-diminished future, you will still be an individual, but you’ll be an individual with fewer innate rights – possibly even a LOT fewer – just by virtue of the situation: More people dividing up less stuff.

Happening already, isn’t it?

It’s Starting to Look Like Christie is Toast

Here it is: Crimes were probably committed.

Chris Christie Scandal Is An ‘Impeachable Offense’ If He Knew

“Using the George Washington Bridge, a public resource, to exact a political vendetta, is a crime,’ New Jersey Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D) said. ‘Having people use their official position to have a political game is a crime. So if those tie back to the governor in any way, it clearly becomes an impeachable offense.’ ”

Subpoenas are going out, including to the woman Christ Christie fired, former Deputy Chief of Staff Bridget Anne Kelly. If she makes a deal to testify, and says what we all think she’ll say, that Christie knew what was happening, Christie’s political career is OVER.

And he might just go to prison.