Animals/ Pets

Why do people care more about pets than other humans

According to newspaper editors, animal abuse stories get more readership responses than articles on violence against people. Do Americans care more about animals than people?

WE LOVE OUR PETS. According to a Harris Poll conducted in 2011, 90 percent of Americans own a pet and two thirds live with one. These relationships are beneficial. In a survey conducted by the American Animal Hospital Association 40 percent of married women dog owners said they received more support emotionally from their pets than their husbands or children. The pet products industry refers to this as “the humanization” of pets. One of my co-workers recently spent $12,000 treating her Labrador retriever Asha for cancer.

Hal Herzog, Professor of Psychology at Western Carolina University, is the author of We Love Some, We Hate Others, We Eat Some: Why it’s Hard to Think Straight About Animals. He is the author of “Animals and Us”, a blog for Psychology Today.

Editors tell me that stories about animal abuse generate more reader responses than articles about violence against humans. Do Americans care more about animals than people?

Consider, for instance, police shootings. It is difficult to determine how many incidents occur when police shoot dogs. It is sometimes claimed that a policeman shoots a dog “every 98 seconds.” This would mean about 5,000 dogs per year. Merritt Clifton is the editor of Animals 24/7 and believes that based on media reports, the number of dogs shot by police officers each year during “confrontational situations” is between 300-500 – roughly the same amount as the human cop shootings.

Death-by-cop has been in the spotlight due to high-profile incidents such as the death of Walter Scott last week in Charleston, South Carolina and the case of Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Missouri. Two shootings in Idaho that occurred within 24 hours of each other last year illustrates how we don’t always value people above pets.

Police murdered Jeanetta Riley outside an Idaho hospital on July 8, 2014. She was pregnant, a mother of 2, and had a history of drug addiction. Riley, who had a history with alcoholism and drug abuse, was drunk and incoherent when she approached the three officers at the hospital. She also held a filet blade and waved it at them. The dashboard camera on one of the cars mounted by the police shows that Riley was within 10 feet when the officers opened fire. It is unclear why the officers chose to shoot Riley instead of zapping a woman weighing 100 pounds with one of the Tasers they carried. Riley’s family was never apologized to, nor were the officers exonerated. The story was not reported nationally until recently, when a reporter for The Guardian brought it up.

After 14 hours, Craig Jones eats lunch in a Coeur d’Alene, Idaho cafe. He had locked Arfee, his dog, in the van’s cab. Jones had partially rolled down the windows to keep the dog cool. When the black Lab-mix dog, aged two, started to bark, someone unfortunately called the police. Officer Dave Kelly answered the call. Kelly later claimed that Arfee, originally described as a vicious pit bull, lunged at his face when he approached Arfee’s van. The van window was partially rolled down. Kelly shot Arfee in the chest.

The media responded this time. A New York Daily News headline read: “Idaho Cop Kills Adorable Labrador Named Arfee after Mistaking him for Aggressive Pit Bull.” A Facebook page called “Justice For Arfee,” was created shortly after that. A shadowy group named “Anonymous,” posted several ominous YouTube videos vaguely threatening Coeur d’Alene Police officers with retribution. After a police review panel ruled the dog’s shooting was unjustified two months later, citizens in Coeur d’Alene held a rally called “Justice for Alfee”, demanding the firing of Officer Kelly. The police department apologized to Jones, who received $80,000 for the loss his pet.

In an The Guardian , it is pointed out that the disparity between the public’s anger over the shootings of two dogs and a pregnant mother just 50 miles and 14 hours apart. Was this an anomaly? Police shootings of humans have become a big story in the aftermath of Ferguson, and now South Carolina. The tragic cases of Jeanetta and Arfee confirm that we love animals more than people.

Two sociologists from Northeastern University tested the idea that people were more upset when they read news stories about animal abuse rather than attacks on humans. Researchers Arnold Arluke and Jack Levin were experts in serial killers and mass killings. They had students read fabricated news stories about a Boston crime wave. One of the articles stated, “Accordingly to witnesses, a one-year old puppy was brutally beaten by an unknown attacker with a baseball batter.” A police officer arrived on the scene minutes after the assault and found the victim unconscious with a broken leg and numerous lacerations. “No arrests have yet been made.”