Does one farmer’s love for dogs go too far?

The headline caught my eye and almost instinctively I clicked on the story: Do not compare my dogs to pigs. Ever. The piece comes from Jenna Woginrich, who says that her “personhood is intensely connected” to dogs, that dogs’ “usefulness to us” goes beyond that of any other animal, and that their skills as predators are greater than those of humans. She warns:

“If you have the audacity to compare my working dogs to my edible livestock, I have already stopped listening to you.”

Got it. But in case there’s someone out there open to another perspective, here’s mine: There’s no denying dogs have partnered with humankind in a unique, almost other-worldly way. Our civilization has truly evolved with, and likely because of, canines. So it’s not surprising that some humans measure an animal’s worth by his “usefulness” to people.

Perhaps it’s true that the pig, compared to the dog, does relatively little for the human species (merely gives his life so we can order a side of bacon). A polar bear does even less. An iguana, almost nothing. But a lack of direct usefulness to humans shouldn’t preclude other animals from benefitting from our protection, our respect, and our compassion. We can’t let dogs’ devotion to people justify the diminishment of other species, any more than we can let gender, race, age, or socio-economic class — or how someone supports me personally — define the worth of a single individual.

I find it deeply disturbing that Woginrich, someone so passionate about canines, could be so unmoved by the experience of other animals, especially those with whom she shares her farm. I fail to see how such hierarchical labeling behooves her dogs — or does anything except make it easier to ignore the quality of life we provide for other sentient beings who are every bit as capable of feeling as our companion animals.

She says:

“I refuse to see all animals as equals. Call me a speciesist all you like. Livestock raised for our plate are not on the same emotional, societal, or cultural plane as dogs. Certainly not to me, or to our history as co-dependent species.

I’m not asking Woginrich to see all animals as equal. I’m asking that we, as humans, treat all animals in such a manner as to eliminate man-made suffering and enable a respectful quality of life. Fine if your pigs aren’t invited into your bed. But viewing them solely as a main course has led to some of the most horrific cruelty perpetrated by humans.

Of course, on a cultural and societal level, dogs occupy a very sacred place. Again, that’s seeing the world through a very narrow (American) perspective. Instead, maybe we could look at an animal based on his capacity to suffer. It seems this criterion would outweigh any rank or label that we as people, assign to them. Simply referring to pigs as “livestock” (as opposed to “animals”) doesn’t take away the fact they feel pain, need companionship, crave stimulation and humane surroundings.

Believe me, I understand the deep, irreplaceable connection between humans and dogs. To get all third grade about it, dogs are absolutely my favorite animal. And while clearly I’m not the same type of dog person Woginrich is, I hope she can respect, if not understand or share, my fondness for pigs. It’s my hope that in 2012, many more will come to appreciate the bond that all living beings share: the ability to feel. Dogs and cats, livestock and reptiles, elephants and birds and frogs and whales. All.

Happy new year.

Editor with pig, Perla