Recently, fellow junior fellow Tristyn K. Bloom got into an argument on Twitter about eating dogs. She is pro-equality, as I understand it: we eat non-humans, dogs are not-human, therefore, it is not wrong to eat a dog. QED. Go forth ye and eat a dog.
It’s a position many people hold—including, weirdly, many vegetarians that I have met over the course of my life, who view “would you eat a dog?” as a kind of ultimate argument winning trump card. Most people say “no,” their opinion is irrational, if it’s irrational it’s wrong, and so forth. Most people don’t have a good reason for not eating a dog or a horse or what have you.
As someone who eats no meat at all, I think the all-or-nothing approach to eating meat has a logical consistency that is appealing. On the other hand, I think the proper response to recognizing that we accord a degree of respect to some animals and not to others is to begin extending that respect further, not to retract it to the simply human.
One way of putting my position is that I am not sure consistency is the greatest standard in these matters, since it often becomes consistency in vice, not consistency in virtue, i.e., “would you kill a baby?” asked of someone who is pro-choice is a question that can (and has) gone terribly awry.
But that would be an argument for another time. I speak of more pressing matters. It is wrong to eat a dog. And that position is not irrational in the slightest. In the service of truth, I can’t really let that argument stand. Don’t eat dogs.
An amendment: If you come from a place where dogs are companion animals and not food, don’t eat dogs. Not there, not here, not anywhere. You can eat horses. You can eat cats. You can eat rats, or hamsters, or rabbits. But not dogs. Like killing a mockingbird, eating a dog is a sin. Except much worse.
Dogs and human beings have a particular relationship, one distinctive among domestic animals: even when we work together, we work alongside. The man working with a dog in the field trusts the animal’s independent judgment. Whether that dog is herding sheep, hunting other animals, or sniffing for bombs, we place our trust in the dog’s intelligence and loyalty. We therefore accord them a respect and a place we do not grant to the other animals.
That respect isn’t irrational, because it is founded in the uniqueness of the relationship. You could say the relationship itself could have been formed just as easily with some other animal—pigs, for instance. That might be true, but it’s irrelevant. Denying the existence of the relationship would be the irrational thing to do here. The relationship is a fact, and like all relationships, it comes with duties and privileges. So don’t eat dogs.
To put it another way: Speaking of dogs as our friends is not a figure of speech. We are friends with dogs (there’s even a book about it). We are not friends, in this sense, with any other animal. Even horses, with which we do have close relationships, are directed by us in a much firmer way than we direct dogs.
Eating a dog is a betrayal of that friendship. So don’t eat dogs.
It has been objected that dogs may not view our relationship in that particular way, so there is nothing wrong with killing and eating a particular dog. If there is some kind of obligation imposed by friendship or by the way we have domesticated them, dogs don’t understand it, therefore we have no obligation to them, therefore it is all right to eat a dog.
That is incorrect. It is possible that dogs do not feel some kind of grand betrayal if killed and eaten by a human being. But nonetheless, we have betrayed them, because we understand that relationship. Don’t eat dogs.
That dogs may not occupy this position in other cultures is irrelevant to whether or not you have betrayed your particular cultural obligation to dogs. Don’t eat dogs.
“But you’re anthropomorphizing”—doesn’t matter. Don’t eat dogs.
“But I’m really hungry”—doesn’t matter. Don’t eat dogs.
“But a dog bit me”—you probably deserved it, you dog-eater-sympathizer. Don’t eat dogs.
Next on the First Things animal rights beat: “Eating Monkeys: Is it cannibalism?”