anthropomorphism - putting human qualities onto animals. Is this a concept we can use?

Us animal people work to ensure the best for the animals in our care.  That is why we do what we do.  Sometimes, we care too much to see things with the clarity required.  This oftentimes happens when we are faced with a challenge in relation with them and we justify or excuse the challenge with a label, and then look no further for understanding. 


My new puppy friend Sage has killed a chicken.  For someone who is practising vegan eating, this is a hectic occasion.  I am so sad for the chicken and feel so bad that this bird and all the others have been usurped from their confident roosts at the front door.  There are ducks and geese in the yard too.  I could excuse Sage’s behaviour, and label her as a killer or a problem dog.  I was advised by a friend to tie a dead chicken around her neck for a week.  I could find a new home for Sage because she is ‘a menace’. 


Is there an alternative?  We are working on this.  Suffice is to say the chickens have been rehomed in the meantime, while I deliberate and look for a solution.  We are looking at it from her point of view.  Looking for ways to solve the concern and prevent the loss of any more of the bird’s lives.  And keep Sage in a good motivated space where punishment is not utilised.  I constantly remind myself to look at it from her point of view.  So far we have come up with a DRI.  Using ball fetching during the ritual bird feeding times.  Hold thumbs.  We seem to be making progress.


The lesson is about anthropomorphism.  I recently read an insert that said that negating anthropomorphism is a concept developed by Judaeo-Christian methodology that has effectively justified our separation from the natural world.  I tend to agree to some extent.  Seeing ourselves as part of the world is the solution to so many of our planet’s concerns, and most certainly the solution to relationships – between people and between ourselves and animals.  Anthropomorphism is however a concept that requires some deliberation.  I believe there are two sides to it.  A good side, and a bad side.


The bad side is the side where I label and justify and excuse the animal’s behaviour.  It is the side that comes to play when I am fearful.  Either of my own position being compromised, but more often than not, of doing something wrong that will cause harm to the animals in our care.  It is the type of sentiment that is natural to humans.  Where we resist change and try and keep everything too much the same.  Very often sterilising all joy out of life in the process.  This anthropomorphism is not necessarily true as it is based in fear.


The good side is the empathetic side.  Empathy is generally associated with a feeling state.  Love.  It is easy to confuse love with fear.  True empathy is intuitive.  It is the first sentiment that we consider.  Not the feeling we boil into suffusion as we elaborate worst case scenarios and similar.  The good side of anthropomorphism is not all about feeling however.  It can also be something we objectively observe.  Recording behaviour and noting variables can assist us to find solutions, predict problems, and move to sense something from the animal’s point of view.


So, the trick – use anthropomorphism.  Here are some hints and tips to ensure you are using the good type.

1.        Ensure that you are considering your first feeling.  If you are justifying what you feel, you have probably already headed off into the bad kind. 

2.       Trust your intuition.  And work at making it stronger,

3.       Observe, observe, observe – and where possible, record and verify

4.       Don’t stay stuck.  Do something.

5.       When you fear that there is something to lose, or an outcome to avoid, you are probably in muddy waters.

6.       Be true.  Ask yourself if you are projecting your own stuff or if there really is an anthropomorphic consideration.

7.       Encourage as many people as possible to debate the concern, to ensure that you come up with the best solution possible. 

When I have discussed the ‘animal points of view’ with others, I have always been amazed at how often our feelings are similar.  There is something to be said about that.  Beware that you don’t go into the negative spiral of discussion.  Just see what is, and then you have a foundation from which to work.


Wish me well with Sage.  Will keep you informed.



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