I live in a smaller town where, unlike most neighborhoods, our neighbors get to know each other, even the ones a couple streets over. I can always count on the house on the corner being packed on a Friday night, the guy across the street using a noisy band-saw, my elderly neighbor checking the mailbox around 6:00 pm every evening, and a middle-aged couple who live in the back of the neighborhood going for a bike-ride a couple of times per week. It took me quite a bit of time trying to find something that was “weird” in this predictable, quiet, normal neighborhood, but when I saw the usual husband and wife “walking” their dogs one evening, I got to thinking. Humans will go to great lengths to ensure a comfortable life for our pets, especially dogs. But why?
The couple will usually be walking around the neighborhood about half an hour before sunset with a double-seated stroller with their two miniature schnauzers sitting/standing side by side. Not exactly what you would expect to see from a couple walking with a stroller. It seems pretty weird to imagine, and you might ask why they’re doing that to begin with. My curiosity got the best of me and I decided to ask them. They didn’t seem to mind my questions, and they said that their dogs’ tendons were too weak for them to hold their weight on long walks, so instead of sacrificing their daily routine, they decided to use a stroller. The dogs looked happy as ever, barking as I approached and tails wagging exponentially faster as I got nearer. Surprisingly, this couple also didn’t mind telling me that they couldn’t have any children of their own, so their dogs were like children to them–they obeyed their “parents,” were occasionally scolded, participated in family meals, and were taking a little ride in what was supposed to be a stroller for human infants.
Clearly, there is a blurred line between what society thinks of as relationships with pets and relationships with family members. I haven’t met one person who has a dog but feels no emotional connection with their companion; it might be impossible due to their similarity to humans and maybe a little something to do with their cuteness? Yeah, Houser’s ears are probably ringing. In “Grace for a Cure: Poisoned Ethics and Disabled-Nonhuman Images,” Houser mentions Matthew Scully’s quote “Human beings love animals as only the higher love the lower, the knowing love the innocent, and the strong love the vulnerable” (Houser, 20). Personally, I find this hard to believe. Like humans, I believe that nonhuman animals have a sense of dependency on other species, especially if it benefits them in a way that could potentially lengthen their lifespan. Houser attempts to persuade her audience that nonhuman animals such as pigs and dogs are saved by “unnecessary suffering” via human grace, but is this not also the case in humans, where humans are saved from suffering from nonhuman animal grace? Take, for example, an individual with PTSD who has a therapy dog to help with his/her depressive episodes and to reduce stress brought on by everyday life. Although anyone with a mental illness could react differently, this individual could suffer severe PTSD symptoms and this could lead to life-threatening consequences. Despite this human’s imperfections, the dog chooses to remain loyal, never lashing out, and always returning to his or her companion’s side.
When seeing these dogs being pushed in a stroller, I immediately thought of Houser’s “Grace for a Cure” and the nonhuman animals that are shown in wheelchairs. Instead of imagining that these dogs were saved by their parent’s “grace,” I thought of the opposite–the couple was saved by the dogs. There should be no human superiority to nonhuman animals. Nonhuman animals have just as much capability to grace humans as humans have to grace nonhuman animals. In some cases, we depend on each other, especially with the cases involving dogs, to lead happier lives that are completed by companionship.
Houser, A. Marie. “Grace for a Cure: Poisoned Ethics and Disabled-Nonhuman Images.” Journal for Critical Animal Studies 12.2 (2014): 17-37. Web.