Kitchener-Waterloo

It's 'a contradiction' that we condemn eating dogs but not pigs, says Guelph professor

Susan Nance explores why North Americans find eating dogs so upsetting

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Chris Schindler, of Humane Society International, rescues and moves a mother Tosa from a dog meat farm in Namyangju, South Korea, in late October. (Jean Chung/HSI)

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Condemning the eating of dogs but continuing to eat pigs and chickens is "a contradiction," according to a professor from University of Guelph.

"When people get really upset about the idea of someone eating dogs … part of that is grounded in the fact that these dogs are kept in often horrific conditions before they're slaughtered — and that's a legitimate issue, absolutely. But so are pigs here, and chickens," said Susan Nance, who is also part of the Campbell Centre for the Study of Animal Welfare.

In early December, the Canadian chapter of Humane Society International brought 50 dogs from a dog meat farm in South Korea after shutting down the farm. People responded with disbelief that the practice of eating dogs happens in other parts of the world.

However, Nance said those dog meat farmers would point to the fact that North Americans eat pigs and chickens, and the difference is smaller than it might seem.

And the disgust people have with thinking about eating dog meat cannot be explained entirely by the inhumane conditions that they are often raised in.

Rebecca Aldworth, executive director of the Canadian chapter of Humane Society International, said even if the dogs were raised humanely, people wouldn't feel comfortable eating them.

"Dogs hold a special place in our society," said Aldworth. "Each and every dog on those dog meat farms is an individual."

Animals Found-Massachusetts

A cow rides in the back of a trailer as the ASPCA begins transporting 900 of the abused animals from a farm in Westport, Mass., in 2016. The move came after officers discovered hundreds of dead and injured animals, makeshift cabins, burning trash and illegal stoves at the property. (Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe VIA AP)

Dogs vs. other animals

So why are some people uncomfortable with the idea of having dog meat on restaurant menus?

'They are very good at imitating people.' - Susan Nance

Not all people revere dogs in the way North Americans do, said Nance. In fact, it's only in the past few decades that dogs have become an integrated part of the family. She pointed to her own childhood growing up in the 1970s, when dogs weren't on leashes and certainly didn't wear clothes.

And the reason people see dogs so differently — compared with other animals that may be less taboo to eat like rabbits or horses — is because "they're very good at imitating people," explained Nance.

From perking up their ears to pointing to things with their noses, over the years, selective breeding has made dogs very in tune with the way humans communicate. There exists a connection that is usually not found with other animals.

"I think that the dogs are so good at measuring our emotional responses and sensing what we're feeling and what we're up to, that they just sort of, they've got us," she said.

Pigs rollover Burlington

These pigs were headed to slaughter but had a moment of freedom when the truck they were in rolled over in Burlington, Ont. (Dave Ritchie/CBC)

'Many preconceptions'

While the dog meat trade is legal in South Korea, Aldworth said attitudes about the industry are changing.

"I think there's many preconceptions out there that this is about western ideas or western ideology," she said.

The most recent rescue effort is "a local movement," she emphasized, and there are many activists in China and South Korea that are actively fighting to shut down the trade.

"There is a growing pet culture in Asia, and it's growing exponentially, and along with it, opposition to the dog meat trade," Aldworth said.

Things are also changing in North America.

Livestock farms have increasingly been in the spotlight for using steroids, human antibiotics or raising animals in spaces that are too small.

And increasingly, people are beginning to question why they eat one type of meat and not the other.

Anita Krajnc

Anita Krajnc was charged with criminal mischief when she pushed a water bottle into a truck-load of pigs on their way to slaughter. (CBC)

The Save Movement is one example of that, said Nance. The organization is an international movement of veganism advocates who want to raise awareness for "the plight of farmed animals."

In 2015, a woman from a group called Toronto Pig Save was arrested for giving water to pigs in a truck headed for a slaughterhouse. She was later acquitted.

"There's a lot of people who are asking questions," Nance said. "Are people going to get to a point where they realize, you know what, if a dog, then also a pig?"

Going meatless

She said meat-eating may become more rare as the world population grows and people realize the planet cannot continue to support meat production on a large industrial scale.

Already there are scientists looking at ways to grow meat in the lab and Nance thinks that may be the future instead of slaughtering live animals.

However, Nance feels it's unlikely there will be a time when all people see all animals the way North Americans revere dogs — as members of the family.

She said certain cultural factors, like hunting as part of a person's identity, will always remain an important part of people's decision-making when it comes to their diet.

"People will always eat meat," she said.

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