Animal Rights or Evolutionary Suicide

In the pre-dawn mist of the high plain steppes a pack of semi-domesticated
wolves alert in unison warning their human pack members of a threat to the
camp. Human and Canine alike, fight off a predator to save the young and
weaker of both species, and so begins a partnership that will continue for
over fifteen millennium. Fast forward 15,000 years, like a bad dream,
Priscilla Tavenier awoke at 2:30 a.m. Friday and heard the dog barking
frantically. Wondering what was going on, she ventured outside to find that
her house was on fire. Jake, a 13-year-old St. Bernard/Chow mix, sounded the
alarm just in time for Priscilla to awaken the rest of the family and get
them outside. Her husband, their son, his wife, and their three children,
and a family friend, all made it out safely, thanks to Jake.

One of the most profound and powerful symbiotic (mutually beneficial)
relationships on planet earth is that of human beings and dogs. When canines
"chose" to follow early Homo sapiens, a relationship of mutual trust,
protection and dependence began that has endured for thousands of years.

Dogs are a domesticated subspecies of the wolf and are the first species to
be domesticated by humans between 14-17,000 years ago. Although, who
domesticated whom, is still hotly debated, it is quite clear that the dog
has maintained the longest lasting relationship with humans in history.
Not surprising when you realize that the social structure of early humans
and wolves was very similar, and probably contributed heavily to early
domestication. In addition, humans and wolves shared the same habitat,
hunted the same prey and most likely shared the same enemies. Add to that
that research has shown that dogs and humans share similar genes. Evidence
shows that wolves began following human migrations and hunting parties, and
slowly developed a mutual dependence upon one another.

The archaeological record is rich with the dog/human legacy. Rock art and
dog burials with and without people dating to 14,000 years ago indicate that
dogs were highly valued companions. Remains of smaller dogs have been found
in Middle Eastern caves dating to 12,000 years ago. And in North America,
dog burials dating back to 5,000 years ago show the enduring nature of the
dog/human relationship. Evidence would suggest that there may have been
more than one domestication event and that likely wolves were being
domesticated in more than one place at more than one time. As humans
migrated, dogs migrated with them. Human populations also began to see the
benefits of dogs that showed a propensity to accomplish specialized tasks.
With the advent of agriculture and later the industrial revolution,
selective breeding of working dogs became the norm.

Why is all this important? The fact that wolves in all likelihood initiated
this partnership with humans, flies in the face of the Animal Rights position that
humans should not own pets. At present the Animal Rights movement is trying to undue
over 15,000 years of evolutionary history. Logic and good old fashioned
common sense says this line of thinking is completely wrong and in fact
quite dangerous. Animals, and dogs in particular, have become almost
totally dependent on human beings, and my guess would be that just like
their ancestors, they are quite comfortable with this affiliation. Humans
and dogs are quite able to integrate each other into the pack order. Dogs
still maintain the same pack structure as their ancestors and humans still
maintain the same basic social order as their ancestors; therefore, dogs and
humans are able to live in the same symbiotic relationship they have been
maintaining for thousands of years.

Where dogs in pre-history alerted to predators, hunted beside their human
counterparts, protected family members and lived in a mutually dependent
environment, modern day dogs alert to seizures, guide the blind, work in
search and rescue, help autistic children connect to the world, sooth the
elderly and the sick, and save the lives of people in hundreds of ways every
day. Dogs and humans are social animals and crave the presence of others.
To destroy the bond between humans and dogs would be tantamount to
evolutionary suicide.

Janice L Morgan - February 2008

Jan Morgan is a Grant and Contract Officer at Marshall University.  Prior to her work at Marshall she worked in Grants Administration at Washington State University and The Ohio State University.  Jan holds a Bachelor of Science in Anthropology and a Master of Arts in Physical Anthropology.   Her research with animal populations began as an undergraduate and continued through graduate school with specializations in primate studies and human and animal osteology.  Jan has long been involved in animal welfare,  first on the technical side of traditional veterinary medicine and in rescue, and most recently in Natural Rearing (NR), all while placing great importance on the right of people to choose the path most appropriate for the health and longevity of their pets. Her first love is dogs and in addition to her research she has had the privilege of observing natural domestic pack behavior first-hand via her NR mentors naturally reared Scottish Terriers.

Further interesting reading on the relationship between humans and dogs: