Vegetarian because of the dog?

Did you know that people who live with dogs are more likely to be vegetarian than the average person? No? Well, truth be told, I made that up. But the reason I made it up is because it seems to me a very plausible thesis, and one I would like to research. How would one go about it? If we asked 10,000 vegetarians whether they lived with dogs, and found that the vast majority of them did, well, would that not be suggestive? Of what, you might ask?

Here is my thesis: When you live with a dog, you become sensitive to certain characteristics of all animals. You realize that dogs have strong feelings, mostly positive ones. They love. They smile. They find joy in everyday life. They have friends. They want to see you happy. You get the picture. They are like better versions of ourselves, or rather, they represent what we would like to be. I often think: I wish I could be more like Benjy. Benjy is my golden lab, about whom I have written a book: The Dog Who Couldn’t Stop Loving. That’s him all right. So when those of us who live with dogs notice how deep their love for us is, and their love for their own lives, we look with horror at anything bad happening to these dogs. The thought of their suffering is unbearable to us. Most of us who love dogs would do just about anything to see to it that they do not suffer. The thought that somebody would deliberately harm them, or, god forbid, kill them is beyond our ability to think. That people eat dogs fills us with horror.

If dogs knew about it, it would fill them with horror too. Just notice how horrified your dog is when you mistakenly step on her tail. She howls, and looks up at you with a strange expression. I think she is wondering: Has he suddenly become predator, with me as prey? Or the dog is trying to determine whether you could possibly have meant it. The relief they experience when you make it clear by abject apologies that you certainly did not intend to harm them is wonderful to behold. They apologize to you for ever having doubted you! But the lesson I take from this is how much it matters to a dog that their physical integrity be honored. Just as we cannot bear for them to suffer they too cannot bear to suffer (and by the way, they hate to see us suffer as well – yet another reason we love them so much).

How, then, do we distinguish between our dog and any “ordinary” chicken, or pig, or cow, or sheep, or duck, who is going to be killed and eaten? If we eat these animals, what do we tell ourselves to make ourselves believe that there is some crucial distinction between all these animals and dogs? Try the exercise. I don’t think you will find much success. And that is why I think people who live with dogs have a greater tendency to become vegetarians than the general population. We recognize that dogs treasure their lives. So why would this not be true of other animals? All animals have a sense of physical integrity and wish to retain theirs. All animals have a horror of being hurt, let alone killed. Somebody could as easily love that chicken, or that cow, or that pig, as much as you love your dog. That chicken, that cow, and that pig, deserve to live a life free from terror as much as does your dog. Driven bys these thoughts, I believe, many people with the experience of doglove in their lives, stop eating meat. Am I right? I welcome your views.

About jeffreymasson

My new book BEASTS is out this March from Bloomsbury or the eBook
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19 Responses to Vegetarian because of the dog?

  1. My (very recent) conversion to near(and getting nearer)-vegan had a lot to do with reading that when a dairy cow stops producing milk she is slaughtered (at best around 4-5 years old – same age my whippet Romeo is now) but otherwise she would live to 16 (just a year or two more than my whippet’s expected lifespan) which means that their life is as if Romeo was (and I can barely say this) no longer here and not here for the next 11-12 years of Romeo and my lives. And if that was Romeo instead of a cow, I would say over my dead body.

    Nope, Dogs have nothing to do with it!!

    Whippet Girl
    No Animal Products Since 25 Jan 2011

  2. Liezl says:

    I agree. My dogs are the reason I became vegetarian. After reading this blog, I feel I need to go home and hug and kiss my dogs a little bit more.

  3. Girija says:

    Dear Jeff,

    I must say I completely agree with your thesis. Let me explain .. I have always had dogs, either my own or by proxy. I am a qualified dietitian with a decade plus experience in counseling for better health behaviors. Somewhere along the way I noticed our dogs were so much more refined and smart in that area, especially. I have observed very distinct personalities of each of my dogs but what was common to them all was :
    a. They never ate beyond what they needed. We had to take care to be consistent in the quantities we fed them and if we failed , they would just leave it ! Even if it was something they loved eating ! I have tested this time and again.
    b. When they got unwell with minor things, they promptly would take care and do whatever it was to get better – rest or skip meals or eat grass. Rather than moping around and doing exactly the wrong things until everything gets out of hand – familiar human behavior.
    c. Finally it was our Hopey, with whom I had a very special relationship who led me to veganism. For generations and as far back as I know, our family has been vegetarian.Honey, milk and its products are everyday offerings to God (Panchamrutam). And small portions of these are offered back to us as a blessing, at homes and places of worship. All that changed. Anybody familiar with Indian culture would know how big a deal it is 🙂

    With Hopey’s passing away I realize how much I have evolved as a person because of all the dogs that I was fortunate to share my life with. Food choice is just one of them !

  4. Peter W says:

    I would agree in part with the idea that living in proximity to animals causes some people to reconsider their relationship with them. It did in my experience.

    Unfortunately though the majority of people don’t make that connection between the cat on their lap and the meat on their plate. If you were to ask most people living with animals whether they ate meat, they would say yes.

    There’s a real disconnection between Fido, the beloved family dog and that lump of meat that used to be a cow. Perhaps it’s the fact that most people never see a cow in the field that it’s hard to make that connection. Fido is a living, breathing creature, in their minds what they’re eating is ‘beef’ not a formerly living, breathing cow. Making that connection between a beloved pet and the food on my plate changed everything for me.

    In my case it was a cat. We moved out of a big city to a semi-rural area, had opportunities to get out into the fresh air and take exercise in the countryside. This meant running and cycling past fields of cows and sheep. The cows, in particular, would stand at the gate, watching us go by and I realised that this was this first time in years that I had seen my dinner in the ‘flesh’. I grew uncomfortable with the idea of eating them but it wasn’t until a little later that my thoughts coalesced.

    That came when we decided to give a home to a kitten. We fell in love with him within minutes of bringing him home. On the one hand there was this cat we loved, on the other hand there was this cow that we would kill and consume. What was the difference between them? ‘Nothing’ was the answer I came up with.

    In my mind there was no difference between the two and once I came to that conclusion there was no way I could continue consuming animal products. I went vegetarian pretty much overnight and was vegan within a year and remain so to this day. I pretty much owe my veganism to that kitten (now a big lump of a cat).

  5. Gata Chopada says:

    Creo que en España estamos todavía un poco asilvestrados al respecto.
    De todas maneras, los piensos animales (deduzco que usted a su perro lo alimenta con pienso), estan fabricados con desechos cárnicos de despiece de animales para consumo humano; entonces, es una contradicción ¿no?.
    De cualquier modo, cuando tuve perros no dejé de comer carne (ellos querían carne, además) y ahora que convivo con dos gatas, tampoco. Además las gatas son cazadoras; estoy harta de quitarles a pobres gecos que cazan en el jardín; y los pajaritos es que no les dejo que se acerquen a ellos porque van a por ellos como fieras.
    Y tengo un amigo con un labrador como el de usted, que se come unos chuletones de buey que para qué…
    Así es que, al menos por estos lares, no se confirma su teoría.
    Además aquí comemos mucho conejo, cuando al otro lado del charco está considerado animal de compañía.
    Lo que sí estamos más concienciados es, con los pollos y las gallinas, por ejemplo, que sean criados sueltos, no en esas jaulas que debrían estar prohibidas por ley. Pero comernoslos, nos los comemos; y con los perros babeando al lado, a ver si les cae un pedazo.
    Sin embargo, cuando la gente se va haciendo mayor, sí que disminuye su apetencia por la carne. Eso sí lo he observado.

  6. Peter W, you have summed it up for me. I had the same, “Who am I kidding?” moment eleven years ago and have been a vegetarian since then …

  7. Sandy says:

    Like Peter, it was my cats that made me choose to become a vegetarian. I would look at my darling cats – acquired as 8 week old kittens – and wonder if there was a difference between eating them or eating a chicken or a pig or a cow. I came to believe there wasn’t a difference. I had always felt ambivalent about eating meat but never made the commitment to vegetarianism. It happened within about six months of living with my cats. I started to read about cats and then I started to read about animal rights and ethics, including Animal Liberation and Dominion. Once I really faced the knowledge of how animals killed for food suffer I could not go back from that knowledge.

    I now live with 3 cats and 3 dogs and they connect me to a love and respect for all animals. I am happy and proud to be a vegetarian and can’t imagine living any other way now.

  8. Hi Peter,
    I have recently been reading about anthrozoology as the subject of the human-animal relationship has always been one that I felt carried a lot of meaning. I have never been a vegetarian, although at times I have considered the prospect and I have in fact cut beef form my diet completely for the last 15 years (although more about the health issues than any moral standing on my part). I am different to you, and I thought you might be interested in this outlook. As a conscientious animal person, who feels the animals I love with are my family and that I would defend them the way a mother would defend her children, it actually does not fill me with horror that some cultures eat dog, guinea pig, or in fact that we eat meat as a species. It is not because I haven’t thought about the moral standing and rights of animals, but I also completely believe in my right to eat those animals if I decide to (Sorry all you piggies you are to tasty for me to give up although I did try). My feeling are these, Those animals also have the right to eat what is biologically appropriate for them, my dogs are on a raw food diet that includes all sorts of meat because they are carnivores and I would not feel it was morally right for me to try to make them into vegetarians because of my ego or guilt. All animals have the right to eat and be eaten as is natural. What is NOT ok and what I find morally repugnant is when animals are mistreated in the process of becoming our dinner. I enjoy Temple Grandin’s view on the right of animals to live without fear, for me this holds true for our pets, our dinners, and ourselves. I will continue to eat meat, but I will always support the war against animal cruelty in all forms… this may not make sense to some with the moral standing that humans should act better than animals. I never have felt humans to be better than animals, we are animals and act like animals right along with them! This makes me happy.

    • woops sorry I had just been reading Peter’s comment and my hands spelled his name instead of Jeffery!

      • Melanie Cook says:

        Marika…I feel the same as you and I love ALL animals. I decided to work with animals after graduating from college instead of using my degree. With that said, I also eat meat but, like you, have thought many times about switching to vegetarianism.

        Regardless of what I may or may not do in the future will not keep others from eating animals. (When I say that, I do not mean disrespect to those who have stopped eating meat. I actually admire you all greatly) What I want for animals that will be consumed for food is respect and to be treated with kindness. After all, their lives are going to be taken to feed many and I think that deserves MUCH more than what they get. There are some companies that have starting adhering to this type of treatment, so I’ve thought about trying to order my meat from them. It would be more expensive, yes, but I don’t eat much meat anyway and that is one area I definitely would not mind spending extra money in.

        Jeffrey…I actually just found out about your book from my Books A Million email and have added it to my wishlist. I can’t wait to read it!

  9. gloria says:

    I too own dogs and I eat a low fat raw vegan. I enjoy reading your blog and your books are wonderful. I come from a family of animal lovers who however are meat eater. I did send a few of them the link to your book store. Have a wonderful day!

  10. I think you’re right, Jeffrey. I didn’t have animals in my life when I was a little girl, and I thought nothing of eating meat. As an adult, I’ve always had dogs and cats, and meat has become distasteful to me. I used to tell myself I didn’t eat meat for health reasons. That’s not it. I don’t eat meat because I love and honor all animals.

  11. evelinamarie says:

    I cannot call myself a vegetarian because I eat fish occasionally, however living with dogs has played a considerable role is my eschewing meat. They are unique individuals with different needs and personalities. Different things make them happy and sad. They enjoy different foods and different diversions. I have a unique relationship with each of them based on our love for each other. My relationship with my two companions has left no doubt that they, and their “farm cousins” have a full and rich emotional life. As I struggle between my learned desire for meat and the right of all animals to live their natural lives, Elvis and Gracie remind me daily that the later and not the former is the moral choice that I must make.

  12. Marion says:

    I agree with Marika. I am a semi-vegetarian (I sometimes eat free-range chicken) purely because I cannot convince myself that beef pumped full of growth hormones is supposed to be good for my body, nor can I condone the ill-teatment of farm animals to become dinner. But most humans will unfortunately never be convinced that less meat / no meat is better, nor find anything wrong with eating meat as they don’t know about the treatment of animals that become our dinner. To them farm animals are “just dinner”. I would much rather see law enforcement and education turn around people’s perception when it comes to the teatment of all animals, domestic or farm animals. I think we as the guardians of this planet must make the humane and fair treatment of all living breathing beings our responsibility.

  13. Memo says:

    Since yesterday, I decided to stop eating meat. All because of Hewson, my 1 year old Golden Retriever. Wish me luck.

  14. Anne says:

    Yes, i think you’re probably right Professor Massoon. I have been vegetarian for 27 years (though I do occasionally eat crustaceans: crayfish, prawns) and this was a pretty usual choice in 1980s Ireland, where “meat and two veg” constitutes dinner. I think one antecedent was my love for my childhood labrador, Toko, along with the fact that I was a bookish kid whose favorite books featured animals (Black Beauty, James Herriot, Watership Down). I think Tom Regan writes somewhere too that his empathy was unlocked by his grief at the death of the family dog.

  15. Katy says:

    I watched my beloved dog die. Soon after that I ran over a squirrel. Then I felt a compulsion to be a vegan. It had nothing to do with ideology or nutrition. I just felt like a cannibal. After a couple of months I went to just vegetarian. Now when I get a strong body feeling for it I will have some meat knowing full well what it is. But mostly prefer to eat as a vegetarian and expect to remain so..I also joined some animal rights and support organizations.

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