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Cats and dogs have become such a part of the family fabric that in many households, they’re akin to children. It’s a role that’s changed repeatedly and drastically since these animals ran wild centuries ago, and it’s come with a fundamental shift in how we view companion animals: from property to near-personhood. “Science” journalist David Grimm joins Kojo to talk about how our connections to pets are changing laws, industries, and lives.
- David Grimm Author, "Citizen Canine: Our Evolving Relationship with Cats and Dogs"; Deputy News Editor, "Science"
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Over the course of our shared history, cats and dogs ventured from the outskirts of early human societies into people's hearts, so much so that many, if not most, are now considered members of the family, even becoming occupants of many an owners' bed. It's a relationship that has had dramatic ups and downs with canines and felines falling in and out of favor in various eras and cultures around the globe.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut today the move in these United States seems to be toward a more permanent, more elevated status. Here to tell us how we got here and where we might be going is David Grimm. He is a deputy news editor at the Journal of Science and the author of "Citizen Canine: Our Evolving Relationship with Cats and Dogs." David Grimm joins us in studio. Welcome. Thank you for joining us.
MR. DAVID GRIMMThank you.
NNAMDIIf you have questions or comments you too can join the conversation by calling 800-433-8850. If you have a pet how do you view its role in your household? If you don't have a pet, tell us why not, 800-433-8850. You can send email to email@example.com or ask a question and make a comment at our website kojoshow.org where we have composed a gallery of photos of listener pets. You can send us yours via tweet @kojoshow or email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
NNAMDIDavid Grimm, let's start in the distant past. Before there were cats and dogs as we know them today they were wild animals, stalking along the edges of early human's earliest communities. How did they evolve?
GRIMMWell, before we had cats and dogs we had wolves and wildcats. And dogs evolved from the gray wolf. And this -- it's a little unclear when exactly this happened, probably sometime between 15 and 30,000 years ago. So dogs were the very first thing we ever domesticated. We've been with them longer than any other animal. Cats probably about 10,000 years ago and they evolved from an animal called a Near Eastern wildcat which looks similar to today's house cat but is a very feral, a very wild animal.
GRIMMBoth of these animals entered our society at a very critical time. Dogs, probably when we were still maybe hunter gatherers and hadn't yet settled down, maybe they were helping us hunt and maybe protect our villages a little bit. Cats, when we started to become farmers and were growing a lot of grain, the grain attracted rodents and the rodents attracted cats and cats started becoming part of our society.
NNAMDIThe rodents attracted cats?
GRIMMThat's right. So -- well, the cats were attracted to the rodents is probably a little bit better way to say it. You know, the rodents would invade the fields, go after the grain stores and they would potentially decimate these fields and decimate the grains. Cats were attracted to the rodents, came and started killing these mice and rats. And people started to see that it was good to have cats around because the more cats we had around the less rodents and the more food.
NNAMDIDo we know much about how the proliferation of breed varieties from tabby cats and Himalayans and from labs to Lhasa Apsos came about?
GRIMMWell, a lot of the breeding that we see today is actually a fairly recent phenomenon. A lot of it happened in the 1800s where you have the rise of breeding organizations, people wanting to create the latest and greatest animal. So a lot of the breeds we see today are actually fairly recent developments.
GRIMMAlthough we do have evidence that the Romans, for example, seemed to have bred lap dogs, which is really significant because it suggests at this point in history pets played more -- cats and dogs played more than just a functional role. That we were starting to see them maybe as, I don't know if fashion accessories is the right word, but starting to -- when you start breeding very small dogs that don't really have much of a use, these animals are seen much more as pets than working animals.
NNAMDIFrom many early scientists and -- well, talk about what happened in the Middle Ages first and why did they fall out of favor in the 12 and 1300s?
GRIMMYeah so, I mean, I think a lot of people know that cats were deified in ancient Egypt. Cats were regarded as gods for many years in ancient Egypt. And the Romans actually were very fond of their dogs. They treated them like children in many cases. There's evidence that the Romans buried their dogs in human cemeteries and composed very sentimental eulogies to their dogs when they died.
GRIMMBut sometime in the Middle Ages cats and dogs both fell out of favor. In the 1200s a pope linked cats to Satan when he was trying to eradicate heresy in Europe. And we started to see the beginnings of cats being associated with things like witchcraft and evil. And then when we had big plagues come like the black plague come in the 1300s, we started to see dogs being denigrated as well because dogs were blamed for spreading filth and disease, even though it was the black rat that was actually spreading the plague. People blamed dogs, and cats as well. So the Middle Ages probably weren't a good time to be anybody but certainly were not a good time to be a cat or a dog as well.
NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, we're talking with David Grimm. He is deputy news editor at the Journal of Science and the author of the book "Citizen Canine: Our Evolving Relationship with Cats and Dogs." You can call us at 800-433-8850. What's your take on the status of dogs and cats in our society? Or you can send email to email@example.com. David, for many early scientists and doctors, experiments on animals helped humans better understand anatomy, biology and make advances in their fields. Animals are still used in experiments today but how did the so-called brown dog riots change the way animals are used in labs?
GRIMMYeah, as -- after the Middle Ages, cats and dogs started to become seen -- sort of become pets again and far less denigrated. But what we did see in 16, 1700s with philosophers like Rene Descartes started declaring that animals didn't have a soul, that they didn't have feelings, that they couldn't feel pain, that they had no really brain to speak of.
GRIMMAnd that helped justify a lot of vivisection at the time. This is a time where scientists and doctors were really trying to figure out how the human body worked. They turned to a lot of animals but dogs were a favorite study subject at the time. And the experiments were fairly gruesome. You had a lot of vivisection going on with dogs that were not anesthetized being cut open to see what their organs looked like and how they worked.
GRIMMAnd this culminated in something called the brown dog riots in the early 1900s. This was in the UK where the -- some segments of the public were getting more and more uncomfortable with the use of cats and dogs in research, especially as these animals were starting to become more like members of the family. So you had in the UK and also protests in the U.S. with people really objecting to seeing these animals used in sometimes very gruesome experiments.
NNAMDILaws on animal cruelty and their use in testing have changed pretty drastically in the last century, but many would like to see stricter rules for lab testing on animals today. Where does that debate now stand?
GRIMMWell, right. This is not just cats and dogs. Cats and dogs have largely disappeared from the research laboratories, especially in the U.S. There's still a few thousand being used in biomedical research but for the large part scientists have turned to other animals like lab rats and mice and even fruit flies and worms, which don't get the public as riled up as cats and dogs.
GRIMMThat being said, there's been recent polls that suggest, especially among the younger generation, people under 30 that the majority of that generation now opposes any type of animal testing, which is a real spike over the last 15 years. I argue in my book that I think potentially one of the reasons is because as we've embraced cats and dogs as family members, this younger generation has really grown up not with just cats and dogs as pets but also as virtual siblings in some cases. That they're able to see -- or they start to see the feelings, the emotions of other animals, whether it's lab rats or chimpanzees or even animals out in the wild through the eyes of the cats and dogs.
GRIMMThey know they can have this relationship with their pets and they say, well, you know, why -- you know, if I can have this relationship with my pet, chances are these other animals have these feelings as well. And you're starting to see people increasingly feeling uncomfortable with things like animals in captivity and also animals in biomedical research.
NNAMDIJust before we go to the phones -- and you can still call us at 800-433-8850 -- just before I go to the phones, long after they were domesticated and we began to think of them more companionably, pets were often left outdoors. What elements conspired to bring dogs and cats out of the yard and into the home around the turn of the 20th century?
GRIMMYou know, bringing cats and dogs inside was a really quantum leap in our relationship with them. When they were outside, when dogs were in doghouses and cats roamed the neighborhood at night, they were always essentially animals. Yes, they were pets and yes, perhaps we cared for them. But once we started bringing these animals indoors -- in the late 1800s that happened with dogs, started happening with dogs because we had the advent of flea and tick products. So it was aromatically and otherwise acceptable to have these animals inside. Cats, we had kitty litter invented in 1947, so that really helped bring cats indoors.
GRIMMOnce these animals come indoors they really stop becoming animals because all of a sudden they're sleeping on our couch, they're sleeping on our bed, they're sleeping with our children. The really become a member of the household. And I think cats and dogs living indoors, especially over the last few decades, has really created this fundamental shift that has transformed these animals from mere pets to family members.
NNAMDICan we trace what we might today call the pet retail complex back to those early advances?
GRIMMExactly. As these pets start coming indoors, a lot of companies got wise and said, you know, you should really -- now that your dog's indoors you should really get some chew toys for him because otherwise he's going to destroy your furniture. Or you should get these toy mice for your cat, otherwise your cat's maybe going to rip your drapes up. And you start to see the evolution of this pet supply industry.
GRIMMAnd it wasn't just toys. It was food. Once these animals come indoors, you start to see people less comfortable with feeding them table scraps or even letting them forge on their own. All of a sudden they needed food and you had companies like Ralston Purina that made livestock feed all of a sudden making pet food. And all these things come together to indicate that, okay, this is a member of your family now. You have to treat it like a member of a family. And so you have to provide it with educational toys, with fun toys and with high quality food.
NNAMDIOn to David in Sandy Spring, Md., speaking of members of the family. David, your turn.
DAVIDHi. I have a guide dog. This is my second guide dog and I'm married. And having a guide dog help me around and us working together as a team all the time indoors and out, I would say that we are that. The dog is a working member of our family. He's a delight to have around too but it's a surprising relationship when you have a dog as a working partner. And that's all I have to say.
NNAMDICare to comment on that, David Grimm?
GRIMMYeah, what's interesting is, you know, cats and dogs sometimes get a bad rap these days because people say they don't really do anything anymore. They're just lap-sitters and Frisbee-catchers. But obviously we have a ton of assistance animals in these countries, not just guide dogs but dogs that help with epilepsy and autism. For the book I went to Lackland Air Force Base which trains more military working dogs than any other place in the world. They've got 2500 dogs that are out there in the military and on the frontlines who are getting shot and...
NNAMDIAnd just walking around D.C. on any given day, you're apt to see a variety of working dogs. A lab helping someone get to work, German shepherds sniffing for suspect items in a train station, and an increasing number of variety of breeds aiding with anxiety.
GRIMMRight. New things like anxiety, epilepsy. I even -- for the book I visited an Alzheimer's ward in New Jersey where they actually bring cats in. And these people that are really divorced from reality, they don't remember their relatives, they don't remember who they are, this couple brings cats in. And all of a sudden these people start talking about the pets they had when they were younger. They start reconnecting with reality.
GRIMMSo these animals, even though the vast majority are pets and they don't do a whole lot anymore, there's still a large percentage of dogs especially, but some cats as well, that are performing really important roles in society.
NNAMDIThey do the work. Do they get as much out of the work as we get out of their doing it?
GRIMMWell, you know, it's interesting especially with the military working dogs. It's a bit controversial because especially when these dogs get shipped off to foreign wars, people say, you know, these dogs didn't sign up for this. They didn't know they were going to get shot at. My experience at least with these dogs and other working dogs is that especially dogs, maybe not so much cats, but dogs really like to work. They like to have jobs. And so I think they do get a sense of satisfaction over some of these roles that they play.
NNAMDICaring for these dogs, especially police and military dogs, after their work is done can be a fraught issue with questions of who pays the bills, who gets to take them home in retirement. How are those issues being worked out?
GRIMMThis is really interesting. Cats and dogs are currently property, considered legal property of the United States. In the military it's the same thing. Dogs, these military working dogs are considered equipment. And so until recently you had -- when these dogs would retire, the military would euthanize them because it would say, well this is a piece of equipment. This equipment has fulfilled its utility and now it's time to put this dog down.
GRIMMWe really started to see that change in the last couple of decades where now the military is starting to retire these dogs out so that they can live out their lives with their handlers or another human family. We've even seen unofficial medals being given to some of these dogs. And there was actually even a move in congress a couple of years ago to reclassify military working dogs from equipment to canine members of the armed services. So even in this very conservative aspect of human life, the military, we're starting to see this really interesting evolution in the status of these animals.
NNAMDIIf you called, stay on the line. We will get to your calls. If you'd like to call, the number is 800-433-8850. Got questions about how humans and animal relationship has changed overtime? Give us a call, 800-433-8850. You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Our guest is David Grimm. He's a deputy news editor at the Journal of Science. He's also author of the book "Citizen Canine: Our Evolving Relationship with Cats and Dogs," which is what we're discussing today, inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. If you work with pets as a vet groomer, dog walker, cat sitter, tell us if you've noticed a shift in how owners think or talk about their animals. You can also go to our website with your questions or comments. And we have composed there a gallery of photos of listeners' pets. You can send us yours via tweet @kojoshow or email to email@example.com. On to Chris in Gaithersburg, Md. Chris, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CHRISHey, good afternoon. You know, I think it's for the cause of the trend that people are giving more attention to what their dogs and cats are -- crave, you know, in a mental and social engagement. You know, the reliance of dog parks is great. I'm a little more suspicious of people who, you know, give their dogs weird haircuts and whatnot. But I think overall the trend is going in the right direction, that we're recognizing that these animals, you know, have needs.
CHRISAnd -- but I think we also need to remember that, you know, when we're pampering our dogs and our cats that all animals deserve compassion. You know, we treat chickens and pigs horribly but these animals just want to live a life free of unnecessary suffering. And you might've read a recent article in Scientific American and it was actually called the startling intelligence of the common chicken. I'm glad that, you know, our society is increasingly realizing that all animals deserve compassion and especially in the D.C. area with so many great vegetarian food options that, you know, we have the opportunity to choose kindness to animals three times a day.
NNAMDIDavid Grimm, extending the affection that we have for pets and animals to our eating habits, I think a lot of -- frankly a lot of people who are vegetarians, while they advocate not eating flesh tend to be a little -- how can I put this -- offensive to some people because they seem to insist that by eating flesh they're somehow being cruel to all animals.
GRIMMYeah, I mean, this is a really interesting point. We call ourselves animal lovers in this country because we have so many cats and dogs. We have, I think, twice as many -- we have more cats and dogs than we have children in this country. And we're going to spend about $60 billion on our pets this year. And yet we do make these distinctions. We really pamper our pets for the most part, but a lot of Americans don't extend those -- that same attitude toward other animals, whether it be livestock or farm animals or what have you.
GRIMMAnd I do think that's changing. Again, I do think that as we become closer with our pets we do start to realize that all other animals aren't that much different either. It's just that these are the two animals we've decided to invite into our home. So I think it would be interesting to see over the next few decades if our -- this ever closening relationship we have with our cats and dogs really does start to bleed over to other animals as well.
NNAMDIHere's another Chris, this time in Alexandria, Va. Chris, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CHRISHi. Thank you for taking my call. I've had cats my whole life but in two situations I've had a cat that, like, he ate his evening dinner and then just went out and died. Because like Jake who just passed away, he usually eats half his dinner and goes out for his evening route and comes in and eats the rest of his dinner. This time around he ate his whole dinner, went out and looked at me and never came back. Is there a way that cats die with dignity and how do they do that? Do they just starve themselves to death?
GRIMMWell, you know, it's a good question. I'm not sure I have a great answer to that but I do know that in the wild when we're talking about big cats, a lot of times when these cats die where we're talking lions or tigers or other cat relatives, I think a lot of them do die solitary. Cats, I've heard -- and I don't know how true this is -- but cats want to die alone because they don't want to be scavenged or preyed upon by other animals.
GRIMMAnd I don't know if this is just something that got passed down to house cats, it's -- you know, that's the great thing about cats and dogs as well, is that as much as we've turned these animals into members of the family, we often see these hints of their wild ancestry. And I think we may be seeing that in that situation with cats.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Chris. This email we got from Jason, "When I moved to D.C. five years ago I started listening to WAMU and quickly realized that "The Kojo Nnamdi Show" was one of my favorite programs. I got into a routine of listening to a rebroadcast every day while making dinner. And I appreciated the companionship and entertainment that Kojo and his guests would provide.
NNAMDIWhen I finally convinced my wife to adopt a feline companion as part of our family, we both knew that Kojo was the only real contender as a name. Kojo, the cat, is just as much a fan of the show and regularly hangs out in the kitchen with me when the show is on. I'm sure Kojo, the cat, will consider donating some choice toys or cat treats during the next membership drive, but please know that we both appreciate the show." And there's a photo of Kojo the cat at our website, kojoshow.org.
NNAMDIBut this brings me to David Grimm. Many pet owners think of their companions as quite smart. So on that front, let's first consider the cat. Perhaps the rap that cats get for being, well, a bit aloof may explain the trouble that you had tracking down researchers who have studied feline cognition. What did you ultimately find?
GRIMMThis was one of the big challenges of the book. You know, the book I really wanted to be split evenly between cats and dogs. And I knew I wanted to do a chapter on intelligence and cognition. I figured, well, I'd interview a few researchers that study dog intelligence. There's actually about a dozen labs in the world right now that study dogs, how they think and what they're capable of.
GRIMMAnd I figured, well, there's got to be a few labs out there that study cats. And it turns out I scoured the world and really, really had a hard time finding a scientist that studied cats. I found one guy in Italy who studies fish and he did one experiment on cats. And he told me, I did one experiment on cats. I'm never going to work on cats again.
NNAMDIWhy? It's like herding cats, right?
GRIMMThat's right. And it turns out for any of these animals I think it's fairly obvious, dogs you bring them into a laboratory and they want to play the games. You give them a treat and they'll pretty much do whatever you want. They're really excited about participating and cooperating. And a cat, you bring them in the laboratory and they really want nothing to do with anything.
GRIMMSo it's kind of a shame because in the last 15 years we've really learned a lot, a lot about dogs.
NNAMDIWhat have we learned about their capacity to learn?
GRIMMWe've learned that they're capable of things like long term memory and abstract thought, even things like jealousy and empathy. That they can outsmart chimpanzees in certain tasks, which is really remarkable considering chimpanzees are our closes relative. And we're not that closely related to dogs, but dogs actually best chimps on a few scientific tests.
GRIMMBut -- so we've learned a lot about dogs. And unfortunately, we really almost learned nothing about cats just because they're so hard to study. But as a cat owner, and I think most cat owners will tell you, that cats are very intelligent animals. They just don't like to be studied.
NNAMDIHere is Ross in Washington, D.C. Ross, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ROSSThank you. I've got two questions and it involves the interaction between the familiar and the wild. First, should anyone ever adopt a wolf cub and try to raise it? And secondly, how do I best interact with the feral cats in my back ally? Thank you.
GRIMMWell, so wolves, no, you should not adopt a wolf cub. In fact, there's been some fairly disastrous incidents of people not only trying to adopt wolves, but also trying to adopt wolf dog hybrids. I -- for the book, I visited a place called Wolf Park in Indiana where you can actually get up close and personal with gray wolves, which are the ancestors of today's dogs. And you'll find a very, very different animal.
GRIMMEven though these animals look a little bit like dogs, they're very standoffish. They can lash out at you sometimes. They're really not domesticated animals in any sense of the word, even though they do look a little bit like dogs. So adopting any sort of wild animal is a really bad idea. And there were actually experiments where people actually tried to -- scientists actually tried to take baby wolves and raise them just like dogs. They leash-trained them, they brought them to parties. And what they found was that for the first few months these animals did behave a lot like dogs. But as these animals grew up, they became often aggressive, very, very hard to control and potentially very dangerous.
GRIMMFeral cats, something similar. When if a cat is not exposed to humans in the first, I think it's four to eight weeks of its life, it becomes like a wild animal. It becomes like its wild ancestors and it really can't be brought back. And so feral cats, a lot of people take care of feral cats, which is really admirable. But when a cat's been feral for a long time, it's really very hard to make these animals pets. They're pretty much, after a while, like a wild animal.
NNAMDIYou and your wife paid about $3,000 to keep your kitten Jasper alive a few years back. And you know that 20 years ago you could not have spent that much money to save him because the kind of medical care it went toward just was not available. As these advances continue a pace, what kind of ethical and moral dilemmas are they raising, both for owners and professionals in the veterinary industry?
GRIMMYeah, the rising stats of cats and dogs has been really good for veterinarians. The vast majority are making their money from companion animals. There's a lot more procedures and services. Even when Jasper came down with kidney failure about eight years ago, he saw a nephrologist and he got CT scans and he was hooked up to IVs and got blood chemistry profiles. And all that came to about $3,000 which we were happy to spend because he had become like a member of the family and it ended up saving his life. And we still have him today, thank goodness.
GRIMMBut one of the dilemmas that this really causes for owners is it used to be 20 years ago if something happened to your pet, the pet got very sick, the veterinarian would say, well, euthanasia is really the only option. And as devastating as that was, that was an option everybody could be comfortable with. But now euthanasia is one of many options. It's euthanasia or we can try this experimental chemotherapy.
GRIMMI talked to a woman who spent $17,000 on experimental chemotherapy for her dog when he developed a tumor. And so it becomes -- and the owners, when they treat these animals like members of the family, they go, god I can't justify euthanizing this animal. This animal's like a child to me. And yet if I spent these thousands or sometimes tens of thousands of dollars, I'm going to go into the poor house.
GRIMMAnd veterinarians have a very similar dilemma. You know, should they even be offering these services to clients that they know can't afford them? Because some people do and have gone broke or mortgaged the house or sold their car just so they could keep their cat or their dog alive. So even though it's great that these animals have become like family members, it's really created a lot of dilemmas for owners and veterinarians.
NNAMDIWe got a related email from Mishta who writes, "I'm currently a pre-veterinary student and working as a veterinarian assistant at my job. I see dogs and cats getting all kinds of treatments, even getting Prozac prescriptions for anxiety. How have our relationship to our animals had an effect on the medical treatments they receive?"
GRIMMYeah, I mean, again, you know, these -- once these animals stop being animals and even stop being pets and start being family members, you want to do everything for them you do for any other family member. So if they need that radiation therapy or the chemotherapy, as long as you've got the money or sometimes even if you don't have the money, you're going to provide it, just like you would provide for any other members of the family. And even with the mental symptoms that some of us are afflicted with, we say, well, you know, I take Prozac for whatever and why shouldn't my pet have? And there's plenty of that available.
GRIMMAnd again, all this stuff is a fairly recent development. It wasn't -- you get give Prozac to your cat 20 years ago. You couldn't do a kidney transplant for your dog 20 years ago. And now these things are available.
NNAMDIOn to Mazar in Vienna, Va. Mazar, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MAZARHey, Mr. Nnamdi, how are you?
MAZARI used to live in South Arlington. There was a lot of feral cats. So what I used to do is catch them, take them to my vet, have them fixed and bring them back. Two of the cats had started coming there, you know, more and more and more and actually came into the house. And then we moved. We took the two cats and I'm telling you, those two cats, they were the best -- they were so loving it was unbelievable. They both were feral cats but they lived with me until they were almost 18 years old.
MAZARAt one time I had four dogs and four cats. And I always used to tell them, please, don't get on my bed. And by the time I'd wake up in the middle of the night, four cats were on the bed, two -- I couldn't even turn around. I thought I was sleeping with four kids because I couldn't move because they were all one here, one here, one here. And the two feral cats, they were the most loving cats I ever had. I had a border collie. My god, I wish I could say I knew some person like that. He was the most loyal dog I ever had, a wonderful dog.
NNAMDIBut what fascinates me is the experience with the feral cats, which apparently were able to adjust to becoming pets.
GRIMMYeah, you know, what I said earlier with the feral cats, these are -- what we technically call a feral cat is a cat that is actually born on the street and has very little human contact for the first few weeks of his life. Those cats, by and large, are really hard to adopt. A lot of the cats that we see on the street are actually not feral cats. They're abandoned cats. They used to be somebody's cats. And these cats actually can become great pets.
GRIMMSometimes it's a little hard to tell the difference because a former house cat can become feral on the street. The difference is a cat that was formerly a housecat can come back. It can sort of remember who it was, whereas a feral cat is sort of -- as I write in the book, is sort of lost to the wild. So this seems like a situation where possibly or probably very likely these cats were somebody's pet at some point or had some human interaction at some point and were able to remember who they were and become very great pets.
NNAMDIOn now to Donna in Cabin John, Md. Donna, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DONNAHi, Kojo. I'm a longtime animal rights activist. I could, like, talk to you forever about this. Anyway, I've been doing this for 30 years. But one thing I noticed was during the Katrina, Hurricane Katrina, there was a major shift because a lot of people didn't want to leave their homes because of their animals. And some people lost their lives because of that. And, you know, thanks to (unintelligible) and some of the other major organizations there's now been a shift toward some of these shelters accepting pets. So it's not as much of a hardship now. So, I mean, I just wanted to say that things are changing. And they're changing for the good, slowly but...
NNAMDIGlad you brought that issue up, Donna, because, David Grimm, animal rights, which Donna talked about, seems to have evolved from a right to be protected as property to something many think is nearing a kind of personhood today. What are some milestones along that route we might take special note of? And where might this notion be headed?
GRIMMWell, as I said earlier, cats and dogs are technically property in the United States, which means that legally they're no different from -- than a couch or a toaster. And this is actually an evolution of their status. A hundred years ago cats and dogs were considered so legally worthless, they weren't even considered property. You could steal a cat or a dog and nothing would happen to you.
GRIMMNow they're property. And as I write in the book, actually this -- I think this status is even evolving a bit. We've seen things like pet custody cases where a divorcing couple fight over the cat or the dog and the judge will go, well, what's in the best interest of the dog? Which home will the cat be happiest in, which we would never say for a toaster. You know, say, which home would the toaster be happiest in?
GRIMMWe have cats and dogs can inherent money now as of 2000. We have so-called emotional distress damages sometimes being granted for the owners of slaying pets and sometimes in the tens of thousands of dollars. And these damages are typically reserved for spouses and children. And in the past few years there's actually been three cases where dogs have actually been given lawyers in courts.
GRIMMSo all of this really fuzzes this definition of cats and dogs as property and suggests that they are potentially evolving out of this property status. Now that can cause a whole potential range of good, bad and bizarre consequences, as I talk about in the book. But we are definitely seeing that not only in our homes are these cats becoming more like people, but sometimes in the eyes of the law they're becoming more like people as well.
NNAMDICall your dog and he says, no wait, I have to consult with my attorney before I can come to you.
NNAMDIHere's Diane in Laurel, Md.. Diane, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DIANEHi. I just wanted to give you just a few comments. I had three lovely cats that were with me for a very long time. And over the years that I had all those three cats, they all got the diseases that they get. And unfortunately veterinary science was not able to help them. But they taught me, by opening your mind, you can see how much -- how intelligent these animals really are. For instance, I had one cat, she would follow me everywhere I went and follow and look at everything I did. I was in the shower one day and saw her watching me. And then the next day I heard the water running in the bathroom. I thought, oh, well the pipe is running.
DIANEShe was sitting on the commode and she was peeing in the commode. She saw me doing it. I never taught her that. My other cat, he gave me a mouse and pushed it towards me and wanted me to -- showed me how to play catch with him. So I think these animals are very ingenious and they are -- they should be cared for like us, because they are our responsibility. And they get the diseases and the things that we get. And we should recognize and accept that for, you know...
NNAMDIMaybe then -- maybe the home is the laboratory of the cat, because they don't like going into real laboratories.
GRIMMI think so. I think that's actually what's great about the cat videos that have taken over the Internet is a lot of us, even if we don't have dogs, have a lot of experience with dogs because we see dogs on the street or dogs in stores. And so we -- a lot of us, even if we're not dog owners, are very aware of what dogs are capable of. And now since the cat videos, I think a lot of people, even people that don't have cats, are very aware that cats are capable of being funny and bizarre and intelligent just like dogs are. We're finally getting that window into their lives.
NNAMDII won't mention our call screener's cat, because she keeps mentioning it all the time herself. David Grimm is a deputy news editor of the journal "Science" and the author of "Citizen Canine: Our Evolving Relationship with Cats and Dogs.” We're going to take a short break. If you've called, stay on the line. We'll be returning to this subject and this conversation. You can also send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Do you think of yourself as your pet's parent? If not, does it bother you when other people refer to you that way? 800-433-8850. You could shoot us a tweet @kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking with David Grimm. He's a deputy news editor of the journal "Science." We're talking about his book, "Citizen Canine: Our Evolving Relationship with Cats and Dogs." Inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. Have you faced difficult decisions about providing care for your pet? Tell us how you handled it, if so. 800-433-8850. You could send email to email@example.com. I think Wendy in Alexandria, Va., is such an individual. Wendy, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
WENDYYeah. Hi, guys. I think this is a great topic. And I'm looking forward, you know, seeing a book and all -- seeing the book. I just wanted to share because I heard the mention of Prozac. And I know it does sound crazy to a lot of people, but we had a rescue dog that -- it was -- and my background is in psych, my education and stuff and the biological side more -- so, you know, we recognized the need. And we had this rescue dog that had been severely abused and mistreated. And I mean really bad. So we had this dog in our home where, it's just like the perfect dog home. There's another dog.
WENDYShe was pretty comfortable. And then it ended up being -- I mean it was literally like six months or more of living day to day with us before we could touch the top of his head to pet him. I mean, this was like an extreme version, you know? And he had been not good as a hunt dog. And we have a problem in this area where people -- more in like a western Virginia area -- a lot of hunters use like the hound dog...
WENDY...type of beagles and stuff. And then if the animal is gun shy or isn't good at it, they just get dumped. So when we got him -- his name was Fanny -- and when we got him, he actually -- they had caught him. But he had been living feral and he was living in a trash-dump place.
NNAMDIOkay. We don't have that much time. You're going to have to cut to the chase.
WENDYOh, okay. Yes. I'm sorry. But he had actually like, parts of his body had started to die off that weren't -- because of malnutrition. So when we got him, I got to say the Prozac made the difference between him being able to be a pet and have a loving family and not. And for anybody out there that might need this option, just a heads-up about the money piece. If you get the Prozac from your vet, it's more expensive. They can write you a prescription for human Prozac, same thing, for your dog. You go and get it filled generic at your local, you know, Walgreens, CVS, whatever, and it's like more than half the price difference.
NNAMDIYeah, but in order to get it written for a human, the human should have to display some form of incapacitation, right?
WENDYIn order to get the -- well, they write it for a dog. And so the people at the pharmacy know that they are dispensing to an animal.
NNAMDIOh, okay. Here's David Grimm.
GRIMMWell, you know, I think what's fascinating about all this stuff is if, 10 years ago, 15 years ago, you had talked to -- anybody had talked about giving Prozac to their animals, I think they would have been laughed out of the room. And now we have calls like this, which are I think very valid. I think just like this medication can be very useful for some people. It's also very useful for some pets. And so the things that we laughed off, you know, whether it was the Prozac or the kidney transplants or whatever it is, are becoming much more and more socially acceptable. And I think that really parallels the rise of these animals as family members.
GRIMMIf they're members of the family, you want to treat them just like any other member of the family.
NNAMDIYeah, well, we have a nice long five-dollar word for the act of projecting characteristics onto non-human animals or objects, anthropomorphism. What potential pitfalls should we be wary of on that one?
GRIMMWell, I think at the end of the day we do have to remember that these are animals. And I think, you know, some people object to dogs being dressed as people. You know, I think if it's done out of affection, that's fine. But we do have to remember that these are essentially animals, that even though they've been with us for a long time, thousands and thousands of years, that they are not human beings. And that they're going to -- and sometimes that's great. I mean I think one of the great things about cats and dogs, as I write in the book, is it really give us this, we have so little interaction with any other animal in our lives these days, especially if we live in an urban environment.
GRIMMWe barely see any animals. We certainly don't live with any other animals. And so cats and dogs in a way are really our last lifeline to this animal past that we ourselves have. So as great as it is to treat them like people and members of the family, I think it's also awesome that they have this link to the wild, that we have this formally wild animal and still an animal that we've invited into our home and our bed. It really sort of gives us a link back to the way that we used to live thousands and thousands of years ago.
NNAMDIHere is Jean in Washington D.C. on the issue of feral cats. Jean, your turn.
JEANKojo, big fan. I am so glad to be hearing this show. I have a pet-sitting practice going back about 13 years. And I specialize in going in and taking care of people's dogs and a lot of cats in their homes. And boy can I download a lot of information to you about cats. The biggest problem with them and with -- specifically with your comment about the feral cats -- they're all different. And I've had experiences, especially lately, with feral cats, where after taking care of them occasionally for years, all of a sudden they are my new best friend.
JEANThey follow me everywhere -- I, just simply by virtue of my having -- of their having gotten used to me, of course, makes a big difference. But as best as I can tell, one of the biggest challenges with cats is that they have much more variety in terms of their disposition and personality and level of fear and willingness to accept new things, run away, go towards them, than dogs do. So...
NNAMDIFascinating observation. David Grimm, cats, according to Jean, are more complex than dogs.
GRIMMYeah, I don't know. I think that, yeah, I think it depends if you're a cat person or a dog person. I happen to be both. But I do have cats and I've lived with cats my entire life. You know, I think there's a range of personalities. There are dog breeds that are very standoffish as well, like some cats are. There are some cats that have been described as dog-like. I think Maine Coons actually have a reputation for being fairly dog-like, because they're very devoted and more likely to listen to their owners than perhaps other dog breeds. So I think we do see a range of personality actually across all cats and dogs.
NNAMDIYour focus is on U.S. culture. And we still see pretty drastic differences in the way animals are treated throughout the world. Are we getting closer to a kind of universal school of thought?
GRIMMI don't know, you know? I think that where we are in the U.S. and maybe some other developed Western countries is still very different. You know, I've done -- my wife and I have done a lot of travels in South America and places like Greece where you see dogs wandering the street at night. And you see, you know, you see a lot of feral cats, and sometimes in some of these places, especially in places like Greece. And people do not invite these animals into their homes.
GRIMMAnd these animals are very much -- even though sometimes people care for these animals -- they're not, you know, they think it's insane that we've got cats and dogs in our home and that we're spending $60 billion on them. So I think there are definitely some very stark differences between the cultures. But what's really interesting is, is where a lot of these countries are is where we were a hundred years ago or so, you know, when cats and dogs lived outdoors. They weren't inside the house. We didn't -- we thought it was sort of filthy to bring these animals inside. And we've changed. And it's possible that these other cultures will change as well.
NNAMDILisa in Bethesda, Md. Lisa, your turn. You're on the air. Go ahead, please.
LISAThanks, Kojo. Exactly on this topic, but perhaps the other side of the coin. We have talked about, you know, treating our animals like humans. But in the mix, do we forget that they are still animals? And my specific question has to do, it's the long-term tension between keeping cats totally indoors or letting them go out and enjoy their catness. So I'm really curious about your opinion on that point.
NNAMDIDavid is a cat owner. And I'm sure he has an opinion on this.
GRIMMRight. Well, you know, I may get laughed out of the room for this, but my wife and I actually -- we actually leash-trained our cats about eight or nine years ago, because we live in a very urban part of Baltimore. We did want them to be outside for that exact reason. We felt, they're cats. They should be outside. It's part of their DNA to want to be outside. But we didn't want them getting hit by cars. So we actually trained them to walk on leashes. They certainly don't walk like dogs. And we got a lot of funny looks from people in the neighborhood, but also met a lot of our neighbors that way.
GRIMMNow, we're fortunate enough to live in a place with a little courtyard. And so I still take the cats out. I keep an eye on them to try to make sure that they don't get hit by any cars or try to minimize the amount of small animals that they're killing. But I think it's a great point. I think, you know, I think cats especially -- I mean, dogs love to go outside and walk too, but I think, you know, cats -- I think it's part of their DNA to be an outside animal sometimes, or at least have exposure to the outside. The question is how do we achieve that with -- keeping their safety and potentially the safety of other animals in mind.
NNAMDIYou're absolutely right. When I was young, my mother had a tom cat that we let roam. And that boy would disappear for days at a time.
NNAMDIWhen you came back -- he came back half torn up. You had no idea where he went or what he was doing. We got an email from Ingrid who said, "I recently read "Citizen Canine" and enjoyed learning about so many different views on animal rights. I was shocked to learn that vets aren't supporting laws for animal rights based on their own self interest. Is this an across-the-board feeling?"
GRIMMThis is really interesting. Vets are in this very, very difficult situation because it's really to their advantage for us to have this familiar relationship with our cats and dogs. I was at the vet the other week and our -- Jasper actually got out of his cage. And the vet turned to Jasper and she said, it's okay, dad's going to take care of you. So it's very, you know, it's very much to their advantage. I'm obviously not going to spend $3,000 to save Jasper if I view him like a toaster. I view him like a member of the family. At the same time, vets are starting to get sued for malpractice. And when they get sued for malpractice in the courtroom, all of a sudden this animal is a toaster.
GRIMMAgain, you know, you can't -- you got this animal for $50 from a shelter. You can only sue me for $50. And then you say, well, why did I just spend $3,000 to save my animal if it's only worth $50. So, and I'm not saying any of this is right or wrong. But I think vets are increasingly in this very difficult balancing act between treating these animals like people in the clinic, but then reverting to them being something like a toaster in the courtroom.
NNAMDIOn to Doug in Silver Spring. Doug, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DOUGHi. It's interesting that this discussion should be taking place today, because just two days ago I found a video on Facebook that I shared. And it shows a Husky dog crying at the grave of its owner. And it's not howling like a dog. It's shedding tears and it's making the exact same noises that human beings make when they cry.
NNAMDIWell, are you sure about the source of that video? Because these things can be manipulated and altered.
DOUGOh, no, no, no. It's not edited. It's not -- it's not, you know, they didn't superimpose the sounds afterwards. It's obviously the dog crying because you can hear the person who's petting the dog saying, yes, we miss her too.
NNAMDIAnd tears coming from the dog's eyes.
GRIMMWell, you know, again, you know, I think the more time we spend with these animals, the more they become members of the family, I think we -- it really breaks down the barriers between what, you know, we're capable of and what we think that they're capable of. And it helps to really turn these animals into family members to see that they're capable of a lot of the same emotions, feelings, even thoughts that then, that we are.
NNAMDIOn therefore to Dorothy in Washington D.C. Dorothy, you are now on the air. Go ahead, please. Well, you're not quite, but you are now, Dorothy.
DOROTHYI was -- thank you. Thank you for taking this call. I was in northern England a couple of years ago and I was amazed to see dogs hopping on the bus with their owners and sitting on their laps, you know. So you wonder when will we, in America, begin to be more possible with dogs getting on the Metro.
GRIMMYeah, I mean, we're definitely seeing that. We're seeing much more increasingly airlines allowing dogs on, trains allowing dogs. I think the Amtrak just has a few -- added a few corridors where now pets can ride on trains. We're seeing restaurants and other places of business allowing dogs in that didn't allow dogs in before. Again, I think this all reflects the changing status of these animals in society as they become more like family not only in our homes but in the eyes of the law. We're also seeing them become more like people in society. And that means them having access to a lot of things that people have access to.
NNAMDIAmtrak will say, the dog can ride but his attorney cannot.
NNAMDIWe don't want to be sued. Since their domestication, final question, it seems cats and dogs -- we've talked about it -- have fallen in and out of favor in various societies over the centuries. Are we seeing that cycle hit another extreme right now? Or is this something entirely new? You have about 30 seconds.
GRIMMWell, I think it's a great question. I mean, our -- I think we're at a very special part of our history right now. I think these animals have never been more valued, both legally and in our homes, than they've ever been in human history. I have a hard time believing they're going to go back to any sort of previous status. Maybe if there's a nuclear winter, then maybe...
NNAMDIOn to the 12th century.
GRIMMThat's right -- maybe these animals will lose their status again. But I have a hard time believing even that is going to break this very solid bond we've formed with our cats and dogs.
NNAMDIDavid Grimm, thank you so much for joining us.
NNAMDIDavid Grimm is a deputy news editor at the journal "Science" and the author of the book "Citizen Canine: Our Evolving Relationship with Cats and Dogs." And thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIComing up tomorrow on The Politics Hour, federal judges clear a path for same-sex marriage in Virginia. Maryland's comptroller rolls out an effort to extend summer break for students. And D.C. moves to sell a troubled housing complex in southeast Washington. The Politics Hour, tomorrow at noon on WAMU 88.5 and streaming at kojoshow.org. And for listeners in Ocean City, Md., it's Coastal Connection with Bryan Russo.
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