The Animal’s Almanac: On Dogs (1807)
February 15, 2012 2 Comments
I’ve been reading a fascinating historical document. It’s a book, published in 1807 in Philadelphia, called The General Character of the Dog: Anecdotes of that Beautiful and Useful Animal. The author, Joseph Taylor, aimed to highlight “various instances of sagacity and faithful attachment” that he observed among members of the canine species. He did so, he explained, to “prevent future mistreatment.”
A sample quote: “When I see the several actions and designs of my Dog, I profess it is impossible to avoid being amazed. His passions are more quiet than those of many men. There are some [men] whose joy or grief at accidents, give them so little emotion , and are so dull, as to render it difficult to say which it is that affects them: but, in this honest animal, both are lively and strong. When any of the family return home, he discovers great gladness in caressing and skipping about them, and seems dull and concerned at their going out.” (12)
The logic behind Taylor’s intention is worth appreciating: he was writing about the emotional and intellectual lives of dogs in order to prevent humans from abusing them. In so doing, Taylor was affirming an important truth—the more we know about the inner lives of non-human animals, the more inclined we are to behave in a way that’s consistent with their intrinsic worth. Much of our instrumentalist approach to animals is due to the simple fact that we know so little about them. What was true in 1807 is, alas, still true today.