The growing tendency to define a range of
human behaviors as diseases or pathologies is by now well
known. Individuals who were once considered egotistical or
conceited now have a "narcissistic personality disorder.
People with bad tempers have "intermittent
explosive disorder. " Children who are easily distracted,
overly rowdy or who have a hard time focusing on their schoolwork
have "attention deficit disorder" and often receive
prescriptions of Ritalin or Prozac.
The list goes on and on.
As one author put it, "In our culture,
it is assumed that a little bit of therapy is good for everyone.
Including our pets.
Pet therapy is a growth industry in the United
States. The emphasis on emotions and self-esteem, the reliance
on pacifying medications to "balance" certain chemical
and psychological "disorders," the crank spiritualism
and the alternative healing - it's all there. Only not for
you, but for your pets.
As psychologist Tana Dineen, a sharp critic
of pet therapy, explains, "Many of these so-called therapists
operate in ways similar to those who provide alternative medicine
for a variety of human conditions. " Warren Eckstein,
in Santa Monica, Calif., is one of the most renowned animal
therapists. He claims to enjoy telepathic contact with animals
by reading their "parapsychology and body language. "
Carol Gurney, who describes herself as an
"Interspecies Communicator and Bodywork Therapist for
Animals," uses interspecies telepathy to resolve emotional
problems in animals and to rescue animals that have been abused
As Dineen describes it, pet therapy is not
restricted to these alternative methods. Pets also benefit
from the more mainstream self-help movement and the most popular
genre in American culture, the self-help book.
Veterinarian Nicholas Dodman, the author of
two self-help pet books, The Cat Who Cried for Help and The
Dog Who Loved Too Much, says that animals can suffer from
psychiatric disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorders
or schizophrenic behaviors. Dodman routinely prescribes kitty
doses of Prozac as treatment.
People love pets, so much so that cats and
dogs come to feel like members of the family.
But the growth of pet therapy is evidence
that society has allowed sentiment to pervert reason, emotions
to trump perspective.
Putting children on Prozac is bad enough -
and often destructive to the development of character. But
putting pets on Prozac is downright wacky.
It suggests a total loss of perspective on
the uses and scope of medical science and therapy, an irrational
understanding of the relationship between humans and animals,
and a narcissistic effort to impose humanity's own disorders
on beings that do not know any better, its pets.
It explains how animal rights activist Ingrid
Newkirk, founder of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
(PETA), can compare the killing of chickens to the human slaughter
during the Holocaust: "Six million Jews died in concentration
camps, but 6 billion chickens will die this year in slaughterhouses.
" Another animal-rights organization, Envirolink, has
gone so far as to draft its own Bill of Rights for Animals.
The first article: "All animals are born with an equal
claim on life and the same rights to existence. "
These are extreme examples, perhaps, but they
exist in a culture increasingly dominated by sentiment rather
Of course, people's feelings are important.
But the result of a world governed by raw emotion is that
we lose the ability to make distinctions. they lose perspective.
Some people are so swept away by abstract
forms of humanitarianism that we lose sight of difficult trade-offs
and the unintended consequences of actions and policies. We
begin to compare killing chickens for dinner to human genocide.
Mankind isn't there yet; but pet therapy is
another example that our society, or segments within it, are
increasingly detached from reality. We are left to wonder:
THE INDIANAPOLIS NEWS December 16, 1998 Pg.