Lessons from Darwin, The IKEA Monkey

instagramInstagram random photo/Screen capture

Darwin the IKEA monkey was the biggest, most viral story to come out of Toronto since Rob Ford. TreeHugger never covers rarely stoops to prefers to wait and carefully consider sensational animal stories, and the story of Darwin actually raises some interesting questions.

A Globe and Mail editorial looks at some of the issues that come up when people start treating pets like children, as the owner, Toronto real estate agent Yasmin Nakhuda clearly did, complaining to TV news that she wants him back and expects Darwin to reciprocate.

If I walk into that room, let him choose. Does he want to come to me or go to that other monkey mom? How do we know what he needs unless he's given the right to choose.

The editors complain:

You only have to Google the words “fur kids” to see the extent to which pets in North America are treated as members of the human family. Dogs and cats no longer go to the kennel; they go to “day care.” They dress up for Halloween and are given birthday and Christmas gifts. Pet food companies routinely refer to pet owners as “parents” in their advertising and press releases.

Peter Scowen in the Globe goes further, noting that where animals were once considered soulless, that other Darwin, Charles, changed the world view of their place in the world vs ours.

It wasn’t until the 1970s, though, that animal rights became a moral concern for the broader culture. The 1975 book Animal Liberation, by the Australian philosopher Peter Singer, became the bible of a movement that sought to stop the abuse of animals in farming, in research and in the clothing industry.... Pet humanism is an obvious offshoot of this evolution.

Scowen interviews Helen Hobbs, who runs a pet cremation service and deals with people who are treating their pets as people every day. She thinks that technology has changed the way we talk to people, but that we have a truer relationship with pets.

“Technology is driving people apart,” she said, referring to a world in which everyone has their nose buried in computers and smartphones, and texting is an acceptable way to break off a relationship. Pets, who have not yet been identified as part of the smartphone market, offer “a more pure connection,” she says.

Scowen points to a fascinating thesis by Jill Johnson of the University of Waterloo, Place of the Family Pet and Attitudes about Pet Keeping. Johnson notes that pets are not only kid replacements, but substitute spouses:

Another recent study actually compared the relationships people had with their pets and those with their romantic partners, and found that participants felt more secure in their relationships with their animal companions than their partners (Beck and Madresh 2008). The authors offer several possible reasons for this; the pet-human relationship is usually less complicated, can be very fulfilling, and pet owners can exert more control over their pets.

mungkeUnknown source/Screen capture

Darwin, the monkey that launched a thousand memes, is now in a primate sanctuary northeast of Toronto, where according to the National Post, “He’s not mourning his human mother at all."

Is your pet treated like a kid or a spouse?

jasperLloyd Alter/ Jasper/CC BY 2.0

We have a dog in our house; the two of us tolerate each other. My wife talks Jasper as if he is a child, makes goo-goo eyes at him and has a Christmas stocking for him. I think it's totally weird. If I had any choice, I would vote for option 3 in the poll here, but what about you?

Lessons from Darwin, The IKEA Monkey
We now treat our pets like our kids or our spouses. Is this a healthy thing?

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