GUY RAZ, host:
Welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.
For more than 20 years, the psychologist Hal Herzog's been going to the circus and hanging out at dog fights, trudging through meat processing plants, all in the quest to learn more about how we humans interact with animals.
And he's put together those experiences into a book, a book that asks the basic question: Why are dogs pets in some places and dinner in others?
The book is called "Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It's So Hard to Think Straight About Animals." So, why is it?
Mr. HAL HERZOG (Author, "Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It's So Hard to Think Straight About Animals"): I think it's a classic combination of nature and nurture. And I think that we have some animals in our homes, for example puppies and kittens, because they bring out our maternal and parental urges because they're just so darn cute.
They've got those big eyes, those soft features, and they remind us of little children. So they're sort of irresistible.
Mr. HERZOG: The other thing is, it's not just that we don't eat dog, it's the idea of eating dog is absolutely revolting. Dogs have been brought into our homes. They sleep in our beds, in many case, they eat at the table. We dress them in clothes. You can buy beer for your dog now that's non-alcoholic, by the way. And so the idea of eating a dog is almost like eating a kid. It would be a form of cannibalism.
RAZ: I mean, there's plenty of sort of data, there have been studies looking into why certain animals are cute, right? Like, why do we love pandas? Because pandas have these really great eyes, and they're shaped in a specific, particular way, even though they're vicious animals, and they will tear you apart if you get anywhere near them.
The same with cats, right? I mean, we have cats in my house, and we love them. But then, a chicken, no problem. Let's cut its head off and put it on the dinner plate.
Mr. HERZOG: Yeah. There was a study done in Europe, and they found that the biggest single factor on how people felt about the protection of endangered species was how big its eyes were.
RAZ: Which is why everyone goes to see the bears and the lemurs and the monkeys at the zoo.
Mr. HERZOG: Absolutely. I think it's the reason why people get so bent out of shape about, say, the clubbing of baby seals, which for my mind are the cutest animals on Earth.
RAZ: They're pretty cute.
Mr. HERZOG: And care so little about the giant Chinese salamander, which is 100-pound, 6-foot bag of brown slime with little beady eyes, but very, very endangered. It's the world's largest amphibian.
RAZ: Right. So we should feel like hypocrites when we say, oh, yeah, that's just go ahead and club that one. But when we look at a seal, and right? I mean, there's this hypocrisy that we all kind of share.
Mr. HERZOG: I stopped using the word hypocrisy while I was writing this book. I think of it now as the human condition. And I think these issues really transcend our relations with animals. They apply to so much of human moral life.
RAZ: I want to talk about some of the specifics you point out in the book with respect to chickens and roosters. Now, roosters, there are roosters that are groomed for cockfighting. You actually went and spent time observing this, which must have been pretty hard to see, and then you compare those roosters and their lives to broiler chickens that we eat every night. Both, you say, suffer equally terrible fates. How so?
Mr. HERZOG: Actually, I don't think that they suffer the same fates. I think a McDonald's chicken actually suffers a much worse fate, and I suspect you would be with me on this if I described the life of a game rooster and the life of a McDonald chicken for a variety of reasons.
One, is your life will be much, much longer compared to the maybe 42 to 49 days of a McDonald chicken. A gamecock lives a couple years. Furthermore, even the manner of their death is actually less grizzly and less painful in many ways than the death of a McDonald chicken.
Now, this is in no way to argue that cockfighting should be legal. I don't think it should be legal. But on the other hand, it is a bit of a paradox that people get so bent out of shape about fighting roosters, when the suffering of chickens is probably the world's greatest animal welfare problem.
The never see the sun nor sky. They live in these giant grill houses with a heavy load of ammonia in the atmosphere. It's a miserable life.
RAZ: This eggect astounded me in your book, that Americans have gone from eating a half-pound of chicken a year during the administration of Herbert Hoover to nearly 90 pounds a year now.
Mr. HERZOG: It's absolutely extraordinary. And the biggest paradox, one of the most surprising things that I found, is that in 1975, Peter Singer wrote this extraordinary book, "Animal Liberation."
RAZ: "Animal Liberation," right?
Mr. HERZOG: Yeah. And he made the case for taking the moral status of animals seriously, and the book had an enormous impact. However, since that time, in 1975, Americans ate three billion animals a year. Now, we eat 10 billion animals a year.
Mr. HERZOG: So as our desire to protect animals and to love them and to give them more equal treatment has increased, so has our desire to eat their flesh. The sad fact is that the movement to moralize meat has been a spectacular failure.
RAZ: I'm speaking with Hal Herzog. He's the author of "Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It's So Hard to Think Straight About Animals."
After doing all the research that you did for the book, are you considering whether to give up meat?
Mr. HERZOG: No. I think I've made my peace with meat. What I do is I try and eat responsibly. I'm willing to pay more for meat that I feel is humanely raised. I eat less meat than I used to.
You know, one of the arguments that I make in my book is that people are going to make their peace with these issues in different ways. I think people ought to do what they can to help animals, and some of that is going to be big ways, and some of it is going to be small ways.
RAZ: What about sort of animal therapy, you know, putting animals in old age homes or sending kids who are sick to go swim with dolphins? You write about that. Is there any evidence to suggest that that works? I mean, our cats seem to make us pretty happy. Has that been sort of definitively proved?
Mr. HERZOG: It depends on the way that you ask the question. Take for example dolphin therapy. That has not been definitively proved. And my view is that the claims made for dolphin therapy are all over the place: cure autistic kids, treat cancer, spinal injuries, Down's syndrome.
And the reviews of the handful of studies that have tried to actually assess the effect have basically been very low quality. They don't have a very large sample size. They usually don't have control groups. And the researchers that have carefully looked at these studies have pretty much concluded, and I agree with them, that there's no evidence that dolphin therapy actually has long-term beneficial effects.
On the other hand, there are studies that clearly show that for example, bringing animals into nursing homes and prisons and stuff like that can improve morale. The other problem, though, is in fact, I just went online and looked for studies showing that pets made people live longer.
And I found a lot of sort of websites that made that claim. And then I sent messages to my colleagues, researchers in the field, a whole slew of them, and said, do you know of a single study that has actually shown this? And the answer is no.
There's very little evidence that owning a pet actually makes people happier, even though I feel like my pet, you know, makes my life happier. I'm glad I have her. But on the whole, the happiness of pet owners is not greater than the happiness of non-pet owners.
RAZ: That's Hal Herzog. He is a professor of psychology at Western Carolina University. His new book is called "Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It's So Hard to Think Straight About Animals."
Hal Herzog, thank you so much.
Mr. HERZOG: It's been a pleasure, Guy.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.