The Human Tendency to Anthropomorphize

Webster’s Dictionary defines the word  anthropomorphize as: “to attribute human form or personality to things not human”.  It is human nature to anthropomorphize especially in our relationships with animals.  How many times do you see dogs dressed in little clothes, or do you try to understand your pet or another animal by looking through “human eyes” or giving them “human thoughts”?

When you are a caregiver for prey animals such as cattle and horses, it is very important to not anthropomorphize because cattle and horses cannot think or act like humans.   Prey animals think and act very differently from humans because their survival depends on it.  In addition to being genetically “wired” very differently than humans, prey animals are not as intelligent and are incapable of viewing the world as a human would.  They live in the present (not dwelling on things that have past) and cannot at all imagine the future.

To be effective when I handle my cattle, I must “think like a calf”.  That takes quite a bit of practice and focus, and has to be learned through experience.  But, once you educate yourself and are able to “think like a calf” it is so much easier to ensure that the calf is comfortable in his world because you understand what is important to him.  For example, if I offer my animals a comfortable resting place in which they feel safe (a low stress environment), a good source of feed and water, and room to play and interact with herd mates; that is what is important to them.  That group of calves does not care if the resting place is a dirt-based pen or a pasture of grass because all of their needs are being met in either scenario.  Now, as a human I can easily admit that a pretty green grass pasture is more romantic than a cattle feedyard pen, but a calf does not think like that.  A calf cares about survival not aesthetic beauty.

The key to good animal care is understanding your animals and developing the ability to “think like them”.  That ensures animal comfort and, in my opinion, opens the door to true humane care.

So, what is the purpose of this post?  The primary purpose is not to define a really impressive word that you can dazzle your relatives with your intelligence when you use it…although, that can be fun!  The primary purpose of this post is to alert you to the fact that humane care must be defined on the animal’s level.  The animal is, after all, the one that will receive the care.  And, as I pointed out above, a calf is incapable of thinking like a human.


Filed under Animal Welfare, CAFO

7 responses to “The Human Tendency to Anthropomorphize

  1. I recently read Michael Pollan’s book The Omnivores Dilemma. In it he states that there are individuals that think animals have as many or more rights than incapacitated humans. Mr. Pollan went as far as to say that inhumane treatment of animals is more detrimental to them than slavery was to humans.

    I understand and practice compassion for animals, and animal husbandry, but animals are not humans and should not have human rights. It is these types of ideas that make our society subject to concentration and POW camps, and threaten terrorist attacks.

  2. Hi Anne,
    Great post. It’s often difficult to try to explain to people that the way animals think and feel is very different than how you or I would. You put it into words which I’m sure most people can make sense of. I’ll be sharing this with my friends, thanks!

  3. Ron

    I just subscibed to this blog. I can see I am going to like it very much and be passing much of this knowledge to my 4 kids, all highly educated in eastern schools. You can imagine what they have been taught.

  4. Carol

    Great article, Anne. I saw on the news tonight that the term “pet” is no longer politically correct and is considered demeaning. They are to be referred to as companions. Yes, I do appreciate their company, but this is more anthropomorphism. Robyn is right. This type of thinking doesn’t benefit the animals that we have the responsibility of caring for and it decreases the value of human life.

    • Candace Ware

      Carol, your last sentence is soooo powerful. Spot on.

      There is yet another component to the phenomenon you describe, as well.

      The effort to force a change from pet to “animal companion” parallels the effort to move from “owner” to “guardian,” and they are prongs in the same attack. The goal is so much more than just a politically correct vocabulary. AR groups hope to muddy traditional relationships and definitions, and thus smooth the path to changing LEGAL relationships and definitions. If you “own” a “pet”, that means something legally. It’s much harder to take away your rights over that animal. If you are a “guardian” to an “animal companion”? Not as hard, not by a long shot. Especially since they are also manipulating the meaning of such terms as “humane”, “abuse” and “neglect.” Google “guardian controversy” to learn more.

      And Anne, love your blog. Looking forward to reading more.

  5. Jessica

    Thank you, thank you, thank you, for starting this blog!! I too live and work on a cattle feedyard (ours is a grower operation, not a finish yard) and love to spread the word on what ACTUALLY goes on in reputable cattle operations. Our media is plagued with images and articles from PETA and other similar organizations that only represent the exception and not the rule when it comes to those who raise livestock. The two points you make that I love in this post are:
    “That group of calves does not care if the resting place is a dirt-based pen or a pasture of grass because all of their needs are being met in either scenario.” and also “humane care must be defined on the animal’s level” This point should be made to all of those who think that we should ONLY eat grass fed/free range animals, because it’s “more humane.” Not to mention, the fact that we couldn’t sustain the world’s population with only “naturally” and “organically” raised animals and crops.
    Keep up the great work!!!

  6. Hi, I stumbled on this webpage from stumbleupon. This isn’t not something I would typically read, but I liked your spin on it. Thank you for creating something worth reading!

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