Choke Chains

Nozomi and I were enjoying our morning walk when we heard a yelp come from behind some nearby bushes. A few seconds later, we heard it again. A young dog was being walked and, every time he’d stop to sniff at something, the person with him would yank on the oppressive leash and cause the puppy to cry out in pain. It’s not often I see people using choke chains in Japan. If it were up to me, they’d be taken off the market. Unfortunately, I don’t get a say in the matter.

Perhaps I’ve gotten soft in my years away from farming, but I see no valid reason to inflict pain on an animal that is doing nothing wrong. If the purpose of the pain is to encourage a side-by-side walk at the pace set by the human, then there are far better training methods that can be employed. If the pain is just a consequence of the leash and is unnecessary, then a retractable nylon leash attached to a harness — like Nozomi has — would give both walkers a little bit of freedom while stretching their legs. If the pain is because the guy walking the dog is an asshole, then he shouldn’t have the luxury of looking after the animal.

Growing up in rural Canada, I met a lot of people who saw animals as property that could be on the receiving end of physical abuse for years before becoming dinner. They never thought twice about kicking an animal because it was making noise or standing in their path. I also met a lot of very empathetic people who would never dream of causing distress in a creature, be they livestock or a furry member of the family. These two groups couldn’t be further apart in how they think about living organisms, and it strikes me as odd that anyone with the responsibility of looking after an animal does not — or cannot — empathize with them on some level. While a dog, goat, or cow is not nearly as sentient as a human1 they do show signs of having emotions and feeling pain just like we do.

Am I just anthropomorphizing? Are dogs and other creatures below us on the food chain just “dumb animals” that needn’t be tested with any respect or fairness? Human psychology does tend to attribute emotions and traits to just about anything. We do this with our toys and tools all the time. Animals have the added element of volition, which makes it much easier to perceive a consciousness that may not actually be there. One could reasonably argue that consciousness is not necessarily present in every human, though.

There have been times where I’ve been frustrated and impatient with Nozomi, particularly on days when work assignments are due and she wants to sniff every blade of grass in the park, but I’ve never intentionally caused her pain. I couldn’t do that, no matter what she may do2. Given that this part of the world is generally tame and domesticated, I wish more could share the philosophy. There are times when it makes sense to cause pain, such as when retaliating to an attack. The rest of the time, though, it’s better to form a relationship with the animal and encourage the behaviour we want with an understanding that we’re training a mind that may not always be as developed as our own.

Am I just naïve?

  1. So far as we know, anyway. Sentience is a really hard thing to measure.

  2. She’s done a lot of naughty things over the years, but she’s (almost) always been good.