Editor’s Note: This post is the first publication for a new blog within Avonews Online, currently titled “The 11%”.
Current Avonews staff falling within the district’s statistics for minority population are invited to add perspectives, reflections, and commentary in a platform centered within a minority viewpoint.
Gbemi Odebode, class of 2025:
In the tale almost as old as time, dogs have been man’s best friend. Our relationship with the four-legged creatures began centuries ago, with some anthropologists believing that we as a species may have co-evolved after long periods of cohabitation. The consumer markets surrounding canines is ginormous and estimated to be worth billions of dollars. Whether through merchandise, advertising, restaurant quality food, or media, in America and the Western world, dogs are loved.
This unique relationship with our furry friends is not universally shared and was among many cultural characteristics that startled me most living in America. I could not understand why my classmates could be brought to tears by a movie where dogs are abandoned but lacked the sympathy and care to treat their peers with respect. What was it about dogs that evoked such strong emotion among Americans?
In Nigeria, it is true that dogs are kept as pets, but more so as utilities. They’re expected to guard the home, sleep outside, and eat leftovers from what the family consumes. This was the relationship with dogs that I had always known. Although I did not grow up in Nigeria, this was my expectation of pets. My family never had dogs because we had no need to protect our house that way, and kids were work enough.
From an outsider’s perspective, Westerners treat their dogs with more than human levels of decency. They bathe them, clothe them, speak to them like their children, and go out of their way to treat them with respect. In many families, dogs have their own beds, eat with the family at dinner, and are even kissed on the mouth. To me, this level of integration was unimaginable.
To my peers, my indifference to the creatures was almost startling. They could not understand why I felt no longing or sadness for never having owned one. In fact, I was even a little afraid of them. It was almost blasphemy. Dogs are seen as the epitome of kindness, loyalty, and fraternity, key American values dating back to the Revolutionary War. Although the animals’ relationship with humans predates the existence of our country, they are intricately woven into our history.
While values vary between societies, upon deeper inspection, one cannot help but be startled by the degree to which Americans love their pets. People are more willing to purchase clothes, donate money, and provide aid to animal shelters than to other human beings in need. This was especially striking when, during the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022, there was a fund set up to pay for the evacuation of dogs in Ukraine, left by their owners, before there was one for the African students who were stranded, studying there. Each year billions of dollars are poured into funding animal research rather than diseases that afflict our fellow citizens.
The love one has for a pet is reflective of their ability to love at all. Loving your pet is by no means a character flaw, nor is it mutually exclusive to respecting others. However, next time you stop to greet a stranger’s dog, or are brought to tears by a sad ad on television, I urge you to ask yourself: would I care this much about another human being? Dogs may be man’s best friend, but should that come above the value of other men? Animals should not be treated with more decency and respect than we, as Americans, are willing to treat each other, and we as humans are willing to treat each other. Love your pets, but love your people first. If we can’t love other human beings, then are we truly capable of loving at all?