Wednesday, September 12, 2012

In Dog We Trust?

Does the intense love and devotion that some people have for animals rise to the level of a religion?  The other day I wrote about the epic internet flame war that has erupted over the various “Dog Hater” Facebook pages, blogs and websites.  It’s apparent to me that many of these people contemplate dogs, and perhaps dog owners, as deities given that they flat out claim the same to be fundamentally superior to the rest of us.  For what can be greater than Man?  GOD(s).  It is clear to me that at least some dog lovers practice idolatry (worship).  They idolize dogs, dog owners, perhaps even themselves for owning a dog.

Before I go any further, I want to limit the scope of this discussion.  This is a blog about animal control issues and policies NOT religion.  If you want to get into a long discussion about the origin of the universe, you need to do that somewhere else.  That said, the topic of animal worship is of some interest given that it may impact animal control policies going forward.

I had a commenter ask why I put quotes around the word “religion” in a blog post the other day.  Why indeed?  I hadn’t thought about it much until someone else pointed that out to me.  Again, words can be powerful things and sometimes a small nuance can make a big difference.  And, this point is VERY important, particularly if you are going to craft public policy. 

For example, if you were to go to a county planning meeting and make reference to some sort of dog “religion” your proverbial foot may wind up in your mouth.  Individuals and organizations hostile to your policy position may indeed call you out on that, essentially demanding:  “If that’s a religion, where are their churches?  What are their rituals?  Do they have IRS status?  May I review a copy of their scriptures?” etc…  Keep reading as I expand on that in more detail later in this essay.

Animal worship is technically known as “Zoolatry” and was a center-piece in many ancient religions.  However, it is rejected by most modern organized religions.  Here is a Wiki article with more information.

One interesting note from the opening page of the Wiki article:  “Lubbock proposed that animal-worship originated from family names. In societies, families would name themselves and their children after certain animals and eventually came to hold that animal above other animals. Eventually, these opinions turned into deep respect and evolved into fully developed worship of the family animal (Lubbock, 2005, p. 253).

Interesting phrase “fully developed worship of the family animal”.  Hmmm… where have I seen THAT before?

Now, is the fervent behavior and related belief system we are encountering in our neighborhoods, town halls, and internet forums a true religion?  I used the term “religion” to describe the behavior of the extreme dog lovers I encountered due to the following observations:
-          They have a faith based belief system.
-          They have objects of worship (idols).
-          They attempt to convert others (proselytize) to that faith.

All of the above are proto-typical indicators of a religion.  Thing is, it is ALSO my understanding that those by themselves do not fully qualify a modern religion.  Modern religions should ALSO have at least most of the following:
-          Formal organizational/institutional structure.
-          Formal documents and scriptures.
-          Formal rites, rituals, and ceremonies.
-          Clergy.
-          Formal recognition by the government (i.e. tax exempt status).
-          Buildings and land (churches, sacred sites, etc..).
-          Etc…

It’s also my observation that the western “Temple of the Dog” lacks the above formalities.  They don’t have an organizational structure, they don’t have any formal scriptures, they don’t have any formal ceremonies, they don’t have clergy, they don’t have churches, they are not formally recognized by the government, etc…  

There ARE a handful of organized religious sects that DO formally worship dogs.  Consider the “Dog” section of the previously mentioned Wiki article.  However, I don’t think that is what we are encountering on Facebook and in our neighborhoods:  While formal dog worship exists, it is rare, particularly in western societies.  I seriously doubt that some tiny, obscure Hindu Sect in Nepal is organizing and executing the flood of spam, trolls and the avalanche of “counter hate” we are encountering.  I also seriously doubt those same sects are making death threats and notifying the American CIA of the dog disliker activities!

Again, this is not a religious site.  I’m not an anthropologist or a religious scholar.  Where simple belief systems end and religions begin is debatable.  For example, I believe USPS is going to deliver my mail today… is that a religion?  It isn’t because I do not consider postal workers to be fundamentally superior to the rest of us.   

So, with all of that said, do the activities, beliefs and zeal of the western dog fanatic technically qualify as a religion?  In a very primitive way, I would say that it IS a religion.  However, from a modern public policy viewpoint it IS NOT a religion.  For it to be formally considered as such it needs to organize and institutionalize.  Again, from a public policy viewpoint this distinction is VERY important.

Who know, it may organize into a formal religion at some point in the future…

Temple of the Dog.  Coming to a street corner near YOU!


  1. I think that a lot of the extreme dog worshippers have experienced problems in their relationships with other people. So, they turn to dogs instead.

    And what could be better than some creature that acts like it worships you? Especially when you feed it?

  2. Thankyou Bill for this article. You have brought up some very interesting points. I'd like to comment on SOME things if I may, but I am wary that you have laid boundaries that are grey. That said, this is great food for thought and I will probably like to further expound on these elsewhere. Not wanting to offend, but hopefully you'll allow me a little freedom of speech here to say this much....

    I agree that words ARE important. VERY important. I don't agree that dealing with the authorities is the only place this holds true, NOR that the authorities are all that should be considered in this. As Ive said, I'm NOT a shining scholar, therefore I allow others to correct me graciously if that correction is warranted and offered in the right tone, and I would hope others will allow me the same privilege. I'm sure that's fair.

    You say this is not a religious blog, and that's your prerogative, its your blog, I respect that, but I see a little inconsistency here Bill. I would like to respectfully suggest that because people right across the board (no matter what their beliefs), are seeing this doggie thing, and then describing it with a plethora of spiritual terms, then it surely it warrants discussion about spiritual matters, including but not limited to the word religion. Your article here is strongly indicative of this.

    So on the one hand you are putting up commentary about spiritual matters but you've put the brakes on in allowing people to comment about those same spiritual matters. Even your title, "In dog we trust" similar to a post I put up on BDS which, in its contents said "for the love of dog", in its VERY NATURE shows what this article is about. I'm asking you right out, why mention God and/or insinuations of Him then put the brakes on how people can comment?

    Why stifle spiritual commentary on your spiritual article? Even if you don't, (which is totally your right) what if others find respite and answers from its exploration? As long as its not trolling, inflammatory or stalking or anything else that's despotic, isn't that true freedom of speech?


  3. Note to people who bought dogs to compensate for inadequate "people skills". Dogs are divisive and can ruin remaining relationships. If I had a girlfriend who suddenly brought home a dog of any model, I'd be gone that minute no questions answered. Eventually, the dog idolator ends up staying home to babysit that dog, unable to go out for any length of time - until the person takes it everywhere and ruins public spaces for people who prefer humans over dogs.

    For anyone in a relationship, be advised to take heed if you ask the other and say no to getting a dog. You may end up alone with your pet.

  4. "Eventually, the dog idolator ends up staying home to babysit that dog, unable to go out for any length of time - until the person takes it everywhere and ruins public spaces for people who prefer humans over dogs."

    To be fair, Ive seen this with cat people too, (the not going out for too long) and doesn't it brass you off when you go to something like an open day in the middle of town for classic cars, or a public function somewhere, and there's a damned dog peeing on your wheel or something. I've heard people say "why the hang do they have to bring their flipping dogs here?" or "Isnt there ANYWHERE we can go without having annoying mutts around you invading your space".


    1. The two anonymous posters illustrate why so many of us are wary of getting involved with people who have pets. Quite often, we find that the relationship we hope to have with the pet-people takes a back seat to the one they have with their pets.

    2. My anonymity is not because of me being wary of getting involved (that is, if you mean confrontational)with any pet owner. However that being the case, if thats what you do mean, then I agree, not many people stand up to these idiots for one reason or another.

      Im anon because I still hold to privacy values and like wise I dont like how google wants to know everything about you and the other options in the box have issues, like LJ and Wordpress.

      I'm not totally anonymous. Im JJ and am known to some of the veterans of the whole insidious doggie issues. You are so right about the back seat thing. AKA putting their animals BEFORE people. SELFISHNESS. Its just standard fare, but as Bill so aptly intimates, it takes on a new special impetus ALL OF ITS OWN when its doggie woggies.