Part Wild – An Extremely Apt Title

Ceiridwen’s experience and records of living with and raising a wolf-dog mix offer insight into the difference between a tame animal and a domesticated one.  Based on this reading I would argue that cats as a whole cannot be called domesticated, though many individuals act domesticated.

Ceiridwen’s wolfdog, Inyo, is tame.  She is relatively calm around people and doesn’t attack them, even when provoked.  Inyo was able to be trained and kept as a pet, but still retained behaviors attributed to wolves.  Hiding her food for times of hunger, and howling rather than barking, Inyo was by no means completely domesticated.  There are a variety of breeds of wolf dog, some of which have surprising features.

220px-Czechoslovakian-wolfdog-profile_big(Czechoslovakian Wolfdog)

220px-Llop(Arctic Wolf/ Malmute Hybrid

220px-Kunming_Dog(Kunming wolfdog)

Inyo’s independence and lack of blind obedience lend credence to one of the breeder’s statements that, “Dogs are retarded wolves.”  I was reminded by this of how cats act in comparison to dogs.  While dogs are blindly loving and relatively obedient, barring abuse, cats are more independent, aloof, and far less trainable.  Cats act more like the wolfdog hybrids, tolerating and even being fond of people, but retaining their own agendas.  As a whole cats would be better described as a species that adapted itself to a niche opened up by people, rather than as domesticated.

One suggestion that arose in class as to how wolves had been domesticated was that the wolves adapted themselves to live around humans.  This idea was supported in the reading by the idea of genetic tameness preceding full domestication.  This would also support the idea that wolves were domesticated in different areas at different times.  This would also explain how different researchers determined that dogs had been domesticated in both the Middle East and China.  I do find it dubious that dogs were domesticated in China as food animals, as they’d be horribly inefficient from an energy standpoint.

The legal ramifications of wolfdog hybrids was explored well in the reading, as Ceiridwen was forced to lie about her wolfdog’s identity to get it vaccinated.  The threat of Inyo being put down has been ever-present, and her identity being something of an open secret will likely become a problem.  Most of the laws seem to either outright declare the hybrids illegal, or give them the benefit of the doubt up until they cause any bodily or property harm.  While the laws do appear unfair in how they’ve been portrayed, they do exist for a reason.  Not all hybrids will be as calm as Inyo, and the breed has the capacity to do major harm to a person if it attacked in full force.  Personally I’d be inclined to agree with the benefit-of-the-doubt laws, though with more wiggle room for exceptions and slip-ups.

(images are pulled from wikipedia)

Genetic Basis for Domestication, and Hunting’s Effects

The two readings for this week covered relatively different subjects, the susceptibility to domestication some animals have at a genetic level, and how humans shifting to greater reliance on hunting affected us.

The physical characteristics associated with domesticity, soft fur, larger eyes, and relaxed friendly attitudes, constitute a certain phenotype.  With the experiments in domesticating foxes there is mounting evidence that this phenotype corresponds to a genotype.  That is, some animals are more likely to be domesticatable based on how easily they can be bred or naturally acclimate themselves to approach this genotype.  As was discussed in class, some of the early changes in dogs, like being more relaxed and friendly to humans, may have been the wolves adapting themselves to the niche provided by humans.

In the Dunn reading the idea that human’s long ancestral past as prey has greatly influenced our bodies and minds.  One example of the kind of physical traits we might have acquired from being prey is the tendency to give birth at night, when young be in a safer environment.  The evidence I found after a cursory search on the internet for studies suggests that the average time of birth is late afternoon, which would be safer as a time where there is still light, but a clan would probably be finding or have found a safe haven for the night.  Other ways predators have shaped us is our fight or flight response, which is common in prey animals as it allows quick decision making on the best strategy for survival.


To tie the two readings together, I would like to suggest that as our level of predation on other animals rose we began to breed ourselves to be quicker, cleverer, and faster, and, that once we domesticated animals and settled down into towns and cities, we began to domesticate ourselves.  Once we became sedentary, being more aggressive and specialized for hunting became a liability, so we selected for different traits, still cleverness, but social status, and charisma as well.  The new desired traits reflected the more complicated social structure that emerges with sedentary settlements.  While social skills are important to communicate a hunting pattern, they are even more needed for haggling over the price of bread, or arguing a point in civil debate.

Tame in the Wild

Bulliet adds to the list of possible way animals were domesticated (Genetic predisposition, living around humans for food, and self domestication) with the idea of “tame” wild animals.  These animals naturally lack a fight or flight response to humans and are relatively easy to capture and train.  The majority of these animals are at the peaks of their food chains and so lack predators of their own to make them skittish, or are found on isolated islands where large predators were lacking.  Some examples of these animals include Elephants, camels, alpacas, and the dodo.  These animals stretch the definition of domesticated, as they are certainly tame, but not all are controlled by humans for their entire lifespan.  Some, like the dodo, seemed simply ambivalent towards people, and were not controlled, herded, or bred.  Others, like the camel, can mature in the wild, or be raised in captivity, and be ridden and trained equally well.   In my opinion, these tame yet wild animals cannot be considered domesticates on the merit of being tamed alone.  To be considered truly domesticated, they must be purposefully bred and controlled throughout their entire lifespan.

Post-domesticity, and Animals’ changing Influence

Humans’ relationship with animals, both domesticated and wild, has changed over time.  According to Richard Bullliet’s idea of post-domesticity, we are living in a time where attitudes towards animals are shaped by peoples’ removal from them in their everyday life.  Bullliet argues that this change in interaction with animals has shaped our views on sex, violence, science, religion, and diet.

In Bullliet’s “domestic era” people interacted with animals often and in personal or involved ways.  Butchering one’s own animals for meat was common, as was breeding them.  In the modern post-domestic era, animal products are still produced, but in an automated and sterilized manner.  The blood, gore, and animal suffering are locked in the back room or miles away from your burger.  Without addressing moral concerns about the production of animal products, Bulliet argues that after removing ourselves from the sexual and visceral stimuli that come with frequent animal interaction, we developed fantasies to replace them.

Witnessing animal sex used to be a fairly common introduction to the idea of sex in the domestic era.  Bulliet presents evidence that regardless of the same taboos against bestiality as are present now, bestiality was likely more common in the past.  Without animals to influence sexual development and provide a release for imagination, we turned to masturbation and lurid fantasies in other mediums.  The growth of erotic material does seem to coincide with the decline of the domestic era.  Is this causation though?  The increase of literacy and general consumption of literature could explain erotic literature’s early growth.  The explosion of internet porn, so vehement that it merits its own internet rule, #34 (if it exists there is porn of it), is explainable partly as the internet allowing people with strange tastes being able to reach a larger audience.  Also responsible for this growth could be the growth in general of cultural material on the internet as it becomes easier for the average person to create a video, story, or picture and share it.

The gore of butchering animals is almost completely gone from modern life except for in connection with sports like hunting and fishing.  This removal has coincided with the growing attitude that harming animals is morally wrong or at least regrettable.  Vegetarianism and other variations of dietary restriction on meat are growing more popular, as is the revulsion at the treatment of food animals in factory farms.  Portrayals of animals in media are commonly anthropomorphized, especially in children’s media.  This has caused us to care for animals in an abstract sense as something approaching third class citizens.  In post-industrial governments animals have some limited rights.  Curiously, animal-on-animal violence is not viewed with revulsion like human-on-animal violence.  Seen as a natural act or part of the “circle of life”, people don’t demonize animal-on-animal violence or seek to change it.  Hunting sports are sometimes seen as “barbaric” or primitive, but are also praised as being “manly” or in some other way a rite of passage.

In regards to science, Bullier argues that while the “natural” selective breeding of animals to mold them to our purpose was a welcome and accepted advance, modern methods of altering animals, drugs and genetics, are met with skepticism and fear.  While people are right to be wary of the unintended side effects of new technology, the response to genetic engineering of animals is particularly strong.  One possible reason for this is the fear that the techniques developed will be turned on us.  Others hope for this, strongly advocating genetic manipulation as a way to not only increase food supply, but cure diseases or improve quality and quantity of life.  In the post-domestic era, our strong feelings for animals as something like third class citizens makes us pause at the idea of changing these animals genetic identity.  Do we have the right to go beyond artificial selection and deliberately engineer new species?

In the considering of non-human rights, the issues of whether animals have some level of self-awareness and a concept of suffering are extremely relevant.  Religions weigh in differently on this issue, with some interpreting the Christian duty to be stewards of Earth as a blank check to do as we please, while others see it as a commandment to tread as lightly as possible on the environment.  Buddhism and Jainism condemn the eating of animals to varying degrees as immorally causing suffering.

The changing relationships between Humans and non-humans involves controversial issues such as non-human rights, genetic engineering, and hunting.  How our attitudes towards these issues evolve will determine how strongly a “post-domestic” culture will develop.