Human exceptionalism in the grocery cart

Cathy Cleaver Ruse Senior Fellow, Family Research Council
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Not long ago I walked to our local grocery store and took along our little dog Daisy. I didn’t want to leave her tied to a pole so I put her in the baby seat of the grocery cart and hoped she would not be noticed. That hope was in vain.

My first stop was the bank at the front of the store. Two bank officials noticed the dog and practically ran out of their offices. They petted her, asked her name, and fussed and cooed over her for an uncomfortably long time. When I finally ended their reverie and turned to leave, they called out: “Goodbye, Daisy! Come back and see us!”

I chalked up this display to PNC’s zealous customer service and went on my way.

But as I strolled from aisle to aisle, the same thing happened over and over. “What type of dog is it? Is it a boy or girl? What is her name? She is so cute!

Now I was annoyed. A quick trip for a few items had turned into a prolonged doggie meet-and-greet. But more than that, it occurred to me that no one greets me with smiles and inquiries when my four-year-old daughter is in the cart. Little Gigi with her mop of blonde curls and sparkling blue eyes and immortal soul attracts almost no notice at all.

I hurriedly finished shopping, ignoring all further dog entreaties, vowing never to bring her in the store again.

There is a growing anthropomorphism of house pets in America. Childless people have long referred to their pets as “babies.” But now doggie baby carriages are an increasingly common sight in public parks. I receive a professional Christmas photo of a friend’s dog every year. And last week at a pet store I saw an array of Baby Bjorn-style carriers, not for babies, but for pets – you literally strap your pet to your chest and carry it like a nursing baby. Don’t do this. They have really bad breath.

A week after the grocery store imbroglio I returned, by car, with my daughters and dog in tow. I parked under a shady tree, cracked open the windows, put a cup of cold water within Daisy’s reach, and the humans went shopping. At the check-out, I heard an announcement for the owner of my car to come to the front desk, where a Fairfax County animal control officer was waiting to escort us to our car. The cops had broken into my car, all the doors were open, the car alarm was blaring, and little Daisy was quivering next to her water cup, staring wide-eyed at the uniformed assembly that had caused such turmoil. I was informed that I had violated some animal safety law and was let off with a warning.

Something is out of whack. Or at least out of proportion. Half a dozen of Virginia’s finest rushed to the scene to save a dog in danger of nothing but a good nap. Yet a segment of America, and one entire political party, believe human children are of such little worth that they legally can be killed before birth without medical reason.

Wesley Smith of the Discovery Institute writes in defense of “human exceptionalism,” a notion that used to be so obvious that it didn’t need a name, or defending. Environmental activists speak critically of “anthropocentrism,” the belief that human beings are the most significant species on the planet with a different moral status than other species. Peter Singer, who holds a bioethics chair at one of the country’s premier universities, complains of “speciesism,” the practice of privileging humans over other animals. You bet I do. Guilty.

Now that I’m a mother such crazy ideas suddenly have become personal. Tell me that I have no greater moral status than an aardvark and I’ll just roll my eyes. Say that about Gigi and I will want to rip out your throat. Figuratively speaking.

Is this a feminist impulse? I think it is. The good kind. If motherhood is quintessentially feminine, Mama Bear is a radical feminist.

I am woman; hear me roar. And while you’re at it, keep your mitts off my dog.

Cathy Cleaver Ruse is senior fellow for legal studies at the Family Research Council.

Cathy Cleaver Ruse