A few weeks ago, I posted a question in yahoo answers asking for a help related to my dog. I called my dog 'it' and a few replies were pretty harsh because of that. Well, I've been hearing and reading a lot from animal rights activists about 'respecting' animals and not calling them 'it'. I even have some animal rights activist friends. But I never thought it was such a big issue so as it needed any response. I didn't have a dog and I did not have any situation in which I had to address any pet or any animal. But things changed and I had both.
In a way, I felt 'insulted' because the replies were a bit harsh for me to 'tolerate'. I had ego and I was not letting it go. And to be fair, the harsh comments didn't change my perception even a bit. Instead, it strengthened it. Would I stop calling my dog 'it'? Definitely, no.
A question arises : what happens if I call my dog 'it'? The interesting point animal rights activists make is "because they have sex/gender and calling them 'it' is an insult to them". I have no idea if the animal rights activists know the meaning of 'insult'. When does someone feel being 'insulted'? It is when s/he is made 'feel' demeaning in comparison to either the person who is insulting or any other person. Now the question arises, 'Does a dog even 'feel' the 'insult'?' You don't need to be an Animal Behavior expert to know that they don't. No matter what word you use to address your pet or any other animal, it doesn't matter to them, they don't feel being insulted and so, it simply is not an 'insult'. They don't understand the meaning of the word you say but they respond to the tone of your voice. So, if you yell at it taking its own name, like 'bulbul' in my dog's case, then it does feel that you're shouting and scolding it. But even if you call it 'it' with a lower tone, then it feels being loved. So, there is no any point in saying that it's an insult to your dog if you call it an 'it'. An insult is 'insult' only if the receiver feels it.
Another question is, why don't I use a gender pronoun (he/she) for my dog? If they don't feel the difference between 'it' and 's/he', why don't I just use 's/he' for 'it'? The answer is simple: for the sake of traditional grammar. I'm a conventionalist when it comes to grammar. I like it classic. And I am not in good terms with the people who mess up with grammar. Some people, including my sisters, call me a 'Grammar Nazi'. And according to conventional English grammar, you call every animal, except humans, an 'it'. Even a human child is called an 'it'. I have no idea how this grammar came into existence - I mean, even a human child being called an 'it' - but it does make sense. It just differentiates between animals and humans (let’s leave 'human child' alone for the moment). It doesn't mean we're comparing the animals with 'non-living', 'inanimate', 'soulless' non-living things. Yeah, a different pronoun would have been better, but, c'mon, it doesn't make any difference.
The conclusion is, as long as I don't treat my dog in any inhumane manner or put it into a refrigerator or toss it inside a washing machine, it doesn't make any difference in calling it an 'it' or 's/he'.
By Akash Maharjan
(The writer blogs at www.hamropaalo.blogspot.com)