One step in learning to treat animals as sentient beings, not mere objects, is to use gender-specific pronouns. A dog is not a thing. Nor is a cow, eagle or mouse.
I’ve read numerous news stories about animals and for the most part, animals are called “it.”
- The pig and its piglets were rescued – No, it’s her piglets. We know that because only females can give birth.
- The steer broke its neck – No, it’s his neck (and the cowboy broke it). Steers are male.
If don’t know the gender of an animal I’m talking about, I assign one. In a story about two animals, one becomes he and one becomes she to make the distinction between the animals clear. “The raccoon chased the squirrel, who ran up a tree. She stayed in the tree for a while but he started pacing so she came down. He licked her forehead and they walked away together.”
Unlikely example aside, I believe gender-specific pronouns matter (and using one matters more than getting it right). This might even be why I give animals human names. My dog is Frankie. My cats are Alice and Margot.
I tend to call dogs he and cats she because I speak a little German and in German cats are assigned a female pronoun (die Katze) while dogs are given a male pronoun (der Hund). This has less to do with sentience and more to do with grammar. In German a hat is masculine and banana is feminine (der Hut and die Banane).
Other languages like French and Spanish assign gender to animals and inanimate objects too so I’m really talking about English, where we know an animal is a he or a she but we say it.
Calling an animal he or she won’t stop cruelty. It won’t turn the world vegan either. But I think it’s a small step toward acknowledging that animals are thinking, feeling beings with a similar range of emotions to humans. They show fear, love, anger, frustration. They can be silly and funny or shy and reserved and we need to think of them as individuals not commodities.
Farm Sanctuary has a Someone, Not Something campaign that addresses this. They focus on farmed animals because we already tend to look at cats and dogs as family. Conversely, many people see cows, pigs and chickens as things to eat.
Next time you’re talking about animals, listen to yourself and see how you refer to them.