Consolation Canines: Dogs Are Not Second-Rate Booby Prizes

The heat over James Corden giving comfort puppies to Grammy losers is fitting

Posted Jan 30, 2018

James Corden Slammed by Animal Rights Activists for Offering Comfort Puppies: Dogs are not second-class beings

Puppies are living beings, not trophies or toys. Dog ownership is a life-changing commitment, not something that should simply be done on a whim. (John Fishwick, president of the British Veterinary Association)

By now, many people know that James Corden offered up comfort puppies, beings who I call "consolation canines," to losers at the recent Grammy Awards. While flipping channels this past Sunday evening, I saw the Grammys were on so I tuned in just as a dog was being given to one of the losers. I was shocked, and immediately wrote to a few people to find out if they knew what was happening and who in the world was supporting this inane and outrageous act. The gift dog I saw being offered clearly was stressed, but nonetheless, there was widespread laughter among many people in the audience. An image of one of the dogs can be seen here.

In an excellent essay by Reynard Loki (AlterNet's environment, food and animal rights editor) called "James Corden Slammed by Animal Rights Activists for Offering Comfort Puppies," I was quoted as follows:

Dogs are not consolation prizes, nor should they ever be given as gifts. This is one of the most demeaning things one can do, and when I watched part of the award ceremony it was clear that the dogs were stressed and didn't like it one bit. And, the laughter in the audience showed that we have a long way to go in getting people to realize that dogs and other nonhumans are fully sentient beings who have a wide range of emotions and don't like being thrown around as mere objects. The very thought of giving dogs as a consolation prize shows how people thoughtlessly think of them as second-class beings.

I stand by what I said, namely, that dogs are not second-class beings who should be thrown around as gifts. Let me also say that I don't know of any reason to think that Mr. Corden was acting in a malevolent way. I suppose he was just trying to be funny in his attempt to console those who were walking away empty handed. But his joke backfired, as it should, and there are some important lessons that can come from his faux pas.

The silver lining to the dark cloud of giving out consolation puppies: Bridging the empathy gap

Being an optimist and always looking for something positive -- you know, that proverbial silver lining to a dark gray cloud -- I was thrilled that there was widespread condemnation of Mr. Corden's senseless act. People who never have gotten involved in any sort of animal protection were incensed, and some wrote to me asking something like, "What in the world did he think he was doing?" My simple answer was that it was likely he was trying to be funny and console the losers without thinking about the stress and fear the puppies were feeling. 

The upside to Mr. Corden's offering up the puppies is that it got people to think about a number of issues concerning animal sentience and animal emotions. One person wrote, "I was really upset to see the puppies handed out as gifts, but I don't know why it really got to me." We had some email exchanges and the reason turned out to be that it was "just plain wrong." They lived with two dogs and could see that the dogs at the Grammys didn't like what was being done to them. I also wrote to a few people saying that "there is no doubt whatsoever that other animals are sentient and conscious beings." (For more discussion of a recent report that makes it clear that other animals have deep feelings and care about what happens to them please see "Animal Consciousness: New Report Puts All Doubts to Sleep.") 

I also had a few discussions about the ways in which dogs could be used to bridge the "empathy gap" and stimulate discussions about other nonhuman animals and how they also suffer at the hands of humans, "in the name of humans." Using dogs in this way asks people to recognize that we often are extremely inconsistent in how we view and treat other nonhuman animals in comparison to how we view and treat our canine, feline, and numerous other household companions. Dogs are mammals, all mammals share the same basic neural structures and neurochemicals mediating their emotional lives, and dogs don't suffer more than other nonhuman mammals who are used and abused in a wide variety of human activities. Discussions about the consolation dogs can easily lead to discussions about other animals, and I sure hope they do. (For more discussion please see "Valuing Dogs More Than War Victims: Bridging the Empathy Gap.")

Dogs are sentient and feeling beings who shouldn't be tossed around as if they're unfeeling objects or surprise gifts

It's beyond belief that Grammy organizers are so out of touch with the issues of the day that they failed to grasp what is now commonly understood: that dogs are intelligent, complex animals—not toys, props, or prizes...While the stress of being passed around under bright lights by strangers may have been upsetting for these young pups, using them as prizes for runners-up sent a dangerous message to viewers that dogs aren't the family members for life that they should be. (Ingrid Newkirk)

Dogs are sentient and feeling beings who shouldn't be tossed around as if they're unfeeling objects or surprise gifts. I've written about this recently in an essay called "Pets As Gifts: Please Don't Surprise Me With a Life Sentence." The second part of this title was offered by a friend of mine when I asked him if he thought dogs should be given as gifts. Of course, the animal also receives a life sentence when being gifted.

The fate of gifted dogs is not a favorable one at all. And, we don't know what really happened afterwards with the Grammy puppies. I shudder to think that they were simply used as a joke -- a very bad and harmful joke -- and will go back to wherever they were taken from and wait once again for a forever home. 

Cruelty can't stand the spotlight 

All in all, I'd like to believe that something good will come out of Mr. Corden's actions. It often takes a big stage to get people to think about an issue, and the Grammys are a huge stage. Numerous people have worked very hard and continue to do so to get across the message that other animals are feeling and sentient beings and don't like being mistreated as were the Grammy puppies. But in many cases they work with a much smaller audience. So, there are some important lessons and take-home messages that can come out of the Grammys because so many people watch the show.  

I hope that the millions of people who saw the puppies being gifted to losers will do something about the way in which dogs and other animals are routinely used and abused in other situations. As the late actress and animal advocate, Gretchen Wyler, aptly remarked, "Cruelty can't stand the spotlight." And giving out puppies at the Grammys was a cruel act, even if it was unintended to be so.

I offer a sort of off-handed thanks to Mr. Corden for his foolish act, and hope not only that he has learned an important lesson, but so too will others who were part of his huge audience. And I hope many of them will become active in whatever part of the animal protection movement they choose. The animals clearly need all the help they can get, and it's clear that there are numerous people who still need to be educated about the emotional lives of the fascinating companion animals with whom we share our homes and our magnificent planet.

1After I posted this essay I received this email from Betty Moss. "To add insult to injury, the puppies were French and English bulldog puppies--extremely delicate dogs with the possibility of multiple medical problems as you know. Responsible breeders of both breeds now require potential owners fill our questionnaires asking if they have owned the breed before and explaining the expenses that the puppies may incur. English bulldog and more and more French bulldog puppies now even need vaccination schedules that differ from the norm and, if possible, treatment from vets who specialize in bulldogs. Am still horrified by his action for so many reasons."

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