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Pets, Pests And Food: Our Complex, Contradictory Attitudes Toward Animals

Hal Herzog, a professor of psychology at Western Carolina University, says the more we attribute humanlike qualities to animals, the more ethically problematic it may be to keep them as pets.
Hal Herzog, a professor of psychology at Western Carolina University, says the more we attribute humanlike qualities to animals, the more ethically problematic it may be to keep them as pets.

When psychologist Hal Herzog's son Adam was young, he had a pet mouse named Willie. One day, Willie died.

"When he died, we thought it would be a good lesson for the kids in terms of understanding death to have a funeral for him. After all, you know, he was a pet."

But a couple of days later, Hal's wife found some mouse droppings in the kitchen and asked him to do something about it.

"She asked me to kill the mouse, and I did," Hal recalls. "I went out, and I bought a mousetrap. I put a little dab of peanut butter on it and put it [in] the kitchen. And, the next morning I got up, and the mouse was dead."

Why did Willie the pet mouse get a funeral, while the other mouse received an early end? This week on Hidden Brain, we explore the contradictions and quandaries embedded in our relationships with animals.

Additional Resources:

Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It's So Hard to Think Straight About Animals, by Hal Herzog, 2010

" Animals and Us," by Hal Herzog, Psychology Today

Hidden Brain is hosted by Shankar Vedantam and produced by Jennifer Schmidt, Rhaina Cohen, Parth Shah, Thomas Lu and Laura Kwerel. Our supervising producer is Tara Boyle. You can also follow us on Twitter @hiddenbrain.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Shankar Vedantam is the host and creator of Hidden Brain. The Hidden Brain podcast receives more than three million downloads per week. The Hidden Brain radio show is distributed by NPR and featured on nearly 400 public radio stations around the United States.
Thomas Lu is an assistant producer for Hidden Brain.He came to NPR in 2017 as an intern for the TED Radio Hour. He has worked with How I Built This, All Things Considered, Weekend Edition and Pop Culture Happy Hour. Before coming to NPR, he was a production intern for StoryCorps.
Tara Boyle is the supervising producer of NPR's Hidden Brain. In this role, Boyle oversees the production of both the Hidden Brain radio show and podcast, providing editorial guidance and support to host Shankar Vedantam and the shows' producers. Boyle also coordinates Shankar's Hidden Brain segments on Morning Edition and other NPR shows, and oversees collaborations with partners both internal and external to NPR. Previously, Boyle spent a decade at WAMU, the NPR station in Washington, D.C. She has reported for The Boston Globe, and began her career in public radio at WBUR in Boston.
Rhaina Cohen is a producer and editor for NPR's Enterprise Storytelling unit, working across Embedded, Invisibilia, and Rough Translation.