When I sat down to write this piece, I realised how insufficient the English vocabulary is when it comes to talking about non-human species. For starters, earlier, we would use the word “animal”, which today reeks of speciesism and arrogance. Humans are animals too. And if our arrogance is born from the fact that we are cerebrally intelligent and have made scientific and technological advancements, there is so much to learn about love, nurturing, warmth, loyalty, honesty, and trust from our nonhuman counterparts. While the human race’s emotional intelligence has eroded over decades, standing at a near zero right now, riddled with corruption, greed, anger, and hatred, non-humans have not had that emotional degradation. Their love and warmth remain pure, ancient, and unadulterated. Being unaffected by emotional evolution — something we have suffered from — has been the biggest blessing for non-human species.
The problem with the term “non-human” is that anything that isn’t human has always been seen as a beast, a degenerate, something unfamiliar, something inferior. “Human” has a positive connotation. Being “humane”. “Humanity”. “Humanitarian”. So, we have tried to believe that compassion and love, generosity and selflessness, are human qualities. But, interestingly, these qualities exist in all species. Humans are the only ones who have the intelligence to measure, restrain, perform, and manipulate these qualities. Which actually makes us more inhuman than anybody. This species-wide indoctrination of superiority has led to, among many other things, an extremely incompetent and insensitive vocabulary in most languages. Dissecting every species will lead to a tome, so let me just explore “dog” and “bitch”. The word “dog” only has a definition connotation — “That is a dog”. Beyond that, in casual conversation, “dog” is used to talk about unfaithful and callous men. “All men are dogs”. Or, “dog” denotes degradation — “the world is going to the dogs”. Which is why, most people use the term “doggo” when they talk about, funnily, actual dogs. Exactly what about dogs made us believe that the whole species stands for asshole-y behaviour, especially when they have truly been the most beloved of humankind (this author is not a fan of cats, obviously)? No idea. A female canine is a bitch. The word has been reduced to a cuss, which is why we use the phrase “female dog”, an outrageously sexist misnomer. Would a woman like being referred to as a “female man”? I don’t even need to explain the extensive usage of “bitch” in our daily friendly and unfriendly conversations, and rap songs. How is it that we have dealt such an unfair hand to the species that allowed us to domesticate them so easily? This has translated to other languages, too. In Hindi conversations, we are uncomfortable using the words “kutta” and “kutiya” in non-cuss connotations. Down south, calling someone a dog is enough to pull the guns out. The otherwise cuss-free Malayalam has one powerful abuse — Poda. Dog.
So, if we can be sensitive enough to start using pronouns according to personal human preferences, we have the capacity to learn how to talk about non-humans better. Firstly, while we have been taught to refer to our four-legged buddies with “it”, they have also been denoted genders in almost all languages. Hence, refer to them by their gender-specific pronouns. Just like we don’t like other people denoting pronouns for us, let’s not do “it” to them either. Secondly, if you call yourself a “pet owner”, please do us all a favour and jump off a cliff. Just because you paid money to bring home a pup or kitten (hashtag adopt don’t shop), doesn’t mean you own her or him. You are a parent, not a Sheikh who bought himself an amusement. If you think making a four-legged addition to your family is anything less than becoming parents, first educate and sensitise yourself, and then bring a fellow home. Thirdly, please lose your arrogance and the Hippogriff to return the favour. While I agree you don’t have to bow when you meet a four-legged fellow, stretch your hand out, and allow her or him to approach you. Would you like a stranger to touch you all over the face, ruffle your hair, and slap your back, uninvited? No, you would call that assault. Then how is it you think a dog or cat or horse would — or should — be fine with that? Approach them with respect. Talk to them with respect. Non humans pick up on respect, too. Yes, it’s going to be difficult for some of you who believe that certain sections of the human race itself are beneath you due to their religion, caste, and the colour of their skin. Lastly, and most importantly, a bitch is a female canine. Let’s give the word back.