Culture is generally a powerful determinant of human perceptions of animals and the treatment animals receive in a given society. Fbr example, Plains Indians' views of the status of animals-their capacities, their awareness, and their place in the world relative to mankind-differ radically from those characteristic ofWestern thought. Many of the contemporary Crow Indians, a group of native Americans among which I have recently carried out anthropological field research, continue to look upon their horses according to traditional tribal belief. Their particular attitude toward horses conflicts with that of the dominant white society with which the Indians and their horses must interact. Mutual hostility results from a lack of understanding between members of the two cultures who, though living in proximity, remain worlds apart in ethos. Two other examples from ethnographic literature involving the habitual treatment of mules in a community of farmers and of sled dogs by a group of Eskimos also highlight the importance of cultural attitudes in affecting interactions with animals in those societies. It is vital to strive to understand the many complex factors which determine views toward animals, including their capacities for awareness, in alien cultures whose value-systems may be foreign to our own. Since human actions toward animals are rooted in perceptual concepts concerning the intrinsic nature of those animals, it is only through empathy resulting from understanding such concepts that a beginning can be made in solving the many problems involved in human relationships with animals.
Lawrence, E.A. (1985). Human perceptions of animals and animal awareness: The cultural dimension. In M.W. Fox & L.D. Mickley (Eds.), Advances in animal welfare science 1985/86 (pp. 285-295). Washington, DC: The Humane Society of the United States.