animal health consulting

"I like animals better than people"

Christine King  BVSc, MANZCVS (equine), MVetClinStud

If you've ever said something like that, or even just thought it, then this article is for you. I've heard that sentiment a lot over the years. (Perhaps it's an occupational 'hazard' for a vet.) I've even said it myself — and I'm not the only vet who feels this way. In fact, I suspect that there are many of us...

Not long after graduating from vet school, I did a locum (fill-in) job for a vet who scandalised my young mind at the time when he told me that he wanted to hack a path through the jungle, build himself a little house, and then let the path grow over behind him. More recently, a vet friend fantasised out loud about having a moat around her house, filled with crocodiles. I joked that all she needed to perfect the picture is an air patrol of pterodactyls. Naughty me! :-)

Animals make sense to me (even crocodiles and pterodactyls), because they remind me of Popeye when he said, "I am what I am." (Well, it sounded more like "I yam what I yam" when he said it :-)

Animals are what they are; no pretence, no dissembling, no false flattery, no lies. While individuals have their own personalities and their own life experiences which may dictate their specific responses in various situations, you can still expect a horse to act like a horse, a dog to act like a dog, a chicken to act like a chicken, and so on.

Humans, on the other hand, are baffling to me. Just baffling! I love Agatha Christie novels because Agatha is an absolute master at exploring and explaining why people say and do the things they say and do. Same goes for Jane Austen; she cut through all the costumes and customs to the nature of the people beneath, complete with all the confusions and contradictions that mark our species.

For many years I thought of myself and others like me (who prefer animals to people) as misanthropes. I was also led to believe that my dislike of people (or, at least, of what they say and do) must mean that I dislike myself, and that I must be damaged or deficient in some way. But that's simply not true. I don't hate humans (the basic definition of misanthropy), I don't mean anyone harm, and I like myself and enjoy my own company. In addition, I have friends and family whom I like; some I even love. So, misanthropy is not the right label for at least this one person who prefers animals to people.

Perhaps some of us are genuinely misanthropic. But speaking for myself, and I suspect for all of the people I've known who have expressed that title sentiment, I think each of us is simply what clinical psychologist and researcher, Dr Elaine Aron, describes as a highly sensitive person. If that's so, then it's rather important for us to control the amount and type of disturbing stimuli in our field of view and experience, even when (and perhaps especially when) it involves what other people say and do.

As I've matured, I've discovered for myself that it's perfectly fine to prefer animals to people, given how screwed up people are as a group — i.e., our profoundly dysfunctional society. But it's equally important for me to find a place of equanimity about other people. Letting people be whoever they are is essential for my health and well-being, for my peace of mind and my creativity and enjoyment of life. After all, I can't change anyone but myself; it's pointless to even try.

Sorry, Babs, but I must disagree: people who need people are not the luckiest people in the world; they're tragic! :-) It's we people who need animals in our lives who are the lucky ones. Animals are who they are, simply themselves — and how refreshing that is! Some of us are lucky to have friendships with animals who love us unconditionally, and they metaphorically hold up a mirror to show us not just our weaknesses but also our strengths, not just our vulnerabilities but also our value. Who could ever doubt their essential worth who has been loved and adored by a dog?!

Spending our time in activities that make us feel good is the secret to success, because by changing our mindset from sad or mad to glad, we change our perspective so that we're able to see possibilities we couldn't even imagine when we're upset by something someone said or did. We're also able to find our way into that mysterious slipstream that I think of as 'the way of ease', where hard work and frustrated effort is replaced by inspired action that is a timeless and effortless joy.

Dealing with other people in our daily lives is often challenging for us highly sensitive people; and for many of us our animals, and even other people's animals, are a balm for our troubled minds. This is not a good thing; it's a great thing! Animals are wonderful, and they're especially wonderful for those of us who struggle to keep our equilibrium in a profoundly disordered society.

Celebrate your ability to find your way in the rich and rewarding company of animals, and take a moment to feel sorry for those poor people who need people :-)!

© Christine M. King, 2020, 2022. All rights reserved.

First published on WordPress, 11 Nov 2020.