By now you have probably heard about the dog owner in Tennessee who found his dog humping another male and sent him to a shelter to be euthanized because he was gay. Bill Donohue of the Catholic League says that the incident proves that being gay is a “bonus” (because the dog was rescued, not because it was sentenced to death for being gay.) You’ve probably also heard that the dog was saved and taken in by a new, more tolerant (or at least less ignorant) owner.
The incident goes to show the levels of ignorance and intolerance that are present in parts of the United States (and I’m sure other countries too). The immediate “It’s gay, kill it” reaction should be enough for a court to force you into mandatory therapy. In the U.S. though, especially in parts of the south, it might get you elected to public office.
The reality though is that dogs are not gay, they aren’t ‘straight’ either. Male dogs have intercourse with female dogs (sans foreplay) as a response to chemical signals sent by the female. If neither dog is fixed this may result in reproduction. It is unclear whether the dogs are aware of this. Dogs also hump things, this is not a sexual act it is a sign of dominance.
From Stanley Coren, Ph.D, professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia writing for Psychology Today:
“You can see that mounting behavior can be relatively independent of sexual intentions by watching the behavior of very young puppies. Well before they have reached puberty (which comes at about 6 to 8 months of age) they are already showing this kind of activity. Mounting in puppies appears shortly after they begin walking and appears when they start playing with each other. It is a socially significant behavior, not a sexual one. For young puppies, mounting is one of the earliest opportunities for learning about their physical abilities and their social potential. It basically represents an expression of dominance. The stronger, more authoritative puppy will mount its more submissive brothers and sisters simply to display leadership and dominance. These behaviors will then carry on into adulthood, with the significance being power and control, not sex.”
According to Coren even getting a dog fixed will, generally, not cure humping behavior. The dog in Tennessee was not trying to express sexual attraction or a romantic interest in the other dog, he was not expressing his sexual identity, he was trying to assert his social position. Dogs have done this since long before they were domesticated by people.
As ridiculous as the story is, it does serve as a great example of the level of intolerance and ignorance present in the right wing of American politics. In the case of the Catholic League’s Bill Donohue, if we credit him with being literate, then we also have to call it willful and deliberate ignorance. It is little wonder that social conservatism, which requires ignorance to support its positions, is falling out of favor.