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Pernicious Portrayals: The Impact of Children's Attachment to Animals of Fiction on Animals of Fact

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This paper argues that the lack of distinction between human and nonhuman animals in the fantastic world of children's literature and film results in distorted representations of intelligence, capabilities, and morality of nonhuman animals. From the perspective of attachment theory, the paper shows how humans internalize and sustain misrepresentations throughout adulthood and how these misrepresentations influence relationships with real animals. An ongoing search for the ideal "Walt Disney dog" of childhood jeopardizes relationships to companion animals. Trying to recreate the fantasy dog by genetic manipulation of a real animal's characteristics results in needless distress for companion animals. Because the companion does not meet expectations engendered by childhood stories, normal dog behaviour—chewing, digging, and barking—may result in relinquishing the dog for adoption and subsequent euthanasia. Shifting to the scientific realm, the paper discusses the on-going debate on the study of animals' human-like abilities, most salient in ape language programs. In closing, the paper discusses the disservice done to real animals as illusions of childhood and subsequent misunderstandings leave them judged by impossible, anthrocentric standards—which they rarely can fulfill.


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