These are the words of a Father trying to save the life of his Son, Harrison. It is the title of the story about a controversial advertisement that appeared in the press in 2015 (Harrison’s Fund. 2015). You will need to visit the Harrison’ fund website to read the full story around this advert, CLICK HERE, and make a donation while you’re there.
Harrison’s Fund advertisement, 2015
The text beneath the dog’s image reads
Harrison suffers from a disease called Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. It will gradually disable him and eventually kill him. There is no cure, no treatment and very little hope. Harrison’s Fund is dedicated to raising money to fund research into a cure or treatment so that we can buy him and others like him some time. This isn’t Harrison by the way, this is a picture of a dog I found on the internet. Harrison is my eight year old son. I used this image because people in Britain are more likely to donate to save an animal than a child with Duchenne. Sorry if you feel tricked, my son is dying and I’ll do whatever it takes to save him.
Copyright © 2015, Harrison’s Fund. Used with permission.
The harrowing story in this advert speaks for itself. Anyone reading it must share a little of the family’s awful pain. The Harrison’s Fund charity was set in September 2011. Harrison’s Dad, Alex soon realised just how difficult it was for small charities to create an ongoing public awareness and then to raise funds through donations from the public. Smaller charities efforts were simply eclipsed by the presence of the larger charities. An organisation advertising its services as “A leading organisation in the UK that provides high quality market research and consulting services exclusively for charities and non-profits” highlights the problem in an article called “How can small charities fundraise in a world dominated by the big fish?” (nfpSynergy. 2016).
- How do people decide which charities to donate their hard-earned cash to?
- What is the science behind Alex’s intuition to use controversial advertising techniques to raise money for his son, Harrison?
- Why did Alex believe that a picture of an anonymous dog he found on the internet was a better choice than a picture of his own Son?
What is it that shapes our positive and negative attitudes towards animals – especially companion animals?
- Dominionistic: These people view animals more as objects than as other beings. Animals are there to be used for the benefit of humans as they wish, for example, entertainment, labour, food, protection of property etc.
- Humanistic: These people endow high status on animals and see their own pets as surrogate humans. They want to have close attachments and strong emotional bonds with their pets.
- Protectionistic: These people view animals in general as non-human individuals with lives and interests of their own that deserve respect. Like humanists, they enjoy pets for their companionship, but they do not view their pets as surrogate humans.
STUDY 1 (Hawkins and Williams, 2017)
- Caring for their pets: e.g. cuddling, stroking, playing and spending time with pets.
- Friendships with their pets: e.g. telling secrets to, crying with when sad, and talking to pets, seeing their pets as ‘best friend’.
- Compassion towards their pets: e.g. feeling upset and wanting to help when an animal is hurt or upset.
- Nature of attachment to their pets: In all mammals and other animals too, forming a strong emotional attachment to a caregiver, usually a parent, is an imperative for the survival of the young. This social attachment is a pre-programmed behavioural trait and it has been discussed in another article HERE. Human children and other social animals can also readily form secondary attachments to other humans and animals, especially pets. The strength and nature of the children’s attachments to their pets was measured using verbal report, from expressions such as loving them, the enjoyment of them, missing them and their equality of status in the family.
- Attitudes towards animals in general: This is a measure of positive and negative attitudes towards the welfare of all animals.
Previous studies supporting these findings include –
- Positive and compassionate attitudes towards animals in adults was influenced by their earliest childhood memories of positive relationships with animals as children (Philip et al., 2015).
- Children’s knowledge of and attitudes towards animals suggests that children do not automatically have positive attitudes towards them. (Kellert, 1985). In this study, younger children were generally less interested in and concerned for animal welfare. Furthermore, studying animals at school and trips to the zoo did not improve children’s knowledge of, or positive attitudes towards animal welfare. In contrast, children who hunted, birdwatched or belonged to clubs associated with animals had greater knowledge of and more positive attitudes towards animal welfare. These results suggest that children need to be proactively encouraged to come into direct contact with a variety of animals from a very young age. They can then be given the opportunities to care for, make friendships with and feel compassion towards the animals in their care.
STUDY 2 (Levin et al., 2017)
- Current need, as in the help the victim of an incident of physical abuse might need. The point here is that a feeling of distress empathy in an observer would not be triggered if it was clear that the victim was perfectly capable of resolving their situation themselves. For example, the victim was a strong male adult.
- Vulnerability, as in the relative helplessness of the abuse victim because of their very young age. The point here is that, although small children and puppies are perceived as vulnerable by most people, they would not trigger a feeling of distress empathy in an observer unless they were perceived as being at risk.
- A 30 year-old human adult, who was “beaten with a baseball bat”, according to a witness. The person’s injuries included a broken leg and multiple lacerations..
- A 6 year-old adult dog, who was “beaten with a baseball bat”, according to a witness. The dog’s injuries included a broken leg and multiple lacerations.
- A 1 year-old human child, who was “beaten with a baseball bat”, according to a witness. The child’s injuries included a broken leg and multiple lacerations.
- A 7-month-old puppy, who was “beaten with a baseball bat”, according to a witness. The puppy’s injuries included a broken leg and multiple lacerations.
- The human child scored higher than all the adult victims because of the “perceived similarity” phenomenon. This is where people have the most concern for those that are most similar to themselves. Perceived similarity includes species similarity, hence the students in this study had more concern for the child than for either of the dogs.
- The child and the puppy probably scored higher than the adult human and dog because of their perceived vulnerability on account of their youth.
Significance of this research
Current campaigns tend to focus on exposure to violence and trauma, for example, see the language used on the following websites –
- UNICEF: Protecting Children from Violence
- FUTURES WITHOUT VIOLENCE: Changing Minds : Campaign to End Childhood Trauma
This research suggests that, given the high empathy scores found in this study, reframing the language used in such campaigns around the concepts of perceived similarity and shared vulnerability may actually work better in preventing violence against humans and animals.
It also goes a long way to explain why Alex’s adverts to raise money to help his Son, Harrison, hit such a raw nerve.
© copyright Robert Falconer-Taylor, 2017
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Images used in this article
- I Wish my Son was a Dog. Copyright ©, 2015, Harrison’s Fund. Used with permission.
- Predicators of children’s strong attachments to pets. Copyright © COAPE, 2017.
Blouin, D.D., 2013. Are dogs children, companions, or just animals? Understanding variations in people’s orientations toward animals. Anthrozoös, 26(2), pp.279-294.
Charities Commission. 2017. Registered charities in England and Wales, Search. http://beta.charitycommission.gov.uk/charity-search. (Accessed 14 November, 2017)
Harrison’s Fund. 2015. I Wish my Son was a Dog. https://harrisonsfund.com/news-article.php/I-Wish-my-Son-was-a-Dog-8/. (Accessed 3rd November, 2017).
Hawkins, R.D. and Williams, J.M., 2017. Childhood attachment to pets: associations between pet attachment, attitudes to animals, compassion, and humane behaviour. International journal of environmental research and public health, 14(5), p.490.
Kellert, S.R., 1985. Attitudes toward animals: Age-related development among children. In Advances in Animal Welfare Science 1984 (pp. 43-60). Springer Netherlands.
Levin, J., Arluke, A. and Irvine, L., 2017. Are People More Disturbed by Dog or Human Suffering? Society & Animals, 25(1), pp.1-16.
nfpSynergy. 2016. How can small charities fundraise in a world dominated by the big fish? https://nfpsynergy.net/blog/small-charity-fundraising-big-fish. (Accessed 13th November, 2017).
PDSA, 2014. Animal Wellbeing Report (PAW). http://bit.ly/2kc0xCm. Accessed 30/09/2017.
Philip H., Marshall, Molly E,. Ireland, Audrey A., Dalton. 2015. Earliest Memories of Pets Predict Adult Attitudes: Phenomenological, Structural, and Textual Analyses. Human-Animal Interaction Bulletin. 2015, Vol. 1, No. 1, 28-51.