A week or so ago I came across a post on a Facebook page for communication aid users which I found utterly insulting. It was a picture of a dog sat by a mat covered with coloured buttons. The person who posted it was insisting that the dog was somehow using the buttons to communicate, like many communication aid users do. I was appalled. It’s no secret that I do not like dogs; I probably inherited that dislike from my dad, who referred to dogs as Mobile Crap Droppers or MCDs. They are foul selfish creatures that people have, for some reason, taken to projecting thoughts and emotions onto, in the fanciful pretence that they are the moral and intellectual equivalent of human infants.
I find that notion repugnant for various reasons. Dog owners seem to think that they are on a par with parents, claiming a social cache they have no right to. Raising a child to adulthood is a honourable, worthy process which takes years of hard, patient work; feeding a dog, walking it and picking up it’s shit barely compares. Yet the way in which some dog owners seem to want to infantilise their pets, talking to them like children, carrying them around and even – believe it or not – pushing them around in prams implies a kind of anthropomorphisation which I find perverse. Dogs should be treated as dogs, not children; and caring for a dog does not make you equivalent to a parent. Or, to put it another way, some dog owners seem to use their pets as surrogates for relationships with other people – probably children – in a way which I doubt is psychologically healthy.
Moreover I object strongly to the noxious, intellectually baseless insistence that dogs can use aac, firstly because it essentially states that communication aid users such as myself function at the same level as an animal. The dog in the link I found was clearly just pressing random buttons to get rewards; any emotion or significance people might derive from that is projected onto it. It was clear in the video I saw that the dog was not pressing buttons in order to trigger a word or message, as some AAC users to; it was simply walking over the mat, sniffing the buttons and walking on. To truly be said to be attempting to communicate the dog would have to consistently press the same button to get the same response: it obviously was not doing so.
Some contend that every ‘social’ animal is capable, at some level, of communication. Of course, all animals usually have some way of expressing basic needs, but the operative word there is basic. When it comes to abstract thought and the expression of abstract ideas, that requires a level of brain function only we humans have. For starters, it requires knowledge of an extensive lexicon of sound symbols, and their meanings: as the relationship between a symbol and what it symbolises is arbitrary (de Sasseur), and this requires a degree of cognitive flexibility dogs simply do not have, they can only be said to have the most basic understanding of words. In Pavlov’s famous experiment, the dogs salivated when the bell rang because they remembered food usually followed; you cannot then claim it functioned like language.
More to the point, to try to claim this video showed a dog trying to communicate and should therefore be considered on a par with an AAC user is a form of anthropomorphism which is insulting to AAC users like myself. What I found offensive was that this link appeared to claim that the only thing preventing dogs communicating at the same level as humans was a lack of a communication aid, implying that communication aid users in a way function at the same level as household pets. I might drool, but I assure you, using my communication aid – understanding what is said to me, and then composing sentences in response – uses a lot more brain function than a dog has.
The pretence that dogs are equivalent to communication aid using children is an insult to all AAC users, many of whom have had to struggle with all their/our might for the right to express ourselves. The fact that the link in question would go as far as to cite Rosemary Crossley herself made it clearer still that they had no idea what they were talking about, as if they were carrying on the work of that great pioneer of facilitated communication in helping the voiceless to communicate. A dog sniffing randomly at coloured buttons on a mat is not the same as a child with cerebral palsy trying with all their might to hit the right button on a tray to ask for a drink or be taken to the loo. (presumably a dog would just sit by it’s bowl or bark at the door). This is another instance of dog-loving balm-pots claiming things for their animals they have no right to; only this time they have gone too far, and they have really pissed me off.