In a Gallup poll of housebound dogs aged 2 to 18, humans have been ranked “#1 thing” in the categories of affability and trustworthiness, narrowly surpassing “chew toys” and “other dogs” to claim the top spot.
Terry Jackson, the Gallup Company’s newly elected president, announced the results at a dog-themed holiday event, speaking before select members of the press and lonely strangers who had come for the swag. “This is a real win for humanity,” Jackson said in an impassioned speech. “For thousands of years people have suspected that dogs like us, but now we have the raw numbers to prove it.” Jackson’s words were greeted with cheers, and wolf whistles were heard as he encouraged a bewildered Chinese pug to lick his face.
Controversy in the weeks following the announcement, however, has clouded the initial air of triumph. Skepticism was perhaps to be expected, as this is the first time in the survey’s 86-year history that humans have come out on top. But under Jackson’s leadership Gallup’s polling procedures have changed significantly. According to their press release, subjects’ responses were tabulated by counting “happy panting noises” and “tail wags per minute,” and by calculating “percentage by volume of air displaced during tail wags.”
The new approach has caused many prominent figures to question the methodology of Gallup’s survey, including cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker. In an op-ed for the New York Times, Pinker writes “Gallup’s methods are certainly innovative. I am inclined to take a kind view of the proceedings and say that they push the outer limits of what social science can be. Nevertheless, it would, perhaps, be premature to say that their results tell us anything conclusive regarding the hierarchy of preferences of an entire species.”
Others have been less measured in their critique. Security footage of PETA spokeswoman Shanaz Brown first released by TMZ shows her yelling heatedly inside what appears to be an empty elevator: “Why the [expletive] did they only poll the [expletive] housebound bitches, huh? Why? What about all the fleabags on the street who don’t even get a sniff of a butt they can half-trust, never mind one they can love? Why didn’t they poll them? Is it because people are kicking and spitting on these dogs all the time? Is it? That’s some [expletive]-ing [expletive]-ed up [expletive]. Goddamn.”
Yet more scrutiny appears in a feature piece in this month’s The Atlantic, which openly accuses Gallup of manipulating the results for personal gain. The claim rests on the revelation that Jackson, along with several other high-ranking colleagues, owns significant shares in Mars and Nestle, whose respective “Petcare” and “Purina” brands dominate a lion’s share of the pet food market. Their investigation also cites record sales in dog food this holiday season, a fact from which “the inescapable conclusion emerges: Jackson and co. gambled big on pet owners’ vanity, and gambled wisely.”
For his part, Jackson has continually insisted on the integrity of Gallup’s results. He says the survey is “an objective reflection of the present state of human-canine relations,” and that his methods “have brought the art of the survey into the 21st century.” He has found support on social media, where a short video posted to his Instagram with the hashtags #humansrulePETAdrools and #TastetheLove has thus far received 390,000 likes. The video shows a giggling Jackson licking the face of the same Chinese pug seen at the announcement party, who in this reporter’s estimation seems pretty weirded out.