Animal Emotions

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The human-animal bond revisited: Power is not license to do what we please because we can

Wayne Pacelle's book about our kinship with animals is a must read

Every now and again a book appears that truly has the potential to change the ways in which we view and interact with non-human animals ("animals"). A new book called The bond: Our kinship with animals, our call to defend them by Wayne Pacelle, president of The Humane Society of the United States, is such a work (see also). Wayne Pacelle has been a leader in the animal protection movement for many years and his book shows just how much we owe to other animals and also how much work there is to do to protect them from our presence - here, there, and everywhere - on a fragile and over-crowded planet. We are big-brained, big-footed, arrogant, and invasive mammals and we simply cannot go on over-producing and over-consuming at the expense of other animals and fragile ecosystems. And current legislation does not adequately protect other animals because it's fairly weak and hardly enforced. Because of who we are we have incredible and wide-ranging responsibilities to act in the most humane ways possible and we also have boundless power over other animals, but, as Pacelle says, power is not license

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With an easy-to-read style, Mr. Pacelle covers numerous topics including pet-keeping, the emotional and moral lives of animals, the betrayal of the bond including factory farming, animal fighting, puppy mills, the unrelenting slaughter of wildlife, and ways to build a humane world. It's clear to everyone that our relationships with animals are confusing, complex, challenging, and frustrating and being consistent is extremely difficult in the modern and demanding world. But it's also very easy to make positive differences in the lives of billions of animals by making more humane choices about who (not what) we eat and wear, and how we choose to coexist with other beings. The description of the book by the publishers is well worth quoting from and gives a good feel for the terrain in which Pacelle travels.

The Bond "unveils the deep links of the human-animal bond, as well as the conflicting impulses that have led us to betray this bond through widespread and systemic cruelty to animals. ... Pacelle begins by exploring the biological and historical underpinnings of the human-animal bond and reveals our newfound understanding of animals, including their remarkable emotional and cognitive capacities. In the book's second section, Pacelle shows how the bond has been disastrously broken. He takes readers to a slaughter plant shuttered for inhumane practices, as well as the enormous egg factory farms of California. We visit Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary in Kansas to speak with NFL star Michael Vick, then serving his sentence for dogfighting. Pacelle paints a portrait of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and highlights the heroic actions of residents and volunteers to reunite pets with their owners. ... In its final section, The Bond takes on the arguments of opponents and critics of animal protection and spotlights the groups and industries standing in the way of progress—from the National Rifle Association and agribusiness organizations like the American Farm Bureau, to surprising adversaries like the American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Kennel Club. Ultimately, Pacelle points the way to a new, humane economy—one not built on extraction, suffering, and killing, but on the celebration, stewardship, and care of animals."

Whether or not you agree with the author, you will learn a lot about the other beings with whom we share earth and also about the issues with which we must deal as we move into the 21st century. We suffer the indignities to which we expose other animals and our future and theirs depends on coexistence based on compassion, empathy, and respect, without which all animals - ourselves and others - will surely suffer. We must expand our compassion footprint to include all animals (see also). Working for other animals does not mean that humans don't count! Indeed, if we make this the century of compassion all beings will benefit. 

My simple suggestion is to read this wonderful book, read it again, don't give it away but share its important messages, and do something right now to remedy the horrific treatment of other animals. Every individual counts and each of us can make positive difference in the lives of animals with little effort.

 

Marc Bekoff, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

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