Animal Emotions

Do animals think and feel?

Animal Souls, Feelings, and Government Torture

All animals share many traits and hierarchical thinking and abuse are wrong

This morning, just like most other mornings, my email inbox was loaded with news about nonhuman animals (animals). Sometimes I frankly hesitate to open some of the messages because they contain gory text and offensive pictures of animals being treated in the most egregious and inhumane ways. When this happens at 5AM it can easily take the edge off the upcoming day. 

Today was also a mixed bag but coincidentally or not, there were articles that related to topics about which I've written in the past and they made me revisit some of my own thoughts and feelings about the subjects at hand. Here I consider two essays, one published by Fox News called "Animal torture, abuse called a 'regular practice' within federal wildlife agency" and the other published in Hinduism Today called "Animals Have Souls and Feelings, Just Like We Do". Both will fire up your brain.

"Animal torture, abuse called a 'regular practice' within federal wildlife agency" according to former employees

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"The brutal approach by Wildlife Services is part of a culture of animal cruelty that has long persisted within an agency that uses taxpayer money to wage an unnecessary war on wildlife, according to two U.S. congressmen who have repeatedly called for a thorough investigation."

"'I had to kill hundreds of coyote pups and pregnant females,' Strader continued. 'If you found a coyote den, you just bombed it.'"

An article published by Fox News by Cristina Corbin from which the above two quotations are taken is called "Animal torture, abuse called a 'regular practice' within federal wildlife agency". I've written many times about the heinous abuse for which government workers are responsible and this Fox News essay confirms what many people have come to see as facts: many of those who work for Wildlife Services do indeed work for an organization that could easily be called Murder Inc. It's not just animal rights activists who are thoroughly offended at the deplorable way in which millions upon millions of animals are inhumanely treated and killed, but also former employees and those who simply feel we should treat other animals with respect and dignity and former employees. 

Consider the words of Gary Strader in the quotation below (in italics). Mr. Strader is a former employee of Wildlife Services who claims his job was terminated after he alerted supervisors to alleged wrongdoing within the agency.

"It was a productive day for Gary Strader when he pulled his vehicle up to a remote site in northeast Nevada and found nine coyotes caught in leg hold snares set by the federal government. As was routine, Strader, a former trapper with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, signaled his dogs to attack.

"His supervisor, who had accompanied him that day, watched and laughed as the dogs circled the coyotes and ripped into them, Strader recalled.

"'That was regular practice,' said Strader, who in 2009 left Wildlife Services, a little-known program within the USDA."

Rex Shaddox, a Texas law enforcement officer who worked for Wildlife Services when it was called Animal Damage Control, left the agency after “We were told to watch as they held the dogs down and shot cyanide into their mouths, one by one,' he said. 'I went home and cried that day. And then I quit.'”

It made me ill to read this essay but I feel it is worth sharing because it clearly shows that changes must be made in how animals are treated by Wildlife Services and they are long overdue. For more on this reprehensible ways of Wildlife Services please see a three-part series (see also and) by Tom Knudson of the Sacramento Bee on the clandestine activities of this government agency (written with the help of Brooks Fahy, Executive Director of Predator Defense, and others) that exposes Wildlife Services using irrefutable facts that should motivate everyone to publicly decry their killing ways. My own essay summarizes the egregious way in which Wildlife Services routinely treats other animals. As Camilla Fox, Executive Director of Project Coyote notes, "If people knew how many animals are being killed at taxpayer expense—often on public lands—they would be shocked and horrified." Amen. 

"Animals have souls and feelings, just like we do": We need a new paradigm rooted in nonviolence and compassion

Now for some positive news about the amazing animals with whom we share our magnificent planet. An essay in Hinduism Today called "Animals Have Souls and Feelings, Just Like We Do" by Matthew McDermott is a good read and summary of what we know about animal cognition, emotions, consciousness, and sentience. Mr. McDermott concludes, "The evidence calls for a new paradigm in our relationships with other creatures, one that is rooted in the ancient Hindu values of ahimsa and karunya—nonviolence and compassion." I couldn't agree more. 

In this essay you can read the wise words of noted scholars including Swamini Svatmavidyananda and Arvind Sharma. There are also interviews with Gene Baur, President and co-founder of Farm SanctuaryPeter Singer, The Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University and author of the classic book Animal Liberation, and me.

Among the topics I consider is the practice of wrongly referring to "lower" and "higher" animals. I stress that hierarchical thinking in which we place ourselves above and separate from other animals is misleading and that we now know that there are "surprises" in the study of other animals concerning how smart and emotional they are and how they too deeply suffer when mistreated. Consider fish. There’s a good deal of research showing that fish are conscious beings (see also and). They feel pain, they’re very smart, they deceive other fish, they cooperate with one another, and they respond to morphine in the same ways that we do.

I've also gone on record, using Charles Darwin's ideas about evolutionary continuity ("if we have something 'they' [other animals] have it too"), that if we have souls other animals do too and the same goes for spiritual experiences. I've also stressed that these views do not lessen us in any way. 

Mr. McDermott's essay made me think and rethink questions about who we are and who "they" (other animals) are and how much we can learn about ourselves and other animals by paying close attention to how various religions view nonhumans. Agree or not with the various perspectives, there is much food for thought. 

Mr. McDermott's essay also reinforced what most, if not all of us know, namely, that the heinous and wanton slaughter of millions upon millions of animals for which Wildlife Services is clearly responsible needs to be stopped right now. You can easily voice your opinion by signing a petition here, one that as of now has more than 50,000 signatures. You surely are not alone in protesting their murderous ways.

I hope these essays activated your brain for there is much food for thought in each of them. Stay tuned for more on the fascinating lives of the magnificent animals with whom we share our planet and with whom we must always work for peaceful and respectful coexistence. And, to avoid burnout to overcome grief fatigue from the difficult and frustrating work that often needs to be done, take good care of yourself as well. 

Note: Trauma Stewardship: An Everyday Guide to Caring for Self While Caring for Others by Laura Van Dernoot Lipsky and Connie Burk is an excellent guide.

 

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

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