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Can Animals Cry?

Other species' emotions matter, say Jeffrey Masson and fellow vegans.

Watching the American Kennel Club/Eukanuba National Championship on TV two nights ago, my husband and I marveled at the beautiful dogs striding and sleeking around the stadium. "Look how happy that guy looks," my husband said of the Siberian husky. "He looks like he's laughing."

The standard poodle looked snooty. The Irish setter looked proud. But were they, really? Were what looked like smiles and smirks just functions of each species' particular anatomy -- or were we actually discerning the dogs' emotions in their eyes?

Not long ago, I interviewed Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson about animal emotions. He used to own dogs. But not anymore. And never again, he said.

In the late ‘90s, this noted ex-psychoanalyst, Sanskrit professor and author of nearly two dozen books adopted three mixed-breeds. He ran with them, took them on vacations, and wrote about them in his book Dogs Never Lie About Love. But in the years since, Masson -- whose 1981 dismissal from the directorship of the Freud Archives sparked volcanic intellectual debate -- has come to view dog ownership as a form of animal cruelty.

"I still love dogs," Masson told me. "I think they're amazing."

But we aren't fit to be their companions, because "I don't believe we can give them the ideal life. Living with us, they're not living the life they were meant to live, which among other things would mean our spending the whole day with them." Dogs are too social, too loyal, too energetic, too eager for physical attention and bonding to be confined in solitude for as long as we typically leave them while pursuing our own human priorities. Masson looks just as harshly at keeping cats indoors -- or, as he put it, "confined."

"To argue that a cat in an apartment is leading a happy life is to restrict our sense of the word ‘happy.'"

Allowing that cats and dogs have emotions is one thing. Masson's 2003 book The Pig Who Sang to the Moon goes one step farther, examining farm animals' feelings --- and exposing possibilities that a mostly carnivorous public would rather not see.

While researching that book, Masson stopped eating eggs. Eventually, he became a vegan. This led to his 2009 book The Face on Your Plate: The Truth About Food. He told me that upon hearing that Masson wanted to write a mainstream book on meatless diets, his publisher initially wanted him to interview celebrity vegans: "And I would have been perfectly happy to talk to Paul McCartney." But psychology and philosophy ultimately, as always, proved a much stronger lure.

"One of the things I took away from psychoanalysis is how much humans use denial to ward off stuff that we don't want to deal with," he declared. "And when people don't want to deal with what they're eating, they're in massive denial. ... My main concern is the deeper issue of how we fool ourselves into believing that animals want to die or want to be cooked or eaten. It's an old cliché of the mind that animals are happy to give their lives to us, that we've made a pact with domestic animals, that in exchange for giving them a good life and a quick death they will give themselves to us."

He scorns the idea of so-called "happy cows" and the notion that free-range hens and creatures destined to become grass-fed meat lead "better lives."

"If you take the concept of happiness seriously -- oh, humans are very concerned with human happiness, aren't we? -- and if we apply that even a little bit to farm animals, there's no way they've had a good life. It's never really free-range. It's not living the life they evolved to live. It's absurd to call them happy. You can't get away with saying, ‘This chicken has led a contented life and I feel okay taking that life.' The people saying this are not saying it in good faith. Or they don't care. Or they're ignorant. But it's a popular thing to say and it salves their consciensces.

"My publisher told me not to make anyone feel bad about what they eat." He scoffed. "But how do you not?"

Jack Norris agrees. The registered dietician heads Vegan Outreach, a national nonprofit that raises awareness about farm animals.

"Many breeding sows, especially, on factory farms, exhibit what is [diagnostically] called 'stereotyped behavior,' in which they do repetitive actions in order to deal with their extreme boredom and inability to move." Among sows, these actions include "banging their heads against the bars, swaying their heads back and forth for long periods of time, and gnawing on the bars of their cages. These animals are treated in ways that would be illegal were they done to a dog or cat, yet because the sows are being raised for food, farmers are allowed to do just about anything as long as it is considered a standard agricultural practice."

Vegan Outreach spreads its message by distributing free booklets; VO volunteers handed out over 7,000 in a single day last week on the University of Central Florida campus. Over two million copies of Why Vegan, Even If You Like Meat, and Compassionate Choices are distributed every year on campuses, at concerts and festivals and on the street. Other fundraising efforts include events such as a "vegan prom" and a vegan Valentine's Day dance set for this Friday night in Berkeley, California. In keeping with his principles, he hired the area's only vegan events planner to organize the dance.

The topic of animals' emotions -- and the AKC/Eukanuba dog show -- fill me with guilt. When I was thirteen, after a lifetime of pleading, I was given a small white short-haired mixed-breed puppy by my parents, neither of whom had never owned a dog before. I named him George. In the matter of George, as in all other matters, my parents were never to be challenged. We lived in a tract house with a large semi-fenced backyard. My dad, a skilled woodworker, built George a doghouse. Then he linked one end of an eight-foot steel chain to George's collar and the other to a tall steel pole. George spent the rest of his life affixed to that chain. For his daily walks, it was unclipped from the pole and became a heavy, clanking leash. George was not permitted inside our home. In other words, once we acquired him, George never ran free.

Not. Once.

When I described this situation to my friend Steven, a dog lover and avid meditator, he was outraged at the thought of George's sufferings. I told him about how George always strained against his chain, often leaping into the air as if this would break its links or slip its clasp from the pole -- or as if he could simply fly away. Yet he always crashed down to the ground again amidst a steely clangor, his paws rejoining that colorless earth at the edge of the chain's span, worn smooth by years of his desperate clawing. 

The quivering, whinnying joy with which George always greeted me -- even upon seeing me through the dining-room window: I, who never freed him -- haunts me still.


Dogs and Freedom

We had a golden retriever, from the time he was 6 weeks old until he died at age 13. Actually, we belonged to him. When he was 6, we retired and spent the next 7 years of his life with him almost day and night. We lived in the middle of 105 acres in Colorado in the mountains where we walked and he ran several times a day. Other times, we hiked with him as we traveled seeing places we never would have seen without him, because he needed to exercise. (So did we)

The author of this article is so right. A dog needs freedom, to run, play and hike and laugh. He was the love of our lives and we were so blessed that we lived with him for seven years without fastening him up by his neck. He brought laughter to our lives everyday. He has been gone from this earth, but not our hearts for almost 8 years. We miss him everyday still.

Dogs and Freedom

I have had dogs my entire life, including show dogs and rescue. I love them all the same, they filled my families lives with happiness and we filled their lives with happiness as well. They were and are a part of our family, all of our freinds agree. Our show dogs were our family members also, we simply enjoyed having a weekend hobby together! The activities have enhanced our lives together with additional hobbies such as agility and rally! My children are in sports and my pets are in shows, they know they are special to us.

Animals Cry

I am a vegan. I appreciate the research that people like Masson have done to awaken us to the fact that animals are feeling creatures. All of us evolve in our thinking. But that evolution must always be kept in check by and coincide with reality. What is our companionship with "domesticated" animals to look like if we don't "own" them--Rousseau's Back to Nature Garden of Eden? Reality says to look at the packs of dogs and feral cats roaming the neighborhoods and garbage dumps of the poor countries of the world. None of my dogs have ever tried to run away into "freedom" even when the door was wide open. They know how good they have it. Yes, they are sad when they can't go with me, but also elated when I come home. Better that than suffering out there at the hands of cruel people and nature's predatory illnesses.

Dogs and Freedom

I don't think this Masson fellow knows what he is talking about when it comes to dogs or cats. I understand and agree with what he says about farm animals. However, owning a dog or cat is not a form of animal cruelty, unless you neglect it and treat it poorly. My dog is spoiled, goes everywhere that he can with me, and has more room on the bed than I do at night. Having a dog chained outside and never being able to come indoors...yes, that is a form of animal cruelty. People should be punished if they abuse their animals. However, I guarantee if you let my dog outdoors somewhere in a forest or whatever...he would go to the ends of the Earth to come back to find me and go back to what you call "a contained life". They love companionship, and have WANTED to be loyal for centuries. If you treat your pets like I do, there is no way that animals would think being out on lonely streets, fighting for their food is better than being with a warm and loving family.

jesus christ

jesus christ

im both really happy and

im both really happy and really sad that we live in such a great place (to be so freakin' cliche!) that we have nothing else to worry about.


I have read several of Masson's books.I think his view of dog ownership was a reflection on his relationship with dogs. He travels extensively which would cause long periods not being at home. I felt the same way about owning a dog for most of my life. A chihuahua in an apartment alone for 12 hours a day while you work and socialize is not a life for a dog. I work at home now and my dog and I are company for each other. And yes, he makes me exercise more than I would normally also.

Dogs Need Us

I strongly disagree with Masson for the simple fact that dogs need human companionship in order to feel "right" with the world. Shame on him for thinking it's somehow a badge of honor to not own a dog. I can assure you that there's more than one dog somewhere whose life would be far better living with Masson, or nearly anyone else, than it is right now.


ever realized all assassins

ever realized all assassins have 3 names?

except sirhan sirhan but had 2 of the same names and that's weird too, so i still count that as fitting.

Not sure if i agree with the

Not sure if i agree with the article or not - on the basis that - What is a dogs natural environment? In the US and many 1st world countries strays go to the kennel - the best hope for them is adoption, no? (I have had 2 dogs both adopted.) In third world countries they scour beaches and allies, gaunt and mange ridden.
I don't really see how people who are knowledgeable, able and caring would forgo the chance to give an animal a home on the notion it might not be as happy as if it where in Eden.

Animal emotions

Masson is completely forgetting the fact that domesticated animals have been bred to be docile, which means they would have a hard time surviving in the wild. Dogs and cats in particular have been with us so long that they comprise a different genetic pool from their wild counterparts.

Cats are stereotyped as aloof loners, but my cat loves me. She goes out almost every evening and comes back inside when it gets late. If she's outside and something spooks her, she comes running back in. She knows where her home is and feels secure here.

Dogs, etc etc

I see plenty of fools commenting on this page. Why am I not surprised you may ask. That is because it required friggin RESEARCH (by Masson) to tell you that animals have feelings. I thought it was quite obvious.

Let me leave a riddle for all those who believe dogs belong to the side of men: every dog must have had a mother and the bond and feeling between them is as real and intense as in humans. There is no denying that. I have seen a pup being separated from its mother in front of my eyes. Heck, lionesses are known to have killed those who seemed to have posed harm to her cubs. So is parting the pet dog from it's mother pardonable? Let me also answer it for you: NO. No person has the right to control the life of any other animal/human without consent (from the animal. Lol, you would never get that)


My dogs are rescue dogs. I am not responsible for their birth, or for taking them away from their mother. I am responsible for possibly saving their life, getting them out of a shelter and giving them a loving home.

You shouldn't paint in such broad strokes.

Maybe animal suffering makes

Maybe animal suffering makes humans feel good, and that's cool

And yet, what I came for:

And yet, what I came for: "Can Animals Cry?" was not mentioned. Not. Once. I know that animals express emotions. I know the arguments for being vegan. I know the silly people that think having pets is "cruel". What I don't know is if animals cry. And, contrary to the title of this article, this is not what I learned.
Don't give an article a title if what is in the title is not remotely covered in the article.

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Anneli Rufus is the author of many books, including Party of One: The Loners' Manifesto and Stuck: Why We Can't (or Won't) Move On.


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