Good News For Animals as We Move Into 2016

Tennessee animal abuse registry and new journal have strong links to psychology

Posted Dec 29, 2015

Animals are "in" and need all the help they can get

Animals are "in." I'm always interested, amazed, and quite frankly perplexed when I see an image of a nonhuman animal (animal) in a TV advertisement or as the teaser image for a Psychology Today essay when neither the ad nor the essay has anything to do with animals. I take it to mean that animals can strongly attract people's attention and that perhaps the psychology of using them taps into our "biophilic impulse." 

Regardless, it's hard to imagine that using animals to attract attention can be bad for them. Indeed, one of my friend's kids once asked me why a particular TV ad used a whale and while I really couldn't answer her question, she went on to say that she liked seeing the whale and that she feels very "glued to animals." I mentioned that it's natural for her to have these feelings, that it's in our genes. After I explained that I was referring to "genes" rather than to jeans, she got it, and went on and on about how animals made her feel good. This really made me smile and feel good as well. This brief exchange gave me hope. 

I fully know how difficult it is to remain hopeful when daily we read about wanton and wide-ranging violence toward other humans and other animals. In an earlier essay called "A Rewilding Manifesto: Compassion, Biophilia, and Hope" I write about the importance of tapping to into our innate attraction to nature and to other animals -- our biophilic impulse -- to maintain hope in difficult times. 

Here I just want to add two more recent events that can be used to give us hope. First, as I've noted elsewhere, a new journal called Animal Sentience: An Interdisciplinary Journal on Animal Feeling has recently been launched, and if it's first issue that centers on the question of whether or not fish feel pain is any indication of how important it will be, this is very good news for animals. The format of the journal, that includes experts from all sides of an issue weighing in, provides for exciting and thoughtful reading and debate. We can only hope that animals will benefit from these discussions. 

An animal is abused every 10 seconds in the United States: "The link"

Another incredibly important event that has strong implications for psychologists is the opening of a registry for animal abusers in Tennessee as of 1 January 2016. The page will look like this. This is the first statewide registry and what I found extremely interesting and important is how it appeals to what psychologists call "the link," a reference to the strong tie between human-animal and human-human violence. Humans and nonhumans should greatly benefit from this registry. An excellent discussion about "the link" can be found in an essay by the National Link Coalition

When I listened to a report about Tennessee's registry, I learned that it's been estimated that an animal is abused every 10 seconds in the United States. (I take this to refer more to companion animals, or pets, as food animals and animals in other venues are abused 24/7.) And, these would only be cases that people know about, and I deeply worry about abuse that goes unreported. I was floored and aghast. I know there are debates about whether animal abuse registries are good or bad, useful or not, but I still like to harken back to Gretchen Wyler's claim that "cruelty can't stand the spotlight." I hope other states will follow Tennessee's lead.

Despite all "the bad" that's happening today, I remain hopeful if we also embrace what humane educator Zoe Weil stresses, namely, the world becomes what we teach, as part of her wonderful vision of what education can and must become for the sake of our children and the world they are inheriting.

Anthrozoology and Minding Animals

Nonhuman animal beings need all the help they can get from people around the world. Academics and other researchers of all disciplines -- biology, ethology, psychology, sociology, anthropology, philosophy, political science, literature and the arts, and law, to mention a few -- play crucial roles (I'll be writing more about this soon), because animal studies (see also Paul Waldau's Animal Studies: An Introduction) and the ever-growing field of study called anthrozoology (the study of human-animal relationships) truly are strongly transdisciplinary. The international Minding Animals conferences also show how people from numerous disciplines are interested in many different aspects of the fascinating lives of other animals. Non-academics and non-researchers who deeply care about protecting nonhumans from wanton, widespread, and unimaginable abuse also play vital roles in helping other animals. It can't be over-stressed that animals need all the help they can get. 

Tapping into our biophilic impulse and knowing there are numerous people working to make the lives of nonhumans the very best they can be is critical for maintaining hope in difficult times and for keeping our dreams and our childrens' dreams alive. The thought that a companion animal being is abused every 10 seconds in the United States alone is not only sickening, but also strongly motivating, to get all of us to do something, right now, for other animals. 

Marc Bekoff's latest books are Jasper's Story: Saving Moon Bears (with Jill Robinson), Ignoring Nature No More: The Case for Compassionate ConservationWhy Dogs Hump and Bees Get DepressedRewilding Our Hearts: Building Pathways of Compassion and Coexistence and The Jane Effect: Celebrating Jane Goodall (edited with Dale Peterson). (; @MarcBekoff)