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Book Review: The Animals’ Agenda by Marc Bekoff & Jessica Pierce

The Animals’ Agenda: Freedom, Compassion, and Coexistence in the Human Age by Marc Bekoff and Jessica Pierce is an important and timely book that examines the human relationship with — or, more accurately, examines the many ways in which humans use — animals and how this relationship needs to evolve. This book asks readers to rethink how we see animals and to adopt more compassionate practices toward them, from animals used for food and entertainment to those in the wild.

If this book has one message that we all need to hear, it’s that animals in our society suffer abuses that we currently accept as normal — the hope is that one day we will all see these practices as barbaric instead of acceptable or necessary. The authors argue that humans are indeed aware, on some level, of these abuses but are not taking steps toward actually preventing them. Most people still eat animals, still visit zoos, still hunt and fish. “We offer lip service to freedom, in talking about ‘cage-free chickens’ and ‘naturalistic zoo enclosures.’ But real freedom for animals is the one value we don’t want to acknowledge, because it would require a deep examination of our own behavior…Many animals live impoverished lives because of our desires or our lack of awareness.”

The Animals’ Agenda shows how, despite studies that prove the intelligence and emotional sensitivity of animals, nothing will change until humans accept this suffering and choose to stop supporting it — by not attending zoos, for example, or by not eating or wearing animal products. They compare the reality of standard, accepted animal suffering to Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth: “The truth of animal feelings is similarly inconvenient, in that it challenges our highly profitable animal industries and our personal habits.”

The book is organized in sections that tackle the ways in which animals are at the mercy of humans, including farmed animals, animals in labs, pets, and wild animals. Among the most important points the authors make is that so-called improvements in the treatment of animals as a result of animal welfare studies actually do more harm than good because they let people off the hook by allowing them to believe the animals don’t suffer as much as they actually do. One powerful example is in the work of Temple Grandin, who “is hailed as a compassionate helper of animals while at the same time working within a venue in which billions of animals are harmed and killed…she has done more than anyone else to deflect attention from real freedom for animals. Even if a few animals are getting a ‘better life,’ it surely is not a good life.”

And this is the main point of The Animals’ Agenda: that non-human animals deserve the freedoms we human animals enjoy. And yet no non-human species comes even close. Even farmed animals who are fed and housed (allowing people to believe they are “cared for”) have no freedom whatsoever: “They are confined to small cages or crates, or else they are packed into a large space with so many others of their kind that physical movement is highly constrained…They have little to no control over social interactions and attachments.” Most of their diets are so unnatural to them that the animals feel hungry all the time, even when they are fed. And lest you think that “free-range” animals have it better, read on; as the authors show, “Humane is a dirty little lie.” Methods of castration, for example, that are “animal welfare approved” by the United States do not require anesthesia. And readers will be shocked to read of the terrible conditions and abuses that occur at AZA-accredited zoos.

One chapter of the book is devoted to companion animals and points out “how little research has been directed at the welfare of animals kept as pets, either in the home environment or in pet stores and breeding facilities.” Yet instead of focusing on ways to end the breeding and sale of animals, the authors focus on “exploring freedom and preferences in relation to our most common animal companions — dogs and cats” — despite their acknowledgment of the dearth of research. There are many good points in this chapter — the ills of the wholesale pet industry, the lack of knowledge most humans have about the needs of their pets — but by advocating for greater freedoms for companion animals, the authors do a disservice to shelter pets and their humans. While they acknowledge that “as companions of dogs, we can do our best to balance necessary constraints against as full a measure of freedom as possible,” they actually advise against keeping cats indoors (not mentioning exceptions for such circumstances as FIV-positive or declawed cats): “Depending on location, cats may have to contend with busy roads, with predators such as coyotes or cougars, with humans who have bad intentions, and with the possibility of injury or disease. But as with our children, we cannot protect them from all risk…Letting cats outside may be what ethicist Bill Lynn calls ‘a sad good,’ a good that involves an element of moral risk and harm.”

The fact that this book advocates so strongly for animals in other ways makes this chapter on pets a liability, as it risks derailing the book’s entire message: If readers think it’s okay to allow their cats to face injury, disease, and death from traffic or predators, why should they attempt to avoid causing such harm when it comes to farmed animals or captive animals in zoos? Many animal-rights activists would agree that keeping pets is something that humans should eventually give up — but until every last animal shelter is empty, these animals need to be adopted, loved, and protected. Companion animals deserve freedom the same way dairy cows do, but whereas the life of a dairy cow is a daily torture, most pets are not being tortured simply by being kept inside homes or behind fences for their own safety. Even a free dairy cow would presumably fenced in at a sanctuary, not left out on her own. It’s this chapter, in an otherwise stellar book, that may make it hard for non-activists to embrace the idea of animal freedom.

The Animals’ Agenda goes on to note the ways in which even wild animals, on both land and in oceans, suffer due to our influence — from habitat loss to our noise to our trash — and that even conservation work, such as capturing and tagging animals, has its own negative effects. Education is key here, and the authors’ message is clear: “a great number of things we currently do to animals are simply wrong and need to stop: the unnecessary slaughter of animals for food and fur, the use of animals in invasive research, the confinement of animals for human entertainment, and our excessive encroachment on wildlife.”

While Bekoff and Pierce detail the good science that is happening regarding animal welfare, they also note that we must “close the knowledge-translation gap”; in the end, much of this knowledge primarily serves the industries that abuse animals. For things to improve, for us to put “what we know about animals into the service of animals themselves,” it will take nothing less than a compassionate society to adopt a mindset of true animal freedom. A very good first step toward that is reading this book.

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Book Review: What It’s Like to Be a Dog: And Other Adventures in Animal Neuroscience

I am forever wondering what my dog, Galen, is thinking. Sometimes I go nose to nose with her, stare into her brown eyes, and ponder what’s happening in that little brain of hers. In those moments, I presume she thinks either, “Why have you thrust your face in mine?” or “How about you give me a cookie?” I’m embarrassed to say for how many years this ritual has persisted and how many times a day it’s repeated. But it is this longing to get into Galen’s head that attracted me to the pioneering work of neuroscientist Gregory Berns, much of whose research involves going inside a dog’s mind.

Berns, an Emory University professor and founding member of the Society for Neuroeconomics, is the scientist who, in 2011, came up with the radical notion that dogs could be trained to enter an MRI machine and remain still long enough to have their brains scanned and thus, studied. How Berns turned his controversial idea into groundbreaking science is the story at the center of his 2013 book, How Dogs Love Us: A Neuroscientist and His Adopted Dog Decode the Canine Brain. Now Berns is out with What It’s Like to Be a Dog: And Other Adventures in Animal Neuroscience, which picks up where How Dogs Love Us leaves off.

For those unfamiliar with Berns’ work with dogs, the introduction to What It’s Like to Be a Dog provides a condensed account of how he and his team trained a host of dogs—starting with Berns’ own rescue, Callie—to don ear muffs and “shimmy” into loud, hulking MRI machines.

Berns and his rescue, Callie.

It is an extraordinary chronicle of patience, determination, and above all, respect for the dogs that would participate in the studies. Berns writes that three principles guided the team’s research: do no harm to the dogs, do not restrain them, and give the dogs “the right of self-determination.” That meant the dogs “had the same fundamental privilege as humans participating in research: the right to refuse.” Being dogs, refuse is sometimes what they did. Fortunately, more of the time (and for treats aplenty), they did not.

Callie in the MRI machine

Berns has long been fascinated by the brain. He began studying humans’ brains, turned next to those of dogs, and as telegraphed by the subtitle of this newest work—And Other Adventures in Animal Neuroscience—is extending his brain imaging research into the broader animal kingdom. This is important for readers to note because those expecting What It’s Like to Be a Dog to be a wholly dog-centric read will be disappointed. (I presume the title was chosen to entice dog lovers, and I admit, it’s what initially drew me.)

At its core, What It’s Like to Be a Dog is Berns’ first-person account of his attempt to answer the question: Do animals experience emotions like people do? The science in the book—Berns provides primers on the evolution of the brain and its structure—is written for the lay reader, and it is what underlies the non-dog narratives that drive the story. These narratives revolve around Berns’ adventures tracking down and studying the brains of sea lions, dolphins, and the now-extinct thylacine, a tiger-like marsupial native to Australia.

What Berns finds, through the myriad imaging studies he performs, is that there are enough similarities in the architecture of human and animal brains to extrapolate that animals have feelings much like humans do. “Our results have shown,” he writes, “no matter which animal’s brain we examined, that if it has a cortex, the animal is very likely sentient, and that its subjective experience can be understood by degrees of similarity to ours.”

Ethical implications flow from Berns’ findings, and this is the territory in which he closes the book. If animals are indeed sentient, a rethinking of how we treat them in agriculture, in laboratories, in our homes, in our every encounter, is not simply long overdue, it is imperative.

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Wolf Haven: Sanctuary and the Future of Wolves in North America

After finishing Wolf Haven I went straight to the Internet and looked up Wolf Haven International.

I had been aware of the California Wolf Center, located outside San Diego, but was not aware of Wolf Haven, located just south of Mt. Rainier. And now I can’t wait to visit.

But make no mistake; this is no petting zoo. In fact, the sanctuary goes to great lengths to keep many of the wolves far away from people so they stand a better chance of survival when they are introduced back into the wild. Just last month a number of Mexican gray wolves were reintroduced into northern Mexico after having spent time at Wolf Haven.

Approximately 200 of the Wolf Haven residents are forever residents; either captive bred or simply unable to survive on their own, Wolf Haven gives these animals some much-deserved peace. I wish I could say that the underlying message of this book will bring the reader peace, but the sad truth is that there is war on wolves, one that began a long time ago.

It’s estimated that when European settlers first made their way across North America that there were more than two million wolves here. But when settlers imported cows and sheep and steadily moved west, wolves soon focused their energies on these animals. Before long, the war on wolves had begun.

In about a hundred years wolves declined to as few as 1,500 animals. The eastern Red Wolf is still on the edge of regional extinction, along with the Mexican gray wolf in the United States.

Here in Oregon, few issues agitate animal lovers more than the plight of wolves. As Wolf Haven notes, our governor Kate Brown (despite the fact that she claims to care about the environment) allowed the wolf to be removed from the protected list. Apparently the government believes that a few dozen wolves constitutes “enough” wolves in this state. And now, tragically, their numbers will dwindle again as hunters and ranchers go after them.

With this in mind, the book Wolf Haven is a fitting tribute to a wolf sanctuary that is doing its part to protect these species.

If the measurement of a successful book is inciting someone to action, then Wolf Haven certainly qualifies. It has inspired me to give to this organization and one day make the trip up north to visit.

And to also remind our governor that wolves do matter to many residents of Oregon.

Wolf Haven: Sanctuary and the Future of Wolves in North America

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Book Review: Just Life

When I read a New York Times story about a New York City neighborhood grappling with a rare animal-borne disease that killed one resident and left at least two others seriously ill, it was, for me, a tragic case of life imitating art. You see, I’d recently finished Neil Abramson’s Just Life, a fast-paced fictional tale in which a mysterious and deadly zoonotic disease is spreading through a neighborhood on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. In the Times’ story, medical officials concluded the disease—leptospirosis—was being spread by rats. In the novel, Abramson challenges readers by asking this: What if an animal-borne disease isn’t transmitted by rats or squirrels or birds or raccoons? What if the carrier is the family dog?

Dogs are the whole of veterinarian Samantha Lewis’s life. Her mother is dead, she’s estranged from her father, and she has little time for friends, lovers, or her shrink, whose diagnosis—that Sam has undealt-with-anger issues—she terms a “load of crap.” Sam devotes all her energy to running her New York City shelter for abandoned and abused dogs. It’s thankless work that keeps her questioning the humanity of her fellow humans, keeps “her expecting the people out there to care and being disappointed when they didn’t, of the flow of the unwanted and the rejected, of all the goddamn cages[.]”

Now the city is threatening to shut down Sam’s shelter—whether or not she can find homes for her dogs. And she doesn’t know why.

It’s during Sam’s campaign to save the shelter that an unidentified virus begins taking the lives of children in Riverside, the Manhattan neighborhood in which Sam’s shelter is located. When tests point to dogs as carriers of the deadly virus, New York’s politically-ambitious governor orders the NYPD and the National Guard to quarantine the neighborhood. Sam fears the quarantine is just the beginning. She knows that government-imposed responses to zoonotic-based diseases always follow the same trajectory: Quarantine. Cull. Kill.

Sam’s mission is now not only to save her dogs, but all the dogs in Riverside, and to uncover what’s making the local dogs sick. Sam gets help from a motley crew of fellow dog lovers, all of whom, like Sam and her shelter dogs, are seeking sanctuary from their own troubled pasts. There’s the local police officer mourning the tragic death of his K-9 partner, the homeless teen emancipated from the city’s foster-care system, the elderly priest fighting the onset of dementia, and the psychologist whose drug addiction ended her career.

While Just Life offers readers a page-turner of a plot, the novel’s strength lies in Abramson’s depictions of the human-canine relationship at its most beautiful and enduring, and also at its most ugly—in the abuse and abandonment of hundreds of thousands of dogs each year, in their euthanization in crowded shelters, and in their callous treatment as subjects in research experiments.

It’s through mining this ugliness that Abramson brings forth the novel’s heartfelt message: that too often “…we refuse to acknowledge—[humans and animals] are all the same in the most material ways; we are all just life.”

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Book Review: The Vegan Studies Project

vegan studies project

Donald Watson is widely credited with having coined the term “vegan” in 1944, when he and others founded the Vegan Society.

Since then, the word has become so heavily loaded with cultural and emotional baggage (both pro and con) that an increasing number of vegan restaurants and food brands I come across now use the words “plant-based” instead.

But I like the word “vegan” in all its messy glory. And I’m not about to stop using it.

The fact is, the word represents disruption on an enormous scale — to food industries, political systems, religious traditions, family traditions, and personal relationships. This word can make people uncomfortable. There was a time in my life, not many years ago, when it made me uncomfortable.

Which is why I was so interested in reading The Vegan Studies Project by Laura Wright.

The book is largely academic in nature, with plenty of footnotes and references to other academic works. But there are also numerous personal narratives included. While the author doesn’t explicitly call out for the creation of “vegan studies” programs at universities, this would be a natural and positive outcome.

Wright points out that there is no “one” vegan movement, nor one typical vegan. Some people are vegan for animals, some for diet, some for allergies, some for all of the above. But Wright illustrates how commonly vegans are portrayed by media and popular culture as one entity: elitists, separatists, even terrorists. More culturally loaded words.

This is a book that poses considerably more questions than it answers, which is by design. The word “project” denotes the beginning of something, and this book sets out to open lines of discussion around the contemporary vegan movement. Issues such as:

  • Vegan celebrities: Do celebrities help the movement when they go vegan? And do they do more harm than good when they give it up?
  • Death by veganism: Every few years it seems that vegan parents come under scrutiny for “starving” their children through their vegan diet. Neal Barnard is one of a growing number of doctors who have made good progress in debunking the myths surrounding vegan diets and children.
  • Vegans in entertainment: Wright devotes significant attention to the popularity of vampire books, TV and film, examining the evolution of vampires. (As an aside, it’s a shame the vegan vampire series that Ashland Creek Press published — the Lithia Trilogy — was overlooked. This series features a vegan vampire that goes well beyond the “vegetarian” vampires popularized by the Twilight Series and discussed by the author.)
  • Veganism and eating disorders: Is veganism the cause of some eating disorders (as some people claim) or does it represent a path away from eating disorders? I find this area particularly interesting because veganism is often viewed as a lifestyle of deprivation — and, if not embarked upon properly, sometimes it can be. Many restaurants still make it difficult to eat vegan, but this is changing — and quickly. How will veganism be portrayed in the years ahead as food choices become more commonplace and more affordable?
  • Veganism and masculinity: Meat is so tightly intertwined with the concept of masculinity that it’s hard to get through fifteen minutes of an NFL football game without watching commercials that all but shout that you’re not a man if you don’t eat meat. Fortunately, many men are challenging this worldview, proving through bodybuilding or running that men can thrive without eating meat. This is a positive step forward, though I’d like to get to a point in time where men can be vegan without feeling like they have to run a marathon or two.

Religion should also be included in this field of study and was curiously missing from the book. I would love to see more researchers tackle how religious works are used to defend meat eating as well as to defend not eating meat.

Veganism/vegetarianism is not a new philosophy. The notion of not eating animals apparently goes back to Pythagoras. But I do find it maddening how over the past few hundred years the movement has bubbled up for periods of time only to fade again from mainstream view. This time, I think, is different — especially as climate change and the environment is increasingly linked with animal agriculture. Reading this book, I’m reminded of the many ways that veganism is becoming more and more central to our culture, even if the word itself is not used outright.

This book sets the stage for more researchers, more writers, more people to better understand this word and what it means to the world.

The Vegan Studies Project: Food, Animals, and Gender in the Age of Terror
The University of Georgia Press

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J. M. Coetzee (and many others) push for an end to animal testing

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The Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics has issued an important report that calls for the “de-normalisation of animal experimentation.” The report is backed by numerous scientists, scholars, theologians and writers, such as Coetzee.

You can view the report here.

According to the report:

The deliberate and routine abuse of innocent, sentient animals involving harm, pain, suffering, stressful confinement, manipulation, trade, and death should be unthinkable. Yet animal experimentation is just that: the ‘normalisation of the unthinkable’.

It is estimated that 115.3 million animals are used in experiments worldwide per annum. In terms of harm, pain, suffering, and death, this constitutes one of the major moral issues of our time.

‘The moral arguments in favour of animal testing really don’t hold water’ says Professor Andrew Linzey, co-editor of the report and a theologian at Oxford University. ‘We have looked at the central arguments in official reports and found them wanting. If any of them were morally valid, they would also justify experiments on human beings.’

To those who argue that animal experimentation saves human lives I point to the following:

Overall, in the US, 92 per cent of drugs that pass preclinical tests, mostly animal tests, fail to make it to the market because they are proven to be ineffective and/or unsafe in people

1. Stressed animals yield poor data. The unnatural laboratory environments and procedures cause animals substantial stress. Their distress causes changes in their physiology (Garner, J. P., 2005) that affect research data in very unpredictable ways.
2. Animals do not naturally develop most human diseases. The inability to recreate human diseases accurately in other animals is a fundamental flaw in the use of animal experiments.
3. Animals are not miniature humans. Despite attempts to genetically alter animals to mimic human physiology or use closer genetic species such as NHPs, physiological and genetic differences that are unalterable and inherent to species diversity remain an insurmountable obstacle to using animals to predict human outcomes.

I’m not suggesting that tests on animals have not saved human lives. But the price we as a society pay is too steep. We now know too much about how animals suffer to look the other way. And we also have the technologies today to avoid animal testing entirely — using computer models, lab-grown tissues, and so forth. Note that L’Oreal already “farms” fake skin for testing cosmetics with plans to created plans to use 3D printed skin.

I believe that if most people understood not only how ineffective animal testing is but also how it delays, often by years, drugs coming to the market — they might be eager to bypass animal testing entirely.

Animal rights is one of the major social issues of our time — yet one that still exists on the periphery of society. However, this is changing.

Animals can’t speak up for themselves. That’s why writers are so very important.

Writers have an opportunity and responsibility to push our society forward in how we view and relate to animals. I’m happy to see Coetzee lending his name — and his writing — the cause.

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The Chain picks up where The Jungle leaves off


The Chain: Farm, Factory, and the Fate of Our Food, by Ted Genoways, is an important work of reporting. Based on years of interviews and tireless research, the book spans the length of our food system, focused largely on Hormel Foods, the makers of Spam. It covers the tragically interconnected plight of the workers and of the animals.

Genoways cites The Jungle throughout this book, and for good reason. We’d certainly like to believe The Jungle brought attention to issues that have since been solved.

But these problems have not been solved. If anything they are worse.

Worse because there are so more many animals being killed today, animals who now never set foot on ground or see the light of day. And the workers are treated as badly now as they were then, losing fingers, becoming horribly diseased. Worse because so many of these workers, as undocumented workers, have so few rights, and as a result, are powerless to speak up.

Worse because we should know better now. We have laws now that are intended to protect humans and, to limited extent, the animals. Laws that are overlooked or ignored because the companies are firmly in charge of their own regulations. And the small towns that could pressure these companies to act like better citizens are terrified daily of watching the companies move to some other jobs-starved region.

In reading this book you learn:

  • Slaughterhouses keep accelerating  the lines of production, to speeds that are frighteningly unsustainable — that is, if you want to ensure food safety and worker safety. One plant slaughters 10,000 hogs a day, a number once seemed impossible.
  • But do the workers get bonuses for this breakneck production? Of course not. They get sick. And the stories of human suffering in this book makes me wonder how the company’s executives sleep at night. Our desire for cheap meat has very real human costs.
  • Worse, the unions that once protected these workers have been largely made irrelevant. The companies prey on undocumented workers to keep wages low.
  • The water supplies around these plants are becoming so polluted that people now need to drink bottled water. There was once a time you’d travel to a third-world country and be wary of drinking the water. Now, we’ve created this experience across growing regions of the United States.
  • The numerous antibiotics and hormones injected into the animals are most certainly entering our bodies.

Perhaps slaughterhouses should be located in the hearts of major cities where we could all watch the animals being herded up the ramps with electric prods, instead of located in small towns that politicians will sell their souls to keep what few jobs they have left from going away. And where, now, so many states have enacted laws to prevent journalists or activists from photographing the animals or the workers.

It’s not hard to feel helpless and deeply upset reading this book. Because the corruption at the top levels of state and federal governments is so  entrenched. This, by the way, is not a Democratic or Republic problem — neither party particularly cares for animals or the people who work on the lines.

But the fact is, there is one way to change the world.

Stop eating animals.

Genoways does not prescribe solutions in his book, but on his website he does suggest eating less meat.

And I will add that as someone who doesn’t eat meat, the meat substitutes available these days are amazing. So are the fake cheeses. And these products don’t contain cholesterol or antibiotics. And they aren’t tainted with the horror that surrounds the meat industry.

Just as demand created the meat industry, demand for fake meat will one day create an entirely new industry, one that is far better for people, animals, and this planet.

The Jungle isn’t over. It’s still happening.

The Chain: Farm, Factory, and the Fate of Our Food

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Book Review: The Awareness by Gene Stone and Jon Doyle

The Awareness

The AwarenessThe Awareness (March 2014) is told in the shifting point of view of a wild bear, a circus elephant, a factory farmed pig and a rescued pet dog — all of whom have gained a human awareness of the world. It’s told in four parts. One chapter in each section contains the point of view of each of the four animals as the calamity unfolds.

As a consequence of their awakened awareness, the animals realize they are at war with the humans who hunt them, use them for entertainment, eat them and imprison them.

It allows for a striking perception shift. This book exemplifies the power of fiction to show us the world anew. Instead of shying from anthropomorphizing, the novel’s conceit aims to do exactly that. It allows the reader to perceive animals as equals and imagine what we would do under the same circumstances.

Pointedly, although the animals retain some of their instincts, their intelligence distinctly puts them on the same playing field as humans able to talk and reason and communicate with each other as a social group.

On gaining awareness, the animals see that they have been at the mercy of, and subservient to, human desires. It’s terrifying and tragic to realize that the awareness logically puts us at war.

In the book’s most powerful scenes, circus animals use their freedom to make humans do tricks, but wonder at the pointlessness, and an escaped factory farmed pig is forced to confront the horror of tortured sows in gestation crates. In true human fashion, the freed pig turns away from this greater misery. When another animal tries to show her so that she truly understands the depth of her kind’s suffering, she resists.

“We have to get inside,” the ferret said.
“Why would I want to get into another building? I don’t care, ferret. I keep trying to tell you. I don’t care.”
The ferret laughed. “Let’s just enter the building, then you can not care.”

Who would commit such atrocity? The pig, fed by machine, has never even met a human before.

Cooper, the dog, however, was rescued by a human and his point of view is particularly heartrending. He feels most conflicted by his Awareness because of his love for his human. But this is his war too. As an animal, he must choose sides. It’s painfully reminiscent of Richard Adams’ The Plague Dogs in which a companion dog becomes the subject of animal testing and remains steadfastly loyal to the idea that humans can be beloved masters even while confronted with extremes of human cruelty and betrayal.

The Awareness is a powerful book, well structured and a quick read. Stone said he self-published it because it was hard to find a publisher for a book with talking animals.  It’s true, this book doesn’t strike one as the kind many people would pick up on a whim nor fit cleanly into a category. Although, it’s a welcome addition into the, perhaps growing, niche of ecolit and ecofabulism in which adult readers are willing to hear animal voices once again and empathize.

In The Awareness, the thoughtful animals, like their thoughtful human counterparts, struggle to escape the us versus them paradigm in favor of a peace of like-minded folk. The aware animals seek, as we aware humans should, another way. Animals should not have to have strictly human intelligence to have equal consideration and to be regarded as soulful individuals.

As Gene Stone told The Discerning Brute:

“It’s vital that we all apply the Golden Rule not just to other people but to animals as well. Do onto every creature you come in contact with as you would do onto yourself…Consideration to animals is, in my mind, the mark of a truly compassionate civilization. “

What next?
Try Exodus 2022 a supernatural imagining of what animals faced with ecological devastation might do. Gene Stone’s bibliography makes for a great nonfiction reading list — The Awareness adds a work of fiction to the mix.

Inspired by this novel?
Check out Action for Animals and Mercy for Animals, two organizations working to end the human war on animals. One giant step toward peace, don’t eat them.

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Book Review – The Bond: Our Kinship with Animals, Our Call to Defend Them by Wayne Pacelle

Wayne Pacelle’s The Bond is much more than its gentle title suggests. Rather than present a quaint book about the human-animal bond, Pacelle (president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States) takes readers through a complex history of the relationships among human and non-human animals, from farming to hunting to pets to wildlife.


While much of the book highlights the work Pacelle and his colleagues at the HSUS have done on behalf of animals, The Bond is not merely a list of accomplishments; much of its significance lies in the why—the necessity of these battles the HSUS wages on behalf of animals, from improving conditions for farm animals to disaster-response legislation for pets.

From a California slaughterhouse to post-Katrina New Orleans, Pacelle takes readers on a journey through a country whose citizens claim to love animals yet allow them to be treated in ways that reveal the opposite (particularly interesting are Pacelle’s conversations with Michael Vick, in which Vick proclaims to love animals even as he sits in prison for dogfighting). Despite the horrific cruelty that Pacelle and his colleagues must witness in order to do the work they do, the book, while often disturbing in its imagery and realities, ultimately turns toward the positive. Of post-Katrina rescue efforts, Pacelle writes, “[A]n interesting thing happened—something I always hope for, but that you can never quite anticipate: the world saw that helping animals is a task that also helps people. The separate stories of the human rescue and the animal rescue melded together…”

Despite the ways in which we love our pets (170 million dogs and cats reside in American homes), “we slaughter upwards of fifty billion domesticated animals for food every year in the world, with an ever-growing share confined for their entire lives on factory farms.” To make the connection between pets and all other animals, Pacelle devotes early sections of the book to the intellectual and emotional lives of animals, showing their great capacity for love, joy, and grief. He also presents the cruelty of factory farming, putting it into human perspective when he quotes the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture on chickens raised for meat, fattened up to a dangerous weight before being slaughtered at only seven weeks old: “‘If you grew as fast as a chicken you’d weigh 349 pounds at age 2.’”

Of course, animal factories are not just for farm animals; Pacelle writes about puppy mills and breeding, and he also writes about sport hunting, including devastating details from his trip to Yosemite in 1989, to witness and attempt to halt the public hunting of bison who strayed out of the park. “Montana wardens had been sent out as scouts to locate the bison and then radio their whereabouts to our driver. Once the vehicle was close enough to the bison, he stopped the truck, and the hunters hopped off…The bison didn’t have a chance, and one after another they fell in a heap…These animals were used to seeing people, and before that moment had never been hunted by them, much less slaughtered in a sneak attack.”

As the book’s subtitle promises, Pacelle addresses our need to defend all animals, not just those who live in our homes. He points out that among the biggest defenders of animal cruelty are organizations with benign-sounding names like Americans for Medical Progress and the Center for Consumer Freedom: “These groups have staffs, offices, stationary, websites, money, and everything else that a real public-interest organization has—except members,” Pacelle writes. “In most cases, they are entirely the creation of animal-use industries, and they exist mainly to present the illusion of mainstream opposition to animal protection.” Even the American Veterinary Medical Association aligns with agribusiness over animal welfare: “On most issues of animal welfare, the industry will not relent at all, and the AVMA won’t either.”

It’s hard not to believe that most of humanity cares about animals and their welfare, and that such abuse still exists in this world because people are simply not aware of it—and of course the industries of abuse rely on this denial. “For all of these industries, their trade groups, and their apologists, the suffering of animals is the most incidental of details,” Pacelle writes. “They prefer not to think about it, and they try very hard to make sure that you don’t either.”

Yet Pacelle’s The Bond ensures that sure we do think about it—and the book includes a list of fifty ways to help animals, exhorting readers to examine everything from what they eat to what they buy in order to avoid playing a role in cruelty to animals. It’s a list that’s comprehensive enough that anyone can make a difference, whether it’s eating plant-based foods or getting involved in rescue efforts or animal-protection campaigns. Pacelle reminds us that with every choice we make, we can perpetuate the abuse of animals, or take a stand against it.


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Book Review: The Plague Dogs by Richard Adams

The Plague Dogs by Richard Adams
The Plague Dogs by Richard Adams
The Plague Dogs by Richard Adams

No one gives animals a voice like author Richard Adams. While most may be familiar with his novel Watership Down (1972) from childhood, readers of EcoLit may especially appreciate The Plague Dogs (1977). Adams credits Victims of Science: The Use of Animals in Research (1975) by Richard Ryder and Animal Liberation (1975) by Peter Singer as influences for this book, which tells the story of two dogs’ escape from an animal research station in North West England.

The omniscient narration allows Adams to delve into numerous perspectives most notably the dogs: Rowf, a loyal eager-to-please Labrador to the core, and Snitter, a prescient fox terrier who has undergone brain experimentation and acts a lot like Fiver, the mad rabbit in Watership Down.

The book also explores the motivations and personality of the researcher Dr. Boycott: “He represented, in fact, a most ingenious paradox, noble in reason, express and admirable in action, his undemonstrative heart committed with the utmost detachment to the benefit of humanity. Something too much of this.” and “Besides, who in his senses could reasonably expect Dr. Boycott to ask himself, on behalf of the human race, not, ‘How much knowledge can I discover?’ but ‘How much knowledge am I justified in seeking?'”.

It’s an affecting and memorable book, and worth reading if only for the opening scene which describes Rowf’s experience in a water experiment. He’s made to tread water until he drowns and is then revived — repeatedly.

The horrors of animal testing are tough to confront.

These experimental animals are just sentient objects; they’re useful because they are able to react; sometimes precisely because they are able to feel fear and pain. And they’re used as if they were electric light bulbs or boots. What it comes down to is that whereas there used to be human and animal slaves, now there are just animal slaves. They have no legal rights, and no choice in the matter.

Fiction provides a buffer that makes these animals’ experiences approachable though no less heartbreaking and based in fact. Fiction evokes empathy without triggering our instinct to recoil.

Although Adams adds political intrigue, the story bogs down in the middle as the dogs roam the countryside. It gains momentum with the appearance of an old-school, investigative, rabble-rousing journalist, Digby Driver: “Privacy, reticence and human worth melted before him like ghosts at cockcrow.” The novel explores all the influences that permit animal research and shows how this torture survives only in shadow.

It’s a dark story with a pervasive sense of doom. While the dogs escape the testing facility, Adams continues his authorial job of torturing his characters. Rowf and Snitter are first hunted for the crime of killing sheep and then as possible carriers of the plague. As one sympathetic character notes, “It’s a bad world for the helpless.”

The dogs’ conversations about their prospects for survival are heart wrenching. Snitter, who once had a “real master,” sticks up for men, while Rowf despairs. He feels he is being punished for not doing his duty as a dog (withstanding torture). Snitter notes, “Men can do worse things than hurt you or starve you—they can change the world.” And not for the better, the dogs conclude.

Beloved canine companions may find themselves the recipients of extra hugs and treats during the reading of this book.

Adams has a florid style: “Freedom — that consuming goal above doubt or criticism, desired as moths desire the candle or emigrants the distant continent waiting to parch them in its deserts or drive them to madness in its bitter winters!”

Some readers won’t make it through the word fest, while aficionados of 19th century classics may revel in it: “Oh happy living things! No tongue their beauty might declare.”

There’s little payoff in the ending, a pointed and unapologetic deus ex machina: “Do you think great Pan is going to sit idly by while Dr. Boycott stabs, maims, and drowns his creatures in the name of science, progress and civilization?”

However, there’s a reward for readers of EcoLit who persevere — the appearance of a real-life hero. Environmentalist Sir Peter Markham Scott (1909–1989), knighted for wildlife conservation and a founder of the World Wide Fund for Nature, makes a cameo.

While several stylistic choices limit this book’s appeal, it’s classic, heartfelt EcoLit with intellectual chops.

It’s time people started thinking of Man as one of a number of species inhabiting the planet; and if he’s the cleverest, that merely gives him more responsibility for seeing that the rest can lead proper, natural lives under minimum control.

What to read next?
We3 (2005), a graphic novel by Grant Morrison, evokes some of the same emotion and ideas as The Plague Dogs in a greatly condensed and visual form. It features a weaponized cat, dog, and rabbit who escape from a government defense research facility. Notably, Morrison is the author of Animal Man, a comic book released in omnibus form in August, with strong animal advocacy roots.

Victims of Science: The Use of Animals in Research (1975) by Richard Ryder and Animal Liberation (1975) by Peter Singer influenced this book and Pincher Martin by William Golding, a novel about purgatory and drowning, is referenced within.

Inspired by this novel?

Visit the Beagle Freedom Project.

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