I have always considered myself someone who deeply cares for the well-being of animals. Whether they are my food, my pets, or my job, I have always considered myself devoted to the humane and ethical treatment of the creatures with whom we share this earth. But after reading “Animals Matter” by Marc Beckoff, I have discovered that my whole life has been a lie. I obviously don’t care about animals, or how could I ever eat them, or products made by them. As someone who respects animals, how can I ever deny even my pet who I cherish as my own child anything they desire? And no person who serves to protect animals would ever think that any animal can ever have their needs met living at a zoological facility.
I’m obviously being sarcastic, but the tone set in the book was not. Discussing everything from our pets, food industry, animal testing, and zoos, “Animals Matter” could easily be described as the Animal Rights’ Bible.
Why would I torture myself to read such drivel? Because this is what the zoo industry, conservation efforts, and research facilities are up against. And knowledge is power. I think everyone in the animal field should read books like this to understand what is being indoctrinated into our society by the extremists.
Having Jane Goodall write the forward to the book was a sly and slippery movement, too. I admire the work Jane Goodall has done for conservation, not just of chimpanzees, but animals and plants across the globe. However, she seems to have dual personalities when it comes to zoos. She seems to endorse some zoos, especially when reading her book “Hope for All Animals and Their World”. In there, she commends the efforts of not just wildlife researchers, but captive breeding programs that have brought several animals from the brink of extinction. She has spoken at several zoological facilities and commended their efforts. But then she writes the forward to a book like “Animals Matter” and it appears that she believes exactly what the book tells its audience- that captivity is evil, that eating meat is wrong, that even researching animals in their natural environment can be detrimental to the animals’ rights to privacy and natural behavior.
Marc Beckoff starts his book with discussing how anthropomorphism is not bad. He states that any time we attribute human emotions to an animal is anthropomorphism, and demonstrates the idea by explaining that saying your dog is “happy” is anthropomorphism. “Happy”, “sad”, “upset”, and other emotions are not exclusively human emotions. Science has proven that. Furthermore, if you are basing your assumption of your dog’s emotions on the history of his past behavior- “My dog wags his tail when we go for a walk, play ball, when I scratch his belly, and when he gets a treat. So when my dog wags his tail, I think he is happy.” This isn’t anthropomorphism. This is behavioral science. Anthropomorphism is attributing your personal feelings onto an animal without understanding their natural or individual history, and assuming that because you do or would feel a certain way, the animal must also feel the same. For example- “That elephant is unhappy in captivity because I would be unhappy in captivity. Look, the elephant is standing at the gate, looking bored. It must be so bored and unhappy in captivity.” And according to the book, this is completely sound and justified thinking. In fact, the book even goes further to legitimize extreme anthropomorphism by saying “Even people with little or no training in observing animals can agree about what an animal is feeling. Their intuition are borne out because they can predict an animal’s future behavior based on the interpretation of its emotional state.” Wait. WHAT?!?! So, by this statement, I can go to any random animal, assume whatever I want to about their state of being, and I’ll be correct, so long as it fits in with the doctrine of animal rights? Riiiiiiiight.
Our next stop in the hypocrisy wagon is our pets at home. It was stated “Animals have the right to protect their own personal interests”. What this means is that a dog has the right to be fed and we are obligated to feed it. But then Beckoff goes on to say that we are responsible for preventing the dog from eating garbage. But wouldn’t this action go against animal rights’ philosophy? If the dog has a right to its own interest and it wants to eat garbage, by animal rights principles, who are we to stop it?
What really boiled my blood was the assumption that animal welfarists were only concerned with the quality of an animal’s life but do not believe that animals’ lives are valuable in and of themselves. This is totally untrue, biased, and a deliberate attempt against zookeepers and animal trainers, or anyone who cares for captive animals, to make them appear to not really care for animals in the same capacity as an animal rights person does. He also claims that welfarists adopt a utilitarian point of view in weighing the cost to the animal against the benefit to humans. But again, this isn’t completely true of animal welfarists I know in the field. They carefully measure not human benefits, but the individual and species’ benefits as well. Questions like “Is their life good?” “Are they provided for?” “Are their needs met?” “Do they have opportunities to not just live, but thrive?” “Does the individual animal benefit from this action?” “How does the species benefit from this action?” For example, artificial insemination of elephants is a trained behavior, which the elephant participates voluntarily. Breeding elephants is considered because raising offspring is enriching and fulfilling for not just the mother, but the whole herd. While it is a big draw, and could be considered a human benefit, the attraction will help raise awareness of elephant issues worldwide. And most importantly, the procedure is completely non-invasive. These factors are considered and weighed before attempting to breed elephants, and artificial insemination, while not guaranteeing pregnancy, is a lot less stressful than moving elephants one place to another for breeding.
Apparently, also, it’s not good for ALL the animals for efforts to reintroduce once gone species, so it’s proof we shouldn’t actually interfere. The great example given by Beckoff was that of reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone. “Should the elk suffer a fate to die just to save the wolves?” Let’s examine this question. First, wolves actually HELP elk populations by weeding out the sick and weak, and leaving the healthiest to survive. But most important is the fact that reintroducing the wolves didn’t just save the wolves, it regenerated the whole ecosystem. So YES, it is okay to “sacrifice” the elk for the wolves, because it’s not just about the wolves!
According to the book, we should never interfere with animals in their natural environment. How the author is exempt from this notion when he is supposedly a wildlife ethologist, one who studies wildlife behavior, I have no earthly idea. But according to the book, we should also question our intervention, even to assist or help wild populations, and even in situations where populations have declines due to previous human interference. We shouldn’t stop our cats from hunting wildlife, even though over a billion animals are killed each year from our furry feline friends. We should not support zoos, even the reputable ones, because how would YOU feel living in a cage? But at the same time, you should put yourself in the animal’s shoes so to speak, and try to see things from their perspective. Apparently, except in cases where the animals live in human care, then don’t think about how they might feel, think about how YOU might feel.
The one good thing I got out of the book was some of the moral principles to adhere to when considering animal welfare.
- Compassion begets compassion. Cruelty begets cruelty.
- Put yourself in animal’s shoes. Try to think like the animal (of course, this means you might need to study the behavior and natural history of said animal, but this isn’t necessarily a horrible practice, if done with care, open and scientific mind)
- Dominion does not mean domination
- Be a part of nature, not apart from it.
This was an eye-opening book, but not one that changed my views. I found it to be incredibly “black and white” “all or nothing” propaganda for animal rights activists, and I can see many groups using these ideas to close animal programs, end animal use and relationships, and eventually let all animals in the wild just die off, because who are we to intervene on their wild nature? Animals Matter, just apparently, only animal rights activists do it the right way. Good to know for the next encounter….