Review: The Animal Manifesto

The Animal Manifesto.

Marc Bekoff’s The Animal Manifesto: Six Reasons for Expanding Our Compassion Footprint isn’t exactly a dog book, but there are dogs featured in it. Furthermore, much of this slim book’s premise aligns with how I think we could all approach dogs: Compassionately.

Bekoff is a reasonably well-known ethologist and a prolific writer about animal rights and animal behavior. This book is his humble and clear attempt to provide animals with a manifesto of their own, a treatise for their innate rights as fellow citizens of Earth. It is an easy and accessible book and it’s one that I wish all Americans, especially, would read.

Here are Bekoff’s six reasons for showing animals more compassion than we show them now:

  1. All animals share the Earth and we must coexist.
  2. Animals think and feel.
  3. Animals have and deserve compassion.
  4. Connection breeds caring, alienation breeds disrespect.
  5. Our world is not compassionate to animals.
  6. Acting compassionately helps all beings and our world.

He expands on each of these reasons in separate chapters, citing numerous studies, scientific surveys, and media anecdotes to prove each of these points. One of the book’s gimmicks is providing several pages of news excerpts about animals showing compassion to one another or humans showing injustice to animals. I appreciated reading these clips, but I occasionally felt like he could have trimmed them down a bit.

This book further reinforced a lot of epiphanies about animal rights and compassion toward animals that I first discovered in Animals Make Us Human. Again, it’s simple and small and it takes no time at all to read, but it could totally revolutionize the way you look at animals–even, or perhaps especially, the ones that don’t live in your house with you. It’s a compelling plea for reverence and awe toward the created world and for widespread justice for the voiceless, the creatures who share our planet and are often left at our mercy. I’d recommend it to you, if only as a refresher for all the important reasons to be gentle, compassionate, and respectful toward animals.

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Review: Inside of a Dog

Inside of a Dog, by Alexandra Horowitz

I’m an avid reader of book reviews, and I first heard of this wonderful book in the New York Times Book Review. Critic Cathleen Schine gives a fair and warm review of the book, writing that author Alexandra Horowitz is keen on dropping “some lovely observation, some unlikely study, some odd detail that causes one’s dog-loving heart to flutter with astonishment and gratitude.” You could hardly find a more fitting description of what this book did to me.

Alexandra Horowitz is a psychology professor at Barnard College, Columbia University, and an increasingly renowned animal cognitive scientist, now specializing in the minds and lives of dogs.

Inside of a Dog is almost like a book-length version of Temple Grandin’s chapter on dogs in Animals Make Us Human. It’s a thoughtfully presented review of the behavior and body of a dog, without muddling the information with overly cutesy asides or peremptory training tips. It’s just straight science, simplified for your average dog owner.

Appropriately, I learned a lot about dogs from this book. By this stage in my dog reading, I feel like I’ve already learned most of what I could learn about canine psychology and behavior. It’s not a very old science and most of the reputable research has been widely disseminated throughout the seminal training texts. But Horowitz drops a lot of knowledge on you in this hefty book. And I enjoyed every second of it. For instance, you know why dogs are so good at catching Frisbees? Horowitz explains, in more scientific terms than I am capable of, that it’s because dogs see things about a millisecond faster than we do. Because of this ability and motion sensitivity, dogs are much better at predicting the path of a flying disc than mere humans.

Little facts like this are a large part of the appeal of this book, but I liked it more for Horowitz’s detail-oriented and almost narrative style. She gives you the scientific evidence that you crave, but she also gives you the gentle lightheartedness of a fellow dog lover. Her anecdotes about her beloved mixed breed Pumpernickel are heartwarming without being overly saccharine.

Horowitz is clearly a great researcher, but she’s also a great writer. She has written previously for the New Yorker and it shows. Girl knows what she’s doing. I appreciated this book that much more because of her skill with a pen. Dog people are not necessarily also word people (and often for good reason), and so it’s a special bonus when you find someone who is both, like Horowitz (and like Patricia McConnell, I’d wager).

All that to say, I highly recommend this book. I’m inclined to give a copy to the other dog owners in my life, because there’s no doubt in my mind that they’d enjoy this book as much as I did.

Review: Animals Make Us Human

Animals Make Us Human, by Temple Grandin and Catherine Johnson

I LOVED this book. I was excited to see it on the shelf at my local library and tore through it. I’d heard of Temple Grandin before and some of her pioneering work with livestock, but I had never read any of her work. I found Animals Make Us Human to be a delightful and educational introduction to Dr. Grandin’s mission: Creating the best life for animals.

Although dogs are my primary obsession, I’m enchanted by all animals. As Isabella Rosselini’s film says, “Animals distract me.” I love interacting with animals. I have to point out every living thing I see whenever I’m walking or driving around, much to the chagrin of my patient husband. We don’t have cable, but if we did, Animal Planet is the only channel I’d watch (preferring shows about dogs, wolves, and dolphins).

Grandin’s book spoke to every fiber of my animal-loving soul. The premise of the book is that animals have a series of instinctual drives–seeking, play, fear, rage, to name a few–but that animals also experience emotions in a way that we have not previously thought. The mental health of an animal is often highly dependent on its environment. That’s why we, as humans, have a responsibility to create the best possible environments for animals.

The book spends a chapter on each primary group of animals that humans have domesticated or brought into close human contact. Grandin devotes her time to dogs, cats, horses, pigs, cows, poultry, wildlife, and animals who live in zoos. I especially learned a lot about horses and livestock and was fascinated to hear Grandin’s intimate accounts of her interactions with and research about these animals that I previously assumed to be dumb or insensitive. Far from it.

Naturally, the most interesting chapter to me was her chapter on dogs. Grandin has a pack of golden retrievers herself and writes with feeling and affection about the canine life. What surprised and disturbed me, though, was Grandin’s implication throughout that 21st-century dogs are more mentally unstable than previous generations of dogs. She attributes this to the fact that dogs today spend almost all of their lives indoors in crates, separated from their humans. Grandin is not surprised by the rising numbers of reported dog bites and dogs with behavioral and psychological issues. In several instances, she almost claims that dogs would be better off being allowed to roam around the neighborhood by themselves, like they did up until about 1980.

My perspective on this is that it is unwise to treat dogs like they’re living in another generation. Like it or not, it’s 2011 and the way we think about dogs in society has changed. Dog owners have to obey leash laws and pick up poop from the sidewalk; dogs have to be vaccinated and spayed and neutered if they are going to live in modern America. And yet, the sad fact of the seemingly eternal work week does mean that many people should not get dogs. If you work 12 hours a day, Grandin will give you a sober reality check of how truly inhumane it would be to adopt a dog. Animals Make Us Human did make me seriously evaluate my priorities and my schedule. It would be wrong to try to care for a dog if I did not think I could devote enough time to him or her.

The main message I received from this book is that we ought to treat all animals with respect, no matter how “dumb” or “unfeeling” we think they may be. People treat chickens like they can’t feel anything at all, like they wouldn’t be mentally and physically affected by living in pitch-black warehouses. Grandin’s compelling research shows otherwise. Cows actually get upset when people yell at them. Horses need to be physically and visually reassured that they are safe. Dogs watch our every move and are incredibly attuned to our emotional registers. So, Grandin implores, treat animals with respect; they depend on us for everything.