Compassion for animals

More couch snuggles. #draco #fosterfun

“Compassion for animals is intimately associated with goodness of character, and it may be confidently asserted that he who is cruel to animals cannot be a good man.”

— Arthur Schopenhauer, The Basis of Morality

(Photos from September 2013 of my husband and our foster pup Draco, who came from an abusive/hoarding situation in West Virginia. He was such a cuddler! Dogs’ capacity for forgiveness of human beings never fails to astonish and humble me.)

Someone thinks he's a lap dog. #draco #gsd

And happy 29th birthday to my husband, whose compassion for animals qualifies him as a good man, and who very patiently puts up with my dog craziness.

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.

Pup links!

Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, and their poodle. Source: LIFE magazine.

Dog-related links from around the Web this past week:

Shivapuri National Park Trekking. My crazy and adventurous little sister traveled around the world for six months, mainly in Nepal and India. While in the Kathmandu Valley in Nepal, she hiked in Shivapuri National Park. These are some of her photos. I include her post here because she said that she was followed for hours up the hike by the sweet village dog featured here. I love it, because it strikes me as a simple and beautiful testimony of the undying magnetism between dogs and people: We just want to be together. (Como Say What?)

Too compassionate? A young farmer reflects on being judged for leaving her dogs in the car for just a few minutes. The attached Portlandia sketch (“Whose dog is this?”) is totally hilarious, too. What do you think about this? Is it possible to be “too compassionate”? (Cold Antler Farm)

Moleskine Passions Dog Journal. My brother-in-law gave me this journal for Christmas and I, of course, am totally excited to get to use it! (Dog Milk)

Icons & Dogs: Marilyn Monroe. A collage of photos of Monroe with a variety of dogs. I just watched “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” for the first time this weekend, so this post piqued my interest. (Miles to Style)

Lobster Dog Biscuits. These are totally cute. And made from beets! (Classic Hound)

My Favorite Leash. A post about the biologist’s favorite leash, a multi-use convertible leash with two snap ends. Looks cool. Does anyone use one of these? (Musings of a Biologist and Dog Lover)

The 12 Most Adorable Presidential Dogs in U.S. History. Do you agree with this list? Fala is pretty precious. (Best Week Ever)

Fact: Dogs Are 100% Ready for Adventure. A funny–and, I think, true–statement about the gung-ho nature of dogs. (Dogblog)

Staring Contest. This Great Pyr is having none of it. (Animals Being Di*ks)

A story: Dogs as therapy

Brando indoors
Guion and Brando, our first foster.

A few months ago, I was walking with my husband on my way to a volunteering event with the SPCA. Local charities and non-profits were setting up booths around the pedestrian mall to promote causes and garner support. The SPCA had a few tables up, and some adoptable dogs, kittens, and even two adoptable rats. I volunteered to stand there and talk to people about the SPCA and walk some of the adoptable hounds around to greet people.

While we were walking over there, my husband told me that one of our mutual friends had told him that he thought it was silly that I volunteered my time at the SPCA. This person believed that pets were a waste of time and money and that I was similarly wasting my time by volunteering at the animal shelter. Shouldn’t I be doing something more important, like working at a soup kitchen or tutoring neglected kids how to read?

I began to feel guilty as I walked down there. Was it frivolous of me to care so much about animals? To spend weekends at the SPCA, walking dogs? Wouldn’t it be more valuable to my community if I spent my little free time caring for humans instead? These thoughts began to plague me throughout my afternoon on the mall. My pastor and his wife saw me down there, holding a kitten in my arms, with my SPCA volunteer shirt on. They came to talk to me and seemed delighted that I was an SPCA volunteer, but I felt almost embarrassed to be seen there. Are they judging me for not volunteering elsewhere? I thought. For not giving my time to the homeless ministry?

But these feelings of guilt began to dissipate as the afternoon wore on. The pedestrian mall is often filled with homeless people and others who are sick, disabled, and mentally ill, who beg on street corners and hold up cardboard signs. They are often ignored and everyone else does their best not to make eye contact with them. As I stood there at our booth, though, I began to notice an interesting phenomenon.

These homeless or mentally ill people would go from booth to booth, but the organizers behind the tables would never look at them or speak to them. It was evident that these people were in no state to contribute financially to these organizations; it was questionable if they could even carry on an intelligible conversation. They were plainly ignored. Volunteers looked straight through them, as if they weren’t even there.

I watched this happen again and again. But then I realized that all of the homeless and mentally ill were at our booth. Why? Because the dogs greeted them and kissed their hands like they were anybody else, like they were “normal.” The dogs didn’t discriminate against their housing status or their mental health. For once, they were shown mercy and acceptance. And it was coming from the dogs.

I particularly recall a mentally ill woman who stayed at our table for almost an hour. The dogs patiently submitted to her hugging their necks, to her persistent petting. I couldn’t understand much of what she was saying, but she had a huge grin on her face the entire time. She looked up at me and said, over and over, “See, he likes me. See, he likes me. See, he likes me.”

As I reflected on this day on my way home, I was nearly brought to tears. These animals did something for the most marginalized in society that no people could do for them. These homeless dogs were extending unconditional love to these homeless people. That is a gift well worth sharing, an extension of compassion that no human could faithfully replicate.

And that’s why I volunteer at the SPCA and why I don’t feel guilty about it anymore.