Saturday, May 16, 2009

Newsflash: Animals Can Think

(Would you deny that these dogs are smiling?)

It's always nice to see scientists and media validating things that animal lovers know already:

As someone who has "parented" dogs and closely observed animals all her life, though, I'm always a bit astounded by society's refusal to accept that animals have emotions, thoughts and even plans. Because animals don't speak human language, they are thought to be dumb. Because animals do not build rocket ships, they are incapable of cognition. Because animals do not congregate in churches or mosques, they are thought to have no souls.

Putting animals into such a paradigm of exclusively human morals and values, excuses the things we do to them. Hanging a live thousand-pound cow by one ankle and slitting its throat is okay because it's just a stupid animal that has no idea what is going on. Kicking a dog in the ribs when you're in a bad mood is forgivable because the dog won't even remember it an hour later. Slicing a chicken's beak or castrating a piglet with no anaesthesia is fine because the brute beast probably doesn't even feel pain the way human beings do; that screaming sound is just an automatic nervous system reaction, not an indication of a creature in physical agony.

By rationalizing animal life in the above manner, we human beings excuse ourselves from responsible stewardship. It is so much easier to chant the mantra of "lower beast, below human beings, people have dominion, we have the right to do what we please..." than to have to come up with solutions for humane treatment and moral liability for what is done to living creatures so we can fill our bellies, shod our feet, satisfy our fashion sense or feed our lust for bloodsports.

In fact, I would go so far as to say that human society overall has deliberately kept animals in a category under our feet because to do otherwise would inevitably lead to enormously expensive overhauls in research laboratory and factory farm protocol, drastically reduced personal consumption, and increased individual responsibilities for pets.

How could you keep a dog chained outside its entire life if you believed that it could suffer loneliness, depression and harbor a desire to run free in a grass field? How could you buy a discount 20-pack of chicken thighs from Costco if you thought the overcrowded, sick, starved birds in the factory warehouses were capable of enjoying a dry sunny day with their chicks warm and safe under their wings?

I am glad to see major news outlets like MSNBC, CNN and the Seattle Times, publicizing research that demands we look at our fellow Earthlings from outside the box of selfish human needs. I hope as a society we continue to evolve into truly superior beings, who by definition take full responsibility for our dominion by exercising it with grace, wisdom and compassion.

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