Scientific research shows that many animals are very intelligent and have sensory and motor abilities that dwarf ours. Dogs are able to detect diseases such as cancer and diabetes and warn humans of impending heart attacks and strokes. Elephants, whales, hippopotamuses, giraffes, and alligators use low-frequency sounds to communicate over long distances, often miles. And bats, dolphins, whales, frogs, and various rodents use high-frequency sounds to find food, communicate with others, and navigate.
The science behind bovine sentience
Many zoos routinely kill healthy individuals they refer to as "surplus" animals because they're no longer useful to them. The animals can't be used as breeding machines or they're taking up space that's needed for other animals of the same or other species. As morally reprehensible as the practice of killing surplus animals seems, it's a reality and part of business as usual for many zoos.
Animals kept in terrestrial and water zoos—zooed animals—clearly are not living anything that resembles a normal life. They suffer from all sorts of psychological and physical disorders and have lost the freedom to make choices and to control their own lives.
Around holiday time, people begin to ask me if it's okay to give a pet as a gift. Just as I was pondering what to write this time around, Hugh Dorigo sent me a short clip from his recent film "Dogs, Cats and Scapegoats."
Author's note: Many of the ideas in this essay were developed in close collaboration over the past few years with Drs. Arian Wallach and Daniel Ramp of the Center for Compassionate Conservation. I am deeply indebted to their breadth of knowledge and wisdom. We might not always agree, but that's just fine for getting much needed discussions and debates on the table.
The relationship between violence toward nonhuman animals and human animals—often called the "link"—is well established. I've written about this relationship in a number of essays, most recently focusing on New Zealand's war on wildlife in which youngsters are being taught in school and government-sanctioned events to harm and to call so-called pests.
We're doing it for the animals and the work is never done
Humans share their homes and lives with a wide variety of nonhuman animals. However, globally, companion animals are considered to be objects under existing laws. Regulations and laws protecting companion and other animals don't come close to keeping up with what we know about their cognitive and emotional lives.
I really enjoy working with youngsters and talking about animal behavior, conservation and human-animal relationships (as one kid said, it should be called animal-human relationships). Many youngsters are keenly interested in these topics and often ask questions that belie their age. Not only are many youngsters well versed on animal behavior from watching the various companions with whom they share their home, but they also watch incredibly good documentaries on TV. A good number also are very concerned about how animals are mistreated, and ask questions that show they empathize with, and feel compassion for, the plight of other animals.