Friday, October 31, 2008

The Emotional Lives of Animals by Marc Bekoff

The second read for this year of my book club was picked by a Buddhist/vegan/animal rights activist friend of mine. I was not sure at all I would enjoy it, but I did. This thoroughly enjoyable read was informative, if a bit repetitious at times.

Anyone who lives with a dog or a cat or has grown up on a farm is well aware of the intelligence, memory, and emotions expressed by animals. Bekoff’s book is loaded with anecdotes from ethologists (researchers in animal emotions) as well as lay persons. As he says, “the plural of anecdote is data” (121). Many of his anecdotes closely match what we have observed with our pets at home.

Bekoff shows how animals and humans share brain structure and chemistry. He posits that our emotions have evolved along with our physical structure. To my surprise, Darwin also speculated about animal emotions, and he believed they evolved along with physical structure.

One chapter ends with, “if we try to learn more about forgiveness, fairness, trust, and cooperation in animals, maybe we’ll also learn to live more compassionately and cooperatively with one another” (109).

This read has not made me a vegetarian, but it has made me more conscious of products I buy. I simply like meat too much to give it up completely. However, I try and buy products not tested on animals, free-range chicken, and organic, hormone and antibiotic-free milk and eggs. It is a first small step.

The most interesting question Bekoff poses is, would you treat your family pet the same way you would treat the animals in your lab, on your farm, or in the wild? I suspect almost everyone would answer with a resounding, “No!”

--Chiron, 10/31/08

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