Respecting Animals: A Balanced Approach to Our Relationship with Pets, Food, and Wildlife

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Country of Origin:  United States Documents:  PDF icon Peek Inside Respecting Animals.pdf (14.28 MB)

Respecting Animals: A Balanced Approach to Our Relationship with Pets, Food, and Wildlife, David S. Favre, Prometheus Books (2018).

For more and to order the book, find it on Amazon at

For a peek inside at the cover and table of contents, see the attached pdf file.

For an excerpt, see below.


Admittedly the title Respecting Animals might be a bit ambitious, but after having spent a lifetime peeling back the layers of the animal/human issues, at the core I found some simple but significant concepts that can be used to guide human decision-making about animals. The nature of the problem is that as I peeled back the onion, the concepts became rather sweeping in scope, but that is not my fault. It is clear when you get to the center of a real onion, there is no place else to go; but if you peel an idea-onion, the center can be an elusive space. It is impossible to know when there is only one more idea. Now my thoughts try to encompass all of life (at least all of life that is visible to me). I will not seek any more layers of the onion. With this book, I seek to describe what I have found as best I can.

Humans are enmeshed in a web of life that for most of us contains both wildlife and domestic animals. Millions of pets, companion animals, have a positive life. Unfortunately, for billions of commercial domestic animals, it is not a positive life. While the welfare and suffering of pets are clearly issues before us, as they are physically before us, the death and suffering of wildlife is neither seen nor contemplated by most humans. More and more wildlife are dying as a consequence of the human plague scouring across Earth.

We need a reset, a reconsideration of the relationship between human beings and the other living beings of this planet. Anyone viewing Earth from high above in time-lapse pictures would perceive that humans are seeking to kill the wildlife of the planet by either consuming them as food (e.g., tuna and sharks), destroying their living places (e.g., the growth of palm oil plantations), or transforming them into products for commercial consumption (e.g., elephants and ivory). It is not a pretty picture. Some of the significant factors that got us to this place include too many humans, capitalism running amok, unseen billions of animals killed every year (e.g., chickens and fish), and human ignorance of their impact on other beings that share this earth. This is a good planet; it is our only planet. Should we care about all of these other beings? Is there a path forward for the human individuals in our society who do care about these other beings?

A path forward does exist, and it has a signpost. Written upon the signpost is: Respectful Use. The destination is an indeterminable distance and time away, but it is a place and time where humans will use animals only in the context of respectful use. While it is a simple phrase, it provides a powerful limitation on action when interwoven into the minds of human beings. The idea of respect has a logical, rational component, but it also has an emotional, holist one with roots in human judgments about fairness and justice. This book shall consider why we should think about animals, how we got where we are, and how to walk down the path of respectful use.

Something that this book does not do is consider the realm of religion and whether it plays a role in how humans got to this point of planetary risk or whether religion can play a role in moving us forward. My simple answer is that even though religion is a powerful force in the lives of millions, even billions, of humans, it may or may not be helpful for where we are today or for our future on this planet. Western religions are personal with a focus on living an appropriate life in the eyes of their god and a primary concern about what will happen after the death of the individual. While many religious-based voices have spoken up about the environment and animal issues, it seems to have had only a modest effect. I am without sufficient information to understand Eastern religions. Notwithstanding centuries of religious teaching, countries of the East have significant human overpopulation issues as well as levels of pollution and resource consumption that are not good for humans or animals. Their legal systems barely touch upon the welfare of animals. Therefore, even though a call to respectful use of living beings will hopefully have a positive resonance in many of the religions of the world, those paths will not be considered in these pages. Perhaps others might take up such a task.

The question of animal/human relationships will be contemplated at two levels. The first is in an individual ethical context of how to lead an individual life. The second is a social context in which the law comes into play. No individual human has total freedom to act on personal judgment; the social rules of ethics step in to prevent it. Adoption of law is an outcome of social judgment. Thus, humans are in theory constrained by law to not murder other human beings, even if a particular human, after thoughtful consideration, believes it is acceptable and necessary to murder another human. The restraints of law allow us the freedom to live our daily lives by acknowledging the presence and legal rights of others. The concept of respectful use will need to be transferred into the legal system, since many humans seem incapable of respecting animals. However, development of personal ethics usually precedes adoption of legal standards.

The ethics of philosophy or religion seek to organize our thoughts and help us structure our daily activities within a worldview with which we are comfortable. Within this book the focus is upon animals. Most Americans interact daily with animals, be it the food we eat, the cat we pet, the bird we observe in a tree, or the entertainment we enjoy. How do we think about these animals? How ought we to think about these animals? Ethics presumes we have choices in our lives, and an ethical framework seeks to help us make those choices. Usually, choices turn into habits, which are repetitive actions that do not require thinking about the appropriateness of the action. But often the actions of an individual are based not upon ethical considerations, but upon community or family culture, which is a set of unexamined but acted-upon premises.

The tail of the dog is docked or the cat declawed because others do it, or your family did it in the past. You go hunting or to the zoo because you did so as a child, and may well have positive memories surrounding such events. Individuals seldom have deep conversations with themselves about these habit-based activities unless a trigger event occurs. Something arises to bring into question why you are doing or are about to do something. Others may raise a question that you cannot get out of your head, or an event might occur that causes self-reflection. Perhaps a law is passed that causes difficulties or prohibits what you did in the past.

Consider your family trip to the local zoo. It’s a nice day; the family is together; and the environment is pleasant. You pass by the exhibits, a chimpanzee in one, a group of flamingos in another, or perhaps a building with snakes of all sizes that young children find greatly interesting. Perhaps you spend more than thirty seconds before the chimpanzee and actually look at the animal. You see sadness, stress, a limp, and an other-wise-empty cage. It might be enough to trigger internal questions: “What is this animal doing here? Is this good for the animal?” Will that seed of thought take root and result in a contemplation of the issue of whether it is acceptable to use wild animals as zoo exhibits so that human families can have a pleasant afternoon? Maybe, maybe not.

For the average person, the issue may arise as a less formal question, but still a powerful one: “Should that chimpanzee (bird or snake) be in that cage?” In the more formal world of ethics, the presence of animals in a zoo gives rise to formal statements of the issue, such as “Are the limitations of life and well-being for animals in a zoo ethically justified by humans experiencing pleasant days of entertainment?” When an individual sees an animal at the zoo as more than just passing eye candy (“Oh, Mom, look at that!”), then the possibility of internal or family discussions may arise. When people see the animal, be it a chimpanzee or squirrel monkey, they might think, “This is a being, it has had a life before I passed by and will continue with its life after I pass by. What kind of life is it? Is the animal well taken care of; will it have a natural life? Is this good for the animal? Does it make any difference to me if it is not a good life for the animal?”

Perhaps your family decides to take a trip out into the country to visit the great places where your parents used to camp when they were children. With stories of streams flowing over rocks, deer and bears in the woods, and ducks and cranes on the lake, you cross the crest of the hill and find that suburbia has arrived. While the two-hundred-acre state park is still there, the surrounding landscape has been transformed. There is no room for bear or deer. The stream survives among construction debris, and the lake is barren and lifeless. You reflect: “What has happened to the land, to the wildlife?” Although these animals were also entertainment for the human visitors, unlike the zoo, this is a place that was the natural home for the wildlife. Perhaps you will have another conversation with yourself: “Is it a good thing that human development has supplanted the home of the wildlife? Is it fair that human activity has driven out the prior diversity of life?”

What concepts and principles will be useful in seeking the answers to these questions? Perhaps you ask, “Is the keeping of the animals lawful?” This is not the best first question. The discussion of animal/human relationships requires that the ethical/cultural context be considered first, then the role of the law can be considered. In the United States, we have a long legal history of concern for animal welfare, but that will be the starting point for my next book.

Subsequent chapters will propose that a primary context for deciding what is an ethical outcome for animal/human interactions is the community in which both the human and animal exist. Do they coexist in a commercial farm world or in the home, companionship world? Perhaps the community is the relationship of humans with wild beings in the oceans of the world. While some argue that any animal, or any human, is due the same ethical treatment in all circumstances, I reject this simplistic approach both for humans and for animals. As my ethical duties toward my son or daughter are different from my ethical duty toward strangers around the world, so my ethical duty to my companion animal is different from that to an animal at the local zoo.

Primarily, the task of this book is to propose a comprehensive vision of how animals can be significantly integrated into the lives of humans, not as full equals but as individuals and groups deserving respectful awareness by us—as individuals within the community with status to use legal rights to protect their most vital interests. As the four-year-old human child is not equal to an adult in rights or responsibilities, so the animal should not be considered equal to the child or the adult human in rights and responsibilities.

While the rabbit in the bush, the rabbit in the cage at a research center, and the rabbit in someone’s living room may be biologically equivalent, they are not and cannot be considered identical in an ethical sense. It is the human context that is critical to the justifiable expectations for the rabbit. Biological similarities do not necessarily result in equal treatment under the law; it is more complex than that. Likewise, animal biological similarities to humans are not sufficient to build a house of ethics. The situation is more difficult.

This book will seek to provide some blending between two very distinct worldviews. The first has a focus on the welfare of individual animals. This view arises primarily out of the experience of humans having companion animals and knowing them as distinct individuals. The second view is about the nature and existence of ecosystems, which may contain a great diversity of animals that are unseen as individuals. The environmental perspective is about the existence and health of complex ecosystems. Most environmentalists do not focus on the welfare of individual animals within the various ecosystems. Those who focus their intellectual energy solely on the individual animals, particularly the beloved pet, must understand the limited context in which such animals live and must not expect extrapolation of that status to other animals, particularly wildlife. The environmentalist and the animalist will need to move toward each other.

Although I have an ethical path to suggest for the reader, I do not pretend to have all the answers. Any teacher of ideas knows that the best learning arises when the teacher provides some information for context but then leads the student forward with questions that trigger self- reflection. A primary goal of this book is to provide the reader with a comprehensive and useful context in which to consider personal and social relationships with animals. I am pleased that you are allowing me to lead you forward on this journey of self-discovery.

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