DEAR READERS: In my doctoral dissertation in ethology/animal behavior, I documented the emotional states and behavior of wolves and other wild canids (as published in my book "The Behavior of Wolves, Dogs and Related Canids"). We humans share many of these behaviors and emotions, including caregiving, empathy, protectiveness, affection, playfulness, curiosity, fear, anxiety and depression. So how can we continue to be indifferent to other species who share similar emotional intelligence and degrees of sentience?
This disconnect of empathy is rooted in ignorance, rationalization and denial so that the trapping, snaring, shooting, poisoning and caging of wolves, coyotes and foxes continue. Wildlife-killing contests (visit projectcoyote.org for details) should be outlawed in the U.S., just as dogfighting and cockfighting are. The capture and trade of wildlife and animal products -- nationally and internationally, legal and illegal -- must end for humane, environmental and public health reasons. It is surely time to find alternatives to killing animals for food, biomedical research and selective "harvesting" by recreational hunters under the guise of "wildlife management."
English philosopher Richard Ryder attributes such wanton cruelty to "speciesism," which shares the same root of psychopathy with racism and sexism. Without respect and empathy for all life, the rule of law will remain arbitrary, capricious and self-serving. All creatures have intrinsic value and interests, and also extrinsic ecological value. Dr. Jonathan Balcombe underscores this in his book "Super Fly": "Whatever justified angst and antipathy we may feel for certain flies, we can simultaneously cultivate respect, even reverence, for their essential place in the world."
In his award-winning book "What a Fish Knows," Balcombe leaves no doubt that fish have feelings. Efforts to protect them and their aquatic habitats are being promoted by nonprofit organizations like Fish Feel (fishfeel.org). On the basis of several scientific studies, the U.K. government is extending coverage under the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill to include cephalopods and decapods.
As a species we are, I believe, evolving into more compassionate and responsible planetary stewards, thanks in part to advances in scientific knowledge of animal sentience and their ecological services. The newsletter Sentient Media Communications is an invaluable resource for all involved in advancing animal protection around the world. For more, go sentientmedia.org/newsletter.
DEAR DR. FOX: We recently rescued a stray cat who came to our door. My husband and I are convinced she is our Muffin, who died about 10 years ago, come back to us. She is a look-alike tabby and behaves just like Muffin, even choosing Muffin's favorite spots in our home to nap. She cuddles like her and enjoys the same games and treats.
My grandmother says this is reincarnation. What is your opinion? -- J.K., Trenton, New Jersey
DEAR J.K.: I keep an open mind on this issue. Some people, such as the theosophists, believe animals have a group soul or spirit. An animal's soul may evolve when loved by humans. Some Buddhist sects call for kindness to all creatures because they could have been our mothers in our past lives. In Bhutan, dogs are treated with great respect because the next incarnation of their souls or spirits could be in human form. Hinduism embraces reincarnation, but some believe (wrongly, in my opinion) that people who behave badly in this life may "descend" into some "lower" animal form in the next life.
Regardless of reincarnation being true or not, it is incumbent on all of us to treat every living being, plant and animal, with due respect and compassion. I believe my own research into the behavior of wolves, dogs and other animals has made me a better person.
Decades of research spearheaded by the late Dr. Ian Stevenson found evidence of reincarnation in children talking about past-life experiences. For details, see the University of Virginia's School of Medicine, Division of Perceptual Studies' book "Before: Children's Memories of Previous Lives" by Dr. Jim Tucker.
We cannot talk with other species to explore this realm, but I find that the idea of reincarnation provides an element of hope that there is much more to life than we perceive. We are part of the great mystery. We are all part of the One Life -- eternal, immortal -- but our individual lives are transient and mortal, so we must make the best of it! Millions of people enjoy emotional and spiritual communion with nature and with animals. But this is mere self-indulgence when not translated into compassionate action to protect, restore, rescue and cherish. This calls for taking a personal moral inventory of our lifestyles and consumer habits, reducing our carbon footprint and making choices to become more humane planetary stewards.
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