According Animals Dignity
By FRANK BRUNI
There's ample evidence of a whole new respect for the feelings of the
furry and the finned. ...
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As of late Monday afternoon, when I was finishing this column, the most
frequently emailed story on The Times's website for the previous week wasn't
about the polar vortex, Chris Christie or "Downton Abbey."
It was about cats.
I suppose that's no big shock. On blogs, on Facebook and all around the
Internet, claws and clicks go hand in hand (or is that paw in paw?). While the
meek may be inheriting the earth, the furry have already claimed cyberspace.
But what is surprising - and indicative of a new chapter in the interactions of
Americans and the animals around us - is the
focus of the cat story in question.
It wasn't about kittens doing the darnedest things. Under the headline "What
Your Cat Is Thinking," it examined the new book "Cat Sense," by a British
biologist, John Bradshaw, who flags his seriousness of purpose with his
subtitle, "How the New Feline Science Can Make You a Better Friend to Your Pet."
Bradshaw means to get into the cat brain.
He's already plumbed its canine counterpart, in the 2011 book "Dog Sense," which
was also grounded in research, not sentiment, and in the idea that pets have
inner lives more complicated than we imagine. "Dog Sense" was published just two
years after the huge best seller "Inside of a Dog," by the psychology professor
Alexandra Horowitz, which pivoted on the same notion.
It was "Inside of a Dog" in particular that caught my friend Kerry Lauerman's
attention, cluing him in to a quickly shifting human perspective on animals.
"There's this growing obsession with animal cognition," he said. Referring
specifically to pets, he added: "We don't want animals just for comfort. We
really want to know them." He mentioned another widely emailed story in The
Times, from October, by a neuroeconomics professor who was doing M.R.I. scans of
dogs' brains and finding suggestions of emotions like ours. Its telling
"Dogs Are People, Too."
Lauerman wasn't merely musing. He was explaining the rationale for a new
website, The Dodo, that's dedicated to
animal news and features and made its debut this week. He's its chief executive
officer and editor in chief, and came to it from the influential online
publication Salon, where he was the editor in chief from late 2010 to mid-2013.
One of The Dodo's principal financial backers is Ken Lerer, the current chairman
of BuzzFeed and one of the founders of the Huffington Post. His daughter, Izzie
Lerer, created and developed the site with Lauerman. Additionally, she's
finishing up her doctorate in philosophy at Columbia University, where her
research focuses on the evolving compact between people and animals.
The Dodo's pedigree speaks to a broadening, deepening concern about animals
that's no longer sufficiently captured by the phrase "animal welfare." An era of
what might be called animal dignity is upon us. You see signs everywhere.
A story in The Wall Street Journal on Sunday reported a sharp rise over the
last few years in the fraction of American dog and cat owners with provisions in
for their pets. Nearly one in every 10 have made such arrangements.
One of the most fervently embraced documentaries of 2013 was "Blackfish," shown
over and over on CNN. It doesn't just depict mistreatment of killer whales at
SeaWorld; it makes the case that these glorious mammals have rich social and
family connections and a profound capacity for grief.
There's been extensive discussion lately of elephants' emotional lives, and
Hillary Clinton, with her famously active political antenna, recently found time
to narrate a documentary, "White Gold," about the bloody wages of the ivory
trade, and to speak at its premiere.
People who go on lion hunts encounter stern public shaming. (The Dodo
a recent example.) Bill de Blasio has prioritized the retirement of Central
Park's carriage horses. Several prominent retailers, including Gap and H&M,
stopped procuring angora last year after a widely shared video of the fur being
yanked from rabbits' bodies. The movement to accord chimpanzees and some other
kinds of apes legal rights is accelerating, and greater scrutiny of food
production has prompted keener disgust over the fate of many farm animals, along
state legislation to spare them florid suffering.
This is only going to build, because at the same time that scientific advances
force us to gaze upon the animal kingdom with more respect, the proliferation of
big and little cameras - of eyes everywhere - permits us to eavesdrop not just
on animal play but also on animal persecution. It's all documented, it all goes
viral, and we can't turn away, or claim ignorance, as easily as we once did.
"Those creatures big and small that have fed, frightened, entertained, comforted
and awed us are no longer just them,"
Lauerman writes in a letter to The Dodo's readers. "Increasingly, they are