BOOKS: The Compassion of Animals

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, Jan/Feb 1998:

The Compassion
of Animals:
True Stories of Animal
Courage and Kindness
by Kristin von Kreisler
Prima Publishing (POB 1260, Rocklin,
CA 95677-1260), 1997.
257 pages, hardcover. $22.95.

On December 28, 1997, in Marion
County, Arkansas, mongrel named Scotty
found Misty Harger, age 12, who was lost in
the woods, and kept her warm until police
found her 22 hours later.
That evening, in Chicago, a yearold
Belgian shepherd named Missy leaped in
front of a car to push Dashun McMiller, six,
to safety, at cost of her own life.

Such incidents are remarkable but
not unusual. As Kristin von Kreisler’s book
The Compassion of Animals awaited review
here, a small white mongrel on November 16,
1997 alerted Sharon Stanton to a four-alarm
fire in Fremont, California, saving 26 human
lives. Stanton was burned trying to save the
dog, who died along with a cat and a boa constrictor.
On November 20, two dogs alerted
two men to a dawn fire in Hollywood Hills,
California. On November 24, Coco, a
Brittany mix, alerted neighbors to a dawn fire
at the home of Rosalee Brock in St. Peters,
Missouri. Then, December 4 in Somerset,
England, a poodle named Gus found and
brought help to Catherine Farthing, eight
months pregnant, who had broken her ankle.
We logged 51 such reports in 1997;
46 in 1996. Yet observers often unjustly
accuse the animals of ulterior motives. When
the late polar bear Tuk saved a kitten from
drowning, for instance, his keeper suggested,
contrary to all evidence, that Tuk might have
wanted the kitten as an eventual snack.
In May 1996, the most popular
ANIMAL PEOPLE feature ever described
some of the most heroic animal deeds we’ve
recorded during many years of keeping track.
Accounts from that feature soon inspired a
People magazine cover article, several tabloid
TV shows, and at least three books.
Among the books, The Compassion
of Animals is distinguished not only for
acknowledging the source but also because
von Kreisler and her publisher made lastminute
amendments to clarify the heroism of
two coyotes who risked their lives to defend
their den against a dog who was meanwhile
“defending” her terrified and badly injured
mistress against them.
Kreisler tries to analyze the animals’
motives in a scientific manner, helped somewhat
by psychologist Jeffrey Moussaieff
Masson’s foreword. Together, they point out
that human altrusim also tends to have ulterior
motives, albeit often concealed, and that neither
animals nor humans are consistent in
either altruistism or selfish ness.
But chances are you won’t read The
Compassion of Animals for the analysis.
You’ll read it for the same reason you watched
L a s s i e or Rin Tin Tin as a child: because
instinctively you know your dog is heroic and
noble, and you love the stories that “prove” it.

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