BOOKS: The Human Side of Animals

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 2009:
The Human Side of Animals
by Royal Dixon
Project Gutenberg Ebook #19850, 2006.
Free download from
Originally published by
Frederick A. Stokes Co., 1918.
254 pages, hardcover.
Royal Dixon, who in 1921 launched the
First Church of Animal Rights to great fanfare
but with no evident follow-up, was no Cleveland
Amory. Yet The Human Side of Animals, published
a year before Amory was born, sufficiently
presaged Amory’s 1974 opus Man Kind? that it
might have been among Amory’s early
influences–even though it does not appear in the
extensive Man Kind? index.

Unlike Amory (1919-1998), Dixon made
little use of humor, and was not a curmudgeon.
But like Amory, Dixon sought to establish the
premise that animals should enjoy basic rights
and better treatment by humans through passionate
narration of strings of anecdotes. Like Amory,
Dixon could shock, but held his audience chiefly
as a story-teller.
Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation, also
published in 1974, is widely viewed as the
philosophical foundation document for the animal
rights movement–but Amory’s Man Kind? was read
by many times more people, and almost certainly
attracted more to the cause, not least because
Amory coupled promoting the book to promoting the
Fund for Animals, which he had founded in 1968.
The Human Side of Animals, though
popular, was not nearly as influential as either
Animal Liberation or Man Kind?. As a sequel to
The Human Side of Plants (1914) and The Human
Side of Birds (1917), The Human Side of Animals
might even be considered a pot-boiler, produced
with no aspiration greater than making money for
the author, who was an itinerant lecturer for
most of his life.
As a gent whose living usually depended
on flattering the speaker selection committees of
women’s clubs, Dixon was known to glibly turn a
florid phrase. But he appears to have sincerely
appreciated animals.
“The love that fills a mother’s heart
when she sees her first-born babe is also felt by
the mother bear,” Dixon opened in The Human Side
of Animals, “only in a different way, when she
sees her baby cubs playing before her humble cave
dwelling. The sorrow that is felt by the human
heart when a beloved one dies is experienced in
only a little less degree by an African ape when
his mate is shot dead by a Christian missionary.
The grandmother sheep that watches her numerous
little lamb grandchildren on the hillside, while
their mothers are away grazing, is just as
mindful of their care as any human grandparent
could be.”
Having a scientific education, Dixon
styled himself a scientist, and often cited
scientific research, but was frequently critical
of science that treated animals as
instinct-driven automatons.
“The trouble with science is that too
often it leaves out love,” Dixon argued. “If
you agree that we cannot treat men like machines,
why should we put animals in that class? Why
should we fall into the colossal ignorance and
conceit of cataloging every human-like action of
animals under the word ‘instinct’?”
Dixon was much more interested in the
findings of social scientists than in the
discoveries of so-called “hard” science made
through vivisection and dissection. His own
informal animal studies convinced him that,
“some animals can count. Most of the
arithmetical feats of trained animals are hoaxes,
” Dixon conceded, but added, “I have known a
monkey who could count to five. He played with a
number of marbles, and I would ask for two
marbles, one marble, four marbles, as the case
might be, and he would quickly hand the number
“There is no reason that a dog should not
be taught arithmetic,” Dixon opined, going on
to explain how he thought it might be done,
using a method similar to those used in testing
and challenging the math acuity of dozens of
species during the past 50 years.
“The zebu, or sacred bull of India,”
Dixon continued, “shows his mathematical
qualities to a pronounced degree. When he grows
attached to a small group of his kin, he will
often refuse to leave them unless the entire
group accompany him. When driven from his pen,
if by chance one of his party is left behind he
refuses to go-thus indicating that he is able to
tell that the exact number is not with him. No
wonder he is worshipped in India, where the
human side of animal life is understood and
appreciated to a degree quite unknown to the
Western world!”
Dixon shared with United Church of Christ
minister William J. Long (1867-1952) the
conviction that animal communication is far more
complex than was usually imagined. Among the
most read nature writers of the early 20th
century, Long was an outspoken opponent of
hunting. This earned him some influential
enemies. John Burroughs, an early advocate of
hunting-based wildlife management, denounced
Long in 1903 for allegedly propounding “sham
natural history.” Then-U.S. President Theodore
Roosevelt called Long a “nature-faker”–and the
name stuck.
Falling out of popularity, Long
retreated to writing mostly for a small audience
of devotees, among whom was Dixon, who defended
Long against some of his most eminent critics.
“In the words of that remarkable naturalist
William J. Long,” Dixon wrote, “to call a thing
intelligence in one creature and reflex action in
another, or to speak of the same thing as love
or kindness in one and blind impulse in the
other, is to be blinder ourselves than the
impulse which is supposed to govern animals.’
“The fact that all animals possess ideas,
no matter how small those ideas may be, implies
reason. That these ideas are transmitted from
one animal to another, no one can doubt in the
light of our present scientific knowledge,”
Dixon continued. This was a year before Long
produced his own opus How Animals Talk And Other
Pleasant Studies of Birds and Beasts, reissued
in 2006 and reviewed in the May 2006 edition of
Dixon went on to quote Bronx Zoo founding
curator and Long critic William T. Hornaday:
“Be not startled by the discovery that apes and
monkeys have language; for their vocabulary is
not half so varied and extensive as that of the
barnyard fowls, whose language some of us know
very well.”
Added Dixon, “An instance of canine
language is given by John Burroughs, who says
that a certain tone in his dog’s bark implies
that he has found a snake.”
But, like Long, Dixon argued for
telepathy among animals, instead of recognizing
that many species communicate through sounds and
scents that elude human perception. Telepathy,
Dixon contended, “is spoken by no man, but is
understood by every brute from the tiniest hare
to the largest elephant; it is the language
whereby spirit communicates with spirit.”
Dixon was on much firmer ground in
contending, like Mark Bekoff today, that “‘one
touch of Nature makes the whole world kin’ is
shown in no clearer way than by the games and
play of animals. Recreation is as common among
them as it is among our own children,” Dixon
wrote. “Animals, like ourselves, feel every
sensation of joy, happiness, surprise,
disappointment, love, hope, ambition, and
through their youthful games an entire index of
their future lives may be obtained.” He
illustrated this point with a sketch of two
grinning dinosaurs enjoying a rough-and-tumble
game (left).
Dixon’s next examples were recited
somewhat at his own expense, as he seemed to
realize. “I once owned a tame raccoon, and
often kept him chained in the back yard,” Dixon
confessed. “He devised all kinds of schemes to
relieve the monotonous hours. He would pile up a
number of small stones, and carefully await his
chance to fling one into a group of young
chickens. He seemed to understand that he was
more apt to make a hit when he threw into a crowd
than when aiming at a single chick. One day he
pounced upon a rooster who insulted him by
drinking from his water vessel, and plucked a
long feather from his tail so quickly that we
could hardly realise what had taken place. He
then had great fun in attempting to stick the
feather in his head or by planting it upright in
the ground.”
Unaware that a doe usually leaves a young
fawn unattended while grazing, Dixon’s sister
“rescued” such a fawn, who became a family pet.
“Our tame fawn used to delight in playing with
our old rabbit-dog, Nimrod,” Dixon wrote.
“They were the best of friends. The fawn would
begin the chase by approaching Nimrod as though
he were going to stamp him into the earth. Then
suddenly leaping quickly and safely over the dog,
he would run away. At this signal for a game,
if Nimrod was in the mood, he chased the fawn,
who would delight in jumping over fences and
hedges and waiting for poor Nimrod to get over or
under just in time to see his playmate leap to
the other side.”
Frequently citing Charles Darwin, Dixon
contended as Darwin had, to little notice in his
own time, that behavioral as well as physical
traits are products of evolution, and that all
creatures are part of an evolutionary continuum.
“Man has long preached this doctrine that
he is not an animal, but a kinsman of the gods,”
Dixon summarized. “This anthropocentric conceit
is the same thing that causes one nation to think
it should rule the world, that the sun and moon
were made only for the laudable purpose of giving
light unto a chosen few, and that young lambs
playing on a grassy hillside, near a cool
spring, are just so much mutton.”
ANIMAL PEOPLE has discovered no explicit
statement that Dixon was a vegetarian, but he
frequently made a point of the human-like
qualities of farm animals, and in The Human Side
of Animals never mentions eating any.
Dixon was many decades ahead of his time
in appreciating coyotes, and even had a few good
words, between repeating stereotypical
condemnations typical of the era, for jackals,
hyenas, vultures, mongooses, pecaries, and
“No more remarkable creatures exist in
the animal world,” Dixon opined, “than those
that play the role of Nature’s scavengers and
criminals. They are as numerous and varied in
their methods of working as they are interesting.
The only things they have in common are their
profession and their appetites. As individuals
they are ugly, unattractive and apparently void
of personality and charm. Nevertheless, they have
an important part to play in the scheme of things.
“As time goes on, it is to be hoped that
we will understand our animal brothers better,
and that our old attitude toward the so-called
‘brutes’ will be entirely changed,” Dixon
continued. “Heretofore we have greatly abused
the zebra, for example, because of his wild
disposition, ferocious humor, distrust of all
power except that in his own legs, and his
pronounced aversion to work.
“Why should we reproach him for his
wildwood philosophy? It is perfectly natural that
any animal of his experience with man, and with
sufficient brains, would have only contempt for
all mankind,” Dixon assessed, only to mingle
his seemingly enlightened view about animals with
passages in which he made clear that his moral
egalitarianism did not extend to people of other
“His native home is in Africa,” Dixon
added of the zebra, “and his human associates,
if they are human, have been the most impossible
and hideous people on the earth. He has seen
nothing but cannibalism and carnage among the
savages; and since his transportation to Europe
by a strange occurrence of horrible
circumstances, he has been the subject for all
kinds of barbarous punishmentsÅ The zebra is not
of the mental calibre to be suddenly seized with
love for the human species and its civilizations!
And the human species is astounded and thinks the
zebra stupid and wicked. He may be both, but his
wisdom is undeniable when it comes to trusting
humanity, and his wickedness is small in
comparison to man’s terrible cruelties. He
should be awarded a medal for wisdom! For man is
far the greater ass of the two!”
Dixon was no more appreciative of Native Americans than Africans.
“On the North American prairie,” Dixon
wrote, “though the bison are extinct, their
great roads still remain as evidence of their
former habits…How interesting must have been
the life on this great animal highway, before
the Indian made the deadly arrow to destroy these
nature-loving travellers!”
Three years later, addressing the
inaugural meeting of The First Church of Animal
Rights, Dixon belatedly acknowedged that
Caucasans with guns had a part in depleting
bison, but continued to blame Native Americans
in equal measure.
Dixon, raised in Huntsville, Texas, in
part by former slaves who had been owned by his
forebears, was a contemporary but not a close
relative of Thomas Dixon Jr. (1864-1946), author
of The Clansman (1905) and 15 other books
glorifying the Ku Klux Klan. In contrast to
Thomas Dixon Jr., whose works are such
monotonously racist screeds as to occasion wonder
that anyone ever read them, Royal Dixon merely
interrupted himself with racist outbursts–but
they were more than just casual reflections of
the times, and must have particularly jarred
Diana Belais, his partner in founding the First
Church of Animal Rights.
Born in West Virginia, Belais was nearly
as much a native Southerner as Dixon, yet in
more than 50 years of frequently forceful public
speaking and writing on behalf of animals,
Belais appears to have left no record of ever
even using a racist expression. While human
rights were not her issue, her compassion for
humans as well as animals appears to have not
been questioned by any but the nastiest of the
many vivisectors she met in debate.
Dixon, while frequently capable of great
insight, was equally capable of writing
nonsense, including in his closing arguments.
Taking note of increasing populations of
urban wildlife, Dixon wrote, without pausing to
consider the ecological factors, “It seems that
the secret ambition of all animals is to become
the allies of man. This is demonstrated,” he
asserted, “by the fact that most of them have
gone near the villages and towns, and,
consequently, there are comparatively few
remaining in the heart of the big forests.”
But Dixon finished with a plea for
tolerance and appreciation of “nuisance” species.
“Under the true state of conditions man should
live in harmony with these animal brothers,”
Dixon suggested, “with mutual trust and respect
existing between them. That would mean, of
course, that man would have to show a little
more kindness to them.”

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