BOOKS—Loving Animals: Toward a New Animal Advocacy

From Animal People September 2013:

Loving Animals:  Toward a New Animal Advocacy   by Kathy Rudy University of Minnesota Press (111 Third Avenue South,  Suite 290,  Minneapolis, MN 55401),  2011.  260 pages hardcover,  $16.98.

Trained in theological ethics and women’s studies,  Kathy Rudy describes herself as neither an ethologist nor an animal behaviorist, but writes “It would not be an overstatement to say that most of the important and successful relationships I’ve had in my life have been with nonhuman animals.” Rudy posits that “you never really love [animals] in general.  You always love the particular.”  This directly contradicts the outlook of most of the “people who care about animals” who read ANIMAL PEOPLE,  many of whom helped to build the animal rights movement of the past several decades.   Rudy argues that animal rights advocacy should be realigned,  based on “the revolutionary power of love,”  as she defines it, interpreted through the prism of her feelings toward her dogs,  all but one of them pit bulls or pit bull mixes. Rudy frames the meaning of animals’ existence according to how their presence helps us construct our own identities and imagine ourselves.  This self-centered view,  opposite to the perspective of every ethicist and philosopher who appreciates that animals have their own interests,  leads into anecdotes about the meaning Rudy gives to ‘loving animals.’ Rudy begins by describing her year as a vegan,  alleging “There’s a reason why the vast majority of vegans are twenty-somethings or younger.  A steady diet of mostly corn and soy mixed with a lot of sugar ravages most middle-aged bodies.  I gained thirty pounds that year, developed insulin-dependent diabetes and chronic headaches.”  Of course “a steady diet of mostly corn and soy mixed with a lot of sugar” is much closer to the diet of factory-farmed pigs than to that of most vegans,  whose dietary staples include fruits,  vegetables,  legumes,  and grains. Rudy acknowledges that others might do better at being vegan,  but she still think veganism would be bad for the world because it would mean farmers no longer keep animals. “The world would be a much sadder place without farm animals,”  Rudy contends,  adding that “Veganism lets people off the hook for all the other ways we oppress animals…The vast majority of the literature coming out of organizations like PETA and Vegan Outreach claims that all you need to do is stop consuming animal products and everything will be fine.” Though Rudy admits that a plant-based lifestyle would prevent much animal suffering,  it would (according to her) “also prevent enormous amounts of animal—and human—joy.”  After all,  “farm animals pay their dues in life with their products and flesh,  but they would rather have lived and loved and played in the sun and the dirt and the rain,  than not be born at all.” Having constructed her rationalization for eating meat,  burlesqued at length by vegan author Erik Marcus on his web page “Kathy Rudy in Translation,”  Rudy moves on to consideration of “loving” wild animals. Rudy begins by questioning whether wild animals exist,  never mind evolution and genetics:  “What happens if we question the perceived reality that domesticated animals differ in kind from wild ones?  If language shapes and constructs reality,  then perhaps it is not the genes or ontology of animals themselves that makes them ‘wild,’  but the way human language organizes the world for them.  We have erected these categories of ‘wild’ and ‘domestic’ to better manage our world,  but perhaps they do not point to hard-wired reality.” Visiting zoos and sanctuaries,  Rudy observes that the adult lions in a five acre zoo exhibit mostly laze around,  while the very young lions in a small cage at a sanctuary enthusiastically play with toys brought by humans.  Demonstrating no understanding of the behavioral differences between adult and adolescent animals, Rudy decides that small places in private sanctuaries must make lions happier,  because they get the gift of human love. Rudy asserts that without sanctuaries and zoos,  wild animals might soon cease to exist at all,  since humans are taking over the Earth. Rudy has apparently not noticed that much wildlife is today more abundant in North America than it was circa 1900,  when the human population was a third of the present size––from small species such as squirrels up to huge species with large habitat needs,  such as elk and bison,  and even dangerous predators,  including pumas and grizzly bears. Rudy feels we need to preserve ‘charismatic’ wild animals  in captivity,  certain that the gift of our love will make such species want to be tamed and sacrifice their freedom.  She shares her dream of one day walking a big cat on a leash. Similar themes are repeated in Rudy’s chapter on vivisection and laboratory animals.  Rudy repeats ethologist Marc Bekoff’s theory that if scientists are obliged to keep the animals they use as pets in their homes first,  scientists will make more humane decisions about what they do to those animals later.  This disregards the history of early vivisectors having often used their own household pets in experiments. Rudy then argues that once animals have received our personal love,  many would heroically volunteer of their own free will to be confined,  invaded,  and even cut apart and killed in the lab.  She is convinced one of her pit bulls and one of her pit mixes would. Of them,  Rudy writes,  “If I thought I could cure cancer by experimenting on one of them,  I know in my heart that they would want me to…knowing them the way I do,  I believe they would want to be heroes.” As for animals who might resist,  Rudy writes,  “If they couldn’t help us transform our feelings towards them,  then maybe they would be better off being sacrificed.” Rudy’s goal is to reach a point where we can trust scientists to say that “the (very) few animals they sacrificed were the kinds of creatures who wanted their lives to have that kind of meaning,”  distinct from serving human interests. Having seen videos of animals including Washoe the chimpanzee,  who learned American Sign Language,  and the parrot Alex,  who learned to speak fluent and often complex English,  Rudy feels inspired by “the possibility that some day we may actually be able to simply ask animals whether they would like to offer themselves as research subjects;  we possibly could obtain from them the same kind of informed consent we require for human subjects.” As her last illustration of what Rudy believes loving animals is all about,  Rudy describes how one of her pit bulls and a pit/hound mix belonging to a neighbor suddenly tried to kill an elderly beagle they had lived with for years.  After aptly and accurately describing what her beloved pit bull breed is hard-wired to do,  and a type of fight that normal dogs rarely engage in,  Rudy reconstructs the story to allege that the ‘pack’ had decided it was time to remove an old,  useless matriarch.  Rudy fantasizes incorrectly that this is what wolves and wild dogs do,  too.  (There has been only one parenticide,  for example,  among all of the wolves radio-collared since the 1995 reintroduction of wolves to the northern Rocky Mountains.) The beagle survived the attack due to human intervention.  Rudy decided not to euthanize or re-home her pit bull,  who had inflicted the most horrendous wounds,  but rather to re-home the beagle,  because the pit bull was “in love with me,  but Daisy was in love with life.” By the end of this narcissistic tome,  Rudy has invented animals who want to be eaten,  want to be tamed,  want to be dissected,  and an aged beagle who deserved to be mauled.  Most disturbing is Rudy’s thesis that if only you feel “love” towards an animal,  anything you do to the animal is okay––while those who don’t love us enough back deserve to die. A better title for Loving Animals would have been How to Be Pathologically Self-Indulgent,  Yet Pretend to Be Ethical. —Alexandra Semyonova

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