ROROTOKO features Kathy Rudy on Loving Animals
Animal exploitation is rampant in American culture today. In factory farms, shelters, zoos, puppy mills, science labs, and many other sites, animals are often treated as senseless commodities. Loving Animals argues that we owe them much better lives.
But what, precisely, does a better life look life?
While people who advocate for animal rights argue that humans should not use or own or live with animals, and people who believe in animal welfare believe we need to extend charity to the animal world, Loving Animals begins in a different place. It uses the emotional bond we feel for many animals as the starting point for social ethics and political advocacy.
Using connections with nonhuman animals as my starting point, Loving Animals maps a territory between current oppressive practices toward animals, and the abolitionist policy associated with many animal rights agendas.
I argue that increased cultural representation of the human/animal connection can function to recruit more people to animal advocacy and operate as a guidepost for the kind of social change animals require. I suggest that through sustained relationships with humans, animals become their own advocates through the stories we tell of living with and loving them. Rather than shy away from these emotional attachments, I argue that animal advocacy critically depends on them.
Loving Animals can be read on three different levels.
At the most abstract level, it is an indictment of the application of analytical philosophy to the world of animals. The abolitionist wing of the animal rights movement takes American slavery as its metaphor, and extends human emancipation into the realm of animals: animals are not ours to wear, eat, use for entertainment, or in scientific research, they say. Loving Animals rejects this perspective and locates a new type of advocacy in continental philosophy and eastern religious traditions; these traditions suggest we are dependent on and interconnected with all living things. I suggest that what we need is not to release animals from these enmeshments, but to treat them better because they are a part of us.
Second, this book takes up difficult moral questions at concrete levels in each of the five ways humans use animals: pets, food, clothing, science, and entertainment. For example: should we be breeding pets when so many die in shelters? Should we support high kill shelters or move toward “no-kill” nation? Can we eat meat and still consider ourselves to be animal advocates? Is it acceptable to keep wild animals in zoos? Or in private homes? Is it OK to use them for scientific research? In each case, using ethnography, interviews, and personal narratives, I offer tentative solutions to some of the toughest dilemmas.
Finally, the book can be read simply as a collection of stories about good relationships between humans and animals. As research for this project, I volunteered in shelters and for rescue organizations, worked on small farms and in sanctuaries, and interviewed many people who live with or use animals in a variety of settings and ways. As a result of all this fieldwork, the bulk of the book is constituted by interesting stories of complex relationships between humans and other animals.