There is a growing movement to recognize what every pet owner and animal lover has known for years: that animals are capable of feeling most everything that humans feel. This, in turn, is part of what is driving the movement to a plant based diet, or more ethical treatment of animals raised for food consumption. In this model, the labels “organic,” “free range,” or “grass fed” are as much about the quality of life for these animals as it is about nutritional quality.
In his new book Mama’s Last Hug, Frans de Waal writes, “Emotions are everywhere in the animal kingdom, from fish to birds to insects and even in brainy mollusks such as the octopus.” Through wonderful anecdotes, the influential primatologist draws on renowned primate studies in an exploration of animal emotions that touches on such subjects as expressions, animal sentience, and free will. Through his stories, de Waal shows that animals express a wide range of emotions including, love, anger, fear, grief, and more. In a recent review from NPR, they reported “De Waal has no patience for accusations of anthropomorphism, the idea that we merely project our emotions onto other species; it’s anthropodenial that worries him, a refusal to recognize the similarity between ourselves and other animals.”
This recognition of animal feelings and potential suffering has led to increased legislation affirming animal rights and increasing punishments for animal abuse. But there is still a lot to be done. For instance, without dwelling on the misery of commercial breeding and slaughtering, we each can do our part by eliminating or greatly reducing the amount of meat and fish we consume. We can contact and support our legislators who write laws protecting animals and their environments. And we can support, either financially or with volunteer work, those organizations that help animals. I believe that each of us can walk the walk, lead by example, and educate those around us to care more about the non-humans who share our world.