Animal lovers have known for years that the creatures we interact with, both at home and in the wild, are sentient, fully aware beings deserving of the same respect and rights we accord to our human brethren. Study after study has confirmed that animals are intelligent, aware, and able to communicate with humans in their own special way. For some, communicating with animals is second nature, such as seen in this moving video of an “Animal Whisperer” calming a panther. For others, it’s a question of stopping animal abuse and cruelty, or preserving the habitats and ecosystems of a species with the same (or more) respect than we show to each other.
“This past weekend during a series of lectures I presented in Germany a number of people asked questions of the sort, “Isn’t it about time we accept that animals are sentient and that we know what they want and need, and stop bickering about whether they are conscious, feel pain, and experience many different emotions?” Of course, this isn’t the first time I’ve heard these queries, and my answer is always a resounding “Yes, we do have ample detailed scientific facts to declare that nonhuman animals are sentient beings and there are fewer and fewer skeptics. … Based on the overwhelming and universal acceptance of the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness I offer here what I call a Universal Declaration on Animal Sentience. For the purpose of this essay I am defining “sentience” as ” the ability to feel, perceive, or be conscious, or to experience subjectivity.”
A strong and rapidly growing database on animal sentience supports the acceptance of the fact that other animals are sentient beings. We know that individuals of a wide variety of species experience emotions ranging from joy and happiness to deep sadness, grief, and PTSD, along with empathy, jealousy and resentment. There is no reason to embellish them because science is showing how fascinating they are (for example, mice, rats, and chickens display empathy) and countless other “surprises” are rapidly emerging. New York Courts just heard a landmark case regarding granting “personhood” to a chimpanzee. Sadly, the Courts did not rule in favor of the animal in this case, but the fact that they agreed to hear it at all is progress.