Experiencing Animals

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Experiencing Animals

By John Thompson, Animals and Society Institute (ASI)

But thankfully many of us, like Randy Malamud’s family, also know how beautiful it can be to know other creatures; to open our awareness fully to them and share their experience of life. That seems to me like a good description of peace.

When Randy Malamud’s children’s school planned a field trip to the zoo Randy kept them at home. Randy, Professor of English at Georgia State University, disputes both the ethics and the educational value of keeping animals behind bars and divorced from their natural environment. (Watch the YouTube interview with Randy on this subject.) So instead he took his kids on a very slow exploration of their own back yard, allowing them to experience a detailed discovery of the amazing lives that surround them every day.

Because the explorers moved slowly they found far more diversity and life styles than they had expected. The kids were thrilled, and their awareness and appreciation had been expanded.

What a simple and rewarding way to feel a connection with other animals! And how much that differs from the experiences others may have, such as in this story told by Gene Baur, founder of Farm Sanctuary:

At a county fair the 4-H project animals who have reached “market weight” were being judged and sold for slaughter. As Gene left he encountered a young girl tenderly soothing her goat and crying softly. This animal, whom she had raised from a young kid, had been purchased and would shortly be loaded onto a truck.

Gene asked the girl about her goat, and about how she was feeling. The girl told him happy stories about their time together and admitted to a deep sorrow over losing her friend. Then, looking at Gene she offered a tiny smile and said, “…but I’ll bet she tastes good!”

Knowing the tight bond that can grow between people and their animals I can truly feel her anguish.

Yet another way of experiencing animals is often found when human economic interests are perceived to be at odds with other species. Examples abound where ranching has expanded into areas that previously had a balance between resident animals. Typically, “armed conflict” erupts as ranchers attempt to exterminate specific targets.

In one such scenario sheep ranchers have injected cyanide poison into carcasses and placed them in fields as coyote bait. Some coyotes do die from this. Typically, though, the effort backfires.

In their broad aerial sweep of the land vultures discover all kinds of dead bodies and some will inevitably be the poisoned carrion. Many vultures will die from a single encounter with the coyote bait. With vulture populations reduced there is more food available for coyotes and birth rates increase to take advantage of the abundance.

The ranchers are thus left with more of the predators they were trying to eliminate. They are also left with the sense of being in a war zone rather than learning ways of co-existing with the native animals they have chosen to live with.

But thankfully many of us, like Randy Malamud’s family, also know how beautiful it can be to know other creatures; to open our awareness fully to them and share their experience of life. That seems to me like a good description of peace.


John Thompson is the president and board chair of the Animals and Society Institute. As an occasional journalist, he writes for magazines and newspapers about animal and environmental issues.