How to Make the World Better for Nonhuman Animals
An Animal Rights Article from


Marc Bekoff, Ph.D., Psychology Today / Animal Emotions
December 2017

I asked members of my "Animal cognition, animal emotions, and compassionate conservation" group, an international array of people with diverse interests, to respond in 12 or fewer words: "How can we make the world better for nonhuman animals?"

Marc Bekoff
Marc and the lovely Geraldine...

Last week I posted an essay called "How to Give Dogs the Best Lives Possible in a Human World" in which researchers and trainers weighed in on how we can make the world better for dogs. This idea was was originally posted by Dr. Zazie Todd on her very informative Companion Animal Psychology website.

I decided to play off of this theme and generalized the question to read, "How can we make the world better for nonhuman animals?" I asked members of my "Animal cognition, animal emotions, and compassionate conservation" group, an international array of people with diverse interests, to respond in 12 or fewer words. I chose the number of words based on a wonderful book called The Best Advice in Six Words edited by Larry Smith for which numerous other people and I were asked to write six and only six words of advice, nothing more and nothing less. At first I thought it would be easy, but it took me a while to come up with something with which I was happy. Others also were fooled by Mr. Smith's seemingly "simple" request.

Here are some of the responses, in alphabetical order, from people with very different backgrounds and interests. They make for a unique, fascinating, and wide-ranging read on different ways to make the world better for nonhuman animals.

Never remain silent; use your voice to protest the injustices they endure. -- Cheryl Abbate

Eat plants! Stop eating animals and exploiting females for milk and eggs. -- Carol J. Adams, author of The Sexual Politics of Meat

Because animals' lives matter, I'd remove all human supremacists from the planet. -- Carol Ames

Contemplate human achievement as a geologic stratum marking the 6th mass extinction. -- Robert Anderson (The Other Moral Species)

Grant them the rights and protection to live a life worth living. -- Liv Baker, PhD, Institute for Compassionate Conservation, Executive Director

Treat them as if you live in their own paws or appendages. -- Barbara Hardy Beierl

Take time to spread global peace for all individual nonhuman animals. -- Marc Bekoff

Understand that each is a sentient individual who wants to live! -- Valerie Belt

Ecosystem function, rather than species conservation, should guide conservation action. -- Dror Ben-Ami, Founder Compassionate Conservation Middle East

Humanely decrease the human population and encourage sharp reductions in all consumption. -- Sarah M. Bexell, Institute for Human-Animal Connection, University of Denver

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. -- Laura Bridgeman, director, Sonar.

Interfaith communities practicing compassion for all sentient beings. -- Judy Carman, Interfaith Vegan Coalition, In Defense of Animals

Self-care tools for animal activists on the front lines. -- Fleur Dawes, Communications Director, In Defense of Animals

Systematic change within academia and the justice system can impact animal lives. -- Margo DeMello, Animals & Society Institute

Reconcile that the planet belongs to all species and humans are just guests. -- Dr. Sara Dubois, BC SPCA Chief Scientific Officer & University of British Columbia Adjunct Professo

Make better people. -- Randall Eaton

Replace anthropocentric thinking with life-centric thinking: consider animals and environment in decisions. -- Anne Fawcett, Australian veterinarian, editor of Veterinary Ethics: Navigating Tough Cases

Kill disillusionment, not animals; go vegan! -- Nicole Felts, Why go vegan?

Consider their perspectives and treat them like they matter. -- Hope Ferdowsian, MD, MPH, FACP, FACPM, and author of Phoenix Zones: Where Strength Is Born and Resilience Lives (Chicago Press, Spring 2018)

Accept that they are not ours to sell, kill, eat, or wear. -- Andrew Fenton, Department of Philosophy, Dalhousie University (author of "Decisional Authority and Animal Research Subjects." In The Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Animal Minds, edited by Kristin Andrews and Jacob Beck. New York: Routledge, 2018: 475-84.)

Humans must come to perceive animals as relatives, not resources. -- Richard Foster, Editor, Daily Kumquat

We share this planet with other sentient beings and must learn to coexist, -- Camilla Fox, Founder & Executive Director, Project Coyote

Realize that our assumption of separation and even superiority is just that. -- Howard Garrett, Orca Network

The greatest danger to our future is apathy. -- Jane Goodall, PhD, DBE, Founder - the Jane Goodall Institute & UN Messenger of Peace

Respecting animals wildness in a biocentric vision and not an anthropocentric one. -- Chiara Grasso - Psychologist and Ethologist

Act like all life forms around you are imbued with inherent dignity. -- Marielle Grenade-Willis, Friends of Animals

Stop measuring worthiness by braininess, stop eating meat, and just be kind. -- David Hancocks, architect, former zoo and museum director

Never harm a sentient being needlessly and always help if you can. --Stevan Harnad, Professor of Cognitive Science, UQŔM, Editor, Animal Sentience

Make animal-human relationships the topic of courses in secondary education. -- Shonna Hawkins

Consider that they, like us, are living, feeling souls. -- Michael Jawer

Seek to listen to and learn from nonhuman animals. -- Ann Johnson, Artist and journalist, Editor, Quaker Concern for Animals Newsletter

Love our neighbors of all species as ourselves -- Rev. Dr. LoraKim Joyner, One Earth Conservation

Realizing that you have the power to bring positive change around you. -- Anna Katogiritis, President, Jane Goodall's Roots & Shoots Greece

Twelve-step support for everyone to adopt a plant-based diet. -- Marilyn Kroplick, MD, President, In Defense of Animals, Carnivores Anonymous

Rewild woodland by creating secure enclosures for wolfdogs who cannot be rehired. -- Simon Leadbetter

Stop considering humans superior; we are guests in animals' home: the Earth. -- Christian Lenzi, Ethologist

Do unto nonhuman animals as you would have others do unto you. -- Beth Levine

Integrating vegan values into our spiritual practices. -- Lisa Levinson, Sustainable Activism Campaign Director, In Defense of Animals and Vegan Spirituality

Let's increase and support awareness, education, funding for protection and diversity. -- Paul Mack, architect

Stop eating, hunting, killing, harming animals and make human birth control mandatory. -- Sally Mackler, Carnivore Advocate, Predator Defense

Define yourself by how you treat all animals including humans. -- Thomas D. Mangelsen, Photographer, Images of Nature

Embrace them with all the compassion given to us by Mother Earth. -- Natasha Milne, photographer

Grant them the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.-- Dr. Betty Moss

Treat all fellow animals the way you wish to be treated yourself. -- Val Murray, Justice for BC Grizzlies, Victoria, BC, Canada

Become "The Greatest Generation" and become vegan and stop animal holocaust. -- Debbie Nelson

Recognizing animals have their own destiny, not what we choose for them. -- Jennifer O’Connor, Senior Writer, PETA Foundation

At each mealtime, consume compassionate calories that fuel mercy not cruelty. -- Alice Oven, MSc Animal Welfare, Ethics and Law student at University of Winchester

Not always simple or easy, compassionate conservation makes all lives better. -- Paul C. Paquet, Raincoast Conservation Foundation, Canada

Treat them as family members, not objects you own. Judy Paulsen

To tell the truth, all peoples, animals and plants need a voice. -- David Paxton

Remember: Each life is precious to the one in possession of it. -- Jessica Pierce

Ask zoos to stop exhibiting nonhuman animals, and to rewrite their paradigm. -- Colleen Plumb, artist, Thirty Times a Minute

Animal lives matter, sharing not sparing, anthropocene is here, prevent extinction. -- Daniel Ramp, Centre For Compassionate Conservation

Remember our similarities, differences, and shared capacity for joy, pain and love. -- Professor Angelique Richardson, University of Exeter

Embrace every one life, as kindly, thoughtfully, compassionately, as your own. -- Jill Robinson MBE, Dr med vet hc, Hon LLD, Founder & CEO Animals Asia Foundation

Inspire reverence, demand respect, and restore biosynergy among all living beings. -- Anthony L Rose, Ph.D., The Biosynergy Institute, See: Rose, A.L. Biosynergy. Article in Fuentes & Riley (Eds), International Encyclopedia of Primatology. Wiley, New York., 2017

Give Rights to Nature: plastic in seas and felling trees: A CRIME. -- Jessica and Myla Fallon Rothwell

Change human perceptions to include the immense, intrinsic value other species. -- Kira Sadler, Co-Director, Voices for Biodiversity

Nonhumans, or n’humans, need room to live in viable numbers: habitat. -- Carl Safina

Codifying (in law) non-human animal interests in living and freedom from harm. -- Francisco J. Santiago-Ávila

Stop killing and eating them. -- John Sorenson, PhD., Professor, Department of Sociology, Brock University

Always remind people about real consequences to others about their personal choices. -- Veda Stram, All-Creatures

Consider their needs, and how these can best be fulfilled. -- Lisa Tenpin-Dolma, Author, and principal of The International School for Canine Psychology & Behaviour

Shift our human paradigm from dominance to respect and understanding differences. -- Polly Thurston

Acknowledge that all animals relate to signs, and respect their semiotic agency. -- Morton Třnnessen, Norway; Recent co-authored book (Open Access): Animal Umwelten in a Changing World: Zoosemiotic Perspectives (Tartu University Press 2016)

Learn about the animals in your care, and be kind to them. -- Zazie Todd, PhD; Companion Animal Psychology

We must stop denying the complex inner lives of other animals. -- Emily Tronetti, CPDT-KA, MSc in Anthrozoology Candidate at Canisius College

Designate habitat off-limits to all humans. -- Mike Vandeman

To make people recognize the similarities between nonhuman animals and human animals. -- Meggan Vandermast

Retract the human enterprise until the rest of nature rebounds and flourishes. -- Ian Whyte

Earth’s healing can only happen when we understand; We are all one. -- Wendy Wyatt

Some repeated themes from a unique and diverse international audience

Many thanks to everyone who took the time to respond. A number of repeated themes emerged from these one-liners, and of course, there's considerable overlap among them. I'm pleased to note that these responses come from a very diverse audience of people from different countries, some of whom make their livings studying other animals or working on their behalf, and others who really and truly care about the state of the animals in 2017 and do all they can when they are able to do so for other animals and their homes. Everyone single individual can make a difference.

Repeated themes include: there are too many people; we should consider becoming vegans and pay attention to who we eat; we need to save habitats save habitats and animals' homes; humane education is key as is compassionate conservation based on the principles "First do no harm" and the lives of all individuals matter; all individuals need to be respected; silence is deadly; maintaining hope in difficult times; animals aren't objects; we need to give serious attention to "the golden rule"; we need to try to take animals point of view; coexistence has to be our goal; sentience is critical to consider when we decide how to treat other animals; it's important maintain biodiversity; hierarchies in which we place ourselves on the top and separate from other animals don't work; human superiority, exceptionalism, and domination are the wrong ways to go; the importance of rewilding nature and ourselves and of reconnecting with other nature; spirituality; interfaith cooperation; recognizing continuity between human and other animals; and there's a need for major reform across the board in venues in which animals are used and abused.

There's a lot of food for thought here for people studying nonhuman-human relationships, including conservation psychologists, sociologists, and anthrozoologists.

Let's stop pretending we don't know what other animals want and need: They do not want to suffer and die

As a biologist, I realize there aren't "higher" and "lower" animals, and labels like higher and lower really don't mean anything at all and are frequently used to justify the mistreatment of lower animals because the word lower far too easily slides into "less intelligent," "less feeling," or less valuable." So, are humans exceptional and unique? Yes, but so too are other animals. And, just like us, animals want to live in peace and safety — so let's stop pretending we don't know what they want and need. They do not want to die and surely do not want to be subjected to brutal torture before they succumb.

Nonhumans clearly need much more respect, compassion, and Freedom (with a capital F). I often like to remind people of the late Gretchen Wyler's apt statement that "Cruelty can't stand the spotlight" and that nonhumans need the voice of every single person, each of whom can make positive differences in their lives. I also often go back to what I call the 12 P's of rewilding (which began with only eight), namely, being proactive, positive, persistent, patient, peaceful, practical, powerful, passionate, playful, present, principled, and proud when working on behalf of other animals.

It's important to be nice and kind to those with whom you disagree and move on. Sometimes it's just better to let something go, so pick your "battles" carefully and don't waste time and energy. Don't waste time "fighting" people who won't change and don't let them deflect attention from the important work that needs to be done. Don't get in long-drawn out arguments with people who want you to waste precious time and energy fighting them, time and energy that must go into working for animals and earth and peace and justice. The bottom line is don't waste time bickering and keep moving forward.

And, while we're at it, let's be sure that youngsters know just what we are doing so they will model their behavior on ours and then, they too, can continue to do the good work that is necessary for our magnificent planet and for all beings to thrive and to look forward to, and joyously welcome in, many new days. Teach the children well, for they are the ambassadors for a more harmonious, peaceful, compassionate, and gentle world.

We are animals and therein lies hope for a better future for all

It's clear that nonhumans need all the help they can get, and I learned a lot from reading the responses that came in and by rereading them many times. All in all, we can always do more for other animals, and I hope that as we move into 2018 we will see further changes in how they are treated in the wide variety of venues in which billions are used and abused globally. And, the ideas presented above, are a solid launching pad from which we can and must do something for the fascinating animals with whom we share our magnificent planet.

I truly look forward to a significantly better and more hopeful state for the animals in 2018 and beyond, and for everyone who works to support other animals and their homes in an increasingly human-dominated world, I offer a heartfelt thank you.

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