Sunday 3 June 2007

The Emotional Lives of Animals: A Leading Scientist Explores Animal Joy, Sorrow, and Empathy -- and Why They Matter by Marc Bekoff

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketPublished by New World Library

Marc Bekoff brings us an insightful look into the often debated subject of whether animals are capable of emotions. To those of us who share our lives with pets, this may seem like a question that can be easily answered. The wagging tail of our dogs as they hear the subtle sounds of their leash being gathered in preparation for a walk. The purring of the cat as they let us know that they like to be stroked or held. These all seem like clear signs of emotion to me, and to the author.

What I don't think of often, are the non-domestic animals. Lions, dolphins, wolves, mice, and countless others. The author brings us some fascinating examples that are truly awe inspiring. Whether it is the lions who rescued a 12 year old girl from her kidnappers, the dolphins who saved 4 swimmers from being eaten by a shark, the magpies who seemed to hold a funeral of sorts for a fallen friend or the many other situations that are defined, one thing is certain, you will never look at animals the same way.

What I found quite disturbing in this book were some of the descriptions of treatment of animals. Often by scientists who, while recognizing that their own pets are capable of feeling emotion, refuse to consider the fact that test subjects are capable of the same. I guess part of it is that it is probably easier to subject these creatures to the testing without having to consider the suffering involved.

The author brings forth a great argument for better treatment of animals in those conditions as well as those who are confined in zoos. It's shocking to learn that some scientists will ignore rules and regulations in order to further their research. Research which often is not helpful since it has been shown that animals who are treated poorly while being studied, often have unreliable results due to stress and trauma. In human terms, it would be something like having no sleep for a week, then catch a bad flu and be feeling at your worst and then having to sit an important exam. You know you wouldn't do as well.

Data has proven that this kind of research has led to medication being tested on animals, being passed through the FDA and then has still led to countless deaths. Adverse drug reactions are the fifth leading cause of death in the US. Maybe it's time to think about more reliable - and humane - testing methods.

This book is a great mix of stories, personal experience and scientific research that will help anyone who reads it, make the right choices and help create a more humane society. It's a fascinating read which caught my attention firmly from the first page and I highly recommend it.

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