Until One Has Loved an Animal…A Part of One’s Soul Remains Unawakened —Anatole France
by Juliette Jones
“A man of kindness, to his beast is kind,
but brutal actions show a brutal mind.
Remember, He who made thee, made the brute,
Who gave thee speech and reason, formed him mute;
He can't complain, but God's omniscient eye
Beholds thy cruelty—He hears his cry!
He was designed thy servant, not thy drudge,
But know—that his Creator is thy judge.”
—The Ladies' Equestrian Guide, 1857
“What am I? …A thinking thing…”
—Cogito, Ergo Sum, The Cogito Argument
The seventeenth-century philosopher Rene Descartes is generally credited as the “Father of Modern Philosophy,” and is well known for his famous proclamation, “Cogito, Ergo Sum” (“I think, therefore I am.”) This precept (the cogito argument) is considered a foundational argument for the reality of human existence. In other words, “I know that I exist because I can think.”
Descartes lived in a culture seeped in religious dogma and superstition. In this milieu, it’s understandable that he pointed toward the faculty of reason as an authentication of being. His philosophy went on to influence the formulation of the present scientific method which many now believe is incomplete and seriously flawed.
“This we know: The earth does not belong to man. Man belongs to the earth.
All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. Man did not
weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever
he does to the web, he does to himself.”
—1854 Letter to All, Chief Seattle
Looking at the course of modern life, it seems that human thinking—in its present form and incomplete as it is—might just as well be the source of extinction rather than a validation of existence. Western culture continues to suffer from another kind of superstition—the superstition of materialism, fused together with a monstrous egocentric belief that we are superior to nature and other living creatures.
With all due respect, I have never resonated with the cogito argument. If Descartes would have said, “I feel, therefore I am.” Or especially if he had said, “We are aware, therefore we are,” might this have altered the course of Western perception? Might the Western culture have embraced a more unified, harmonious relationship with the natural world?
The Center for Biological Diversity posits, “Although extinction is a natural phenomenon, it occurs at a natural ‘background’ rate of about one to five species per year. Scientists estimate we’re now losing species at 1,000 to 10,000 times the background rate, with literally dozens going extinct every day... It could be a scary future indeed, with as many as 30 to 50 percent of all species possibly leading toward extinction by mid-century.” The Guardian also suggests, “While action to halt the decline remains possible, the prospects do not look good. All signs point to ever more powerful assaults on biodiversity in the next two decades, painting a dismal picture of the future of life, including human life.”
“Your destiny is a mystery to us. What will happen when the buffalo are all slaughtered?
The wild horses tamed? What will happen when the secret corners of the forest are
heavy with the scent of many men and the view of the ripe hills is blotted with
talking wires? Where will the thicket be? Gone! Where will the eagle be?
Gone! And what is it to say goodbye to the swift pony and the hunt?
The end of living and the beginning of survival.”
—1854 Letter to All, Chief Seattle
It’s been appalling at a soul level to see what has happened in the past five years to Sarasota County. No need to mention the recent red tide and green algae debacle. Side-note: Have you ever examined what happens with the sewage in Sarasota? Research what has been happening at the Siesta Key Sewage Plant (and for how long) until it finally closed it down last year.
Massive urban sprawl and overdevelopment has taken over, and callous developers, who find ways to avoid paying for human infrastructure, don’t even give a thought to how they affect our natural environment—and demonstrate especially cruel disregard toward the lives of wild animals. While luring buyers into massive clear-cut developments with names reminiscent of Paradise, they deliberately create environmental situations that insure suffering and damnation for wildlife. Shamefully, most don’t even make provision for wildlife corridors.
For displaced injured animals and those suffering and dying for lack of food and territory, there is scant relief, and there would be none if not for the non-profit Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Centers in Sarasota County which deserve support from people of conscience since they won’t receive help from developers or the government.
“The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”
According to the ASPC: Each year approximately 1.5 million shelter animals are euthanized (670,000 dogs and 860,000 cats) “The number of dogs and cats euthanized in U.S. shelters annually has declined from approximately 2.6 million since 2011.” This is partially due to the percentage of animals adopted.
Another sign of some progress toward compassion is a recent bill sponsored by Florida representatives Ted Duetch and Vern Buchanan, making it a felony offense with stiff penalties for those who abuse or torture animals. Thankfully, this action has the support of bi-partisan lawmakers, police, the humane society and the public at large.
Animals shape our lives, our history and our hearts.
Shanti, the Healer Hound
Somewhere along the line, while researching the cogito argument, I came across a quote by Gertrude Stein: “I am because my little dog knows me” which is now my favorite glimpse into the question of “am-ness” Shanti, my miniature dachshund, whose name means “peace,” lives up to her namesake. She might or might not possess a rational mind, but she is keenly aware of her environment, and is an excellent problem solver, companion and healing force. Her deep, authentic love and trust are healing balms to my soul.
On the bright side, those of us who treasure animals are in the company of greatness. Here are a few enlightened humans on a list of many: Einstein was a devoted animal lover and credited his two cats for helping him find solutions to problems in physics. He felt strongly that people everywhere should extend kindness and compassion toward animal life.
Florence Nightingale discovered her passion as a healer when she nursed a lame dog back to health and saved his life. Afterward, God revealed to her in a dream that she should become a nurse. Picasso’s dachshund Lump was the subject of many drawings and paintings, as well as the apple of both his eye and his heart. In fact, Picasso once stated, “He’s not a dog, nor is he a man—he’s my muse.” Winston Churchill had tender compassion for all creatures too. As a young child, he sold his bicycle to purchase a bulldog, and he was known for helping animals in distress. Abraham Lincoln also promoted the humane treatment of animals across the globe. And last, but certainly not least…
“You can always tell about somebody by the way they put their hands on an animal.”
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