Loving Animals: Toward a New Animal Advocacy

October 13, 2011

Kathy Rudy has written Loving Animals with the intent of establishing fresh perspectives on animal ethics. In pursuit of this goal, she investigates common dilemmas concerning the treatment of non-human animals.

One of these is the matter of abandoned dogs. In the US, 6 million healthy and sociable animals are abandoned and killed every year while breeders bring more puppies on to an ever-hungry market. Rudy rightly points out that there is something terribly wrong with this picture, and suggests that how we relate to "pets" ought to undergo a radical alteration.

Here, she introduces the main theme of the book and argues that animals ought to be approached via the perspective of love and affection rather than detachment.

Rudy combines the theme of love with transforming animals into pets. She argues on behalf of novel pet-based farms, which keep animals in supposedly good conditions for many years, treat them as you would treat your own dogs or cats, and only then kill them for food.

The same approach, she argues, could apply to experimentation animals, who would be first given a loving home for a year or two, and only then made to suffer the blade and the syringe. In relation to wild animals, she boldly hangs on to the same theme of pet transformation and maintains that there simply will not be enough space left for them in the wild, and that therefore keeping and breeding tigers, wolves and other wild creatures as beloved pets is the way forward.

The author's strength lies in her willingness to endorse affection. As the now-common argument in philosophy suggests, one must be careful not to place too much emphasis on detached reason. Animals, too, should be viewed affectively rather than merely from the viewpoint of calculating utilitarianism, and their perspective must finally be taken into serious consideration.

However, there are also problems with this book: one of them is its audience. Rudy devotes a great deal of time to criticising the animal rights movement and one cannot help but feel that she has addressed the book as a polemic to animal rights activists rather than as a piece of advocacy to the general public.

Moreover, some of the arguments are shaky. Keeping wild animals as pets is endorsed without exploring the much more obvious solution: protecting their natural environments. What Rudy ignores is how poorly wild animals fare in the type of cramped conditions that even the best households can offer, and it is this oversight that enables her to assert that a tiger who gets to run around the perimeter of a backyard 45 times a day is happy (for many readers, it is precisely such actions that render the tiger's distress so tangible).

Moreover, important questions are left unanswered. Why should one kill and eat pigs, while killing dogs is to be vehemently avoided? What does it say of us as moral individuals if we are willing to kill and eat the very beings we claim to love? Ultimately, it seems that it is human beings who get the most out of the type of arrangements Rudy describes: they get to eat animals, experiment on animals and keep animals as pets, ironically all in the name of "love".

However, it is uncertain whether love allows for such instrumentalisation, and whether animals other than perhaps dogs really want the type of human love that Rudy emphasises. For them, freedom to follow their own species-specific capacities may count for quite a bit more than a relationship with a human being.

The book makes a good read for "locovores" who cherish the teachings of Jamie Oliver. For those with a more serious eye on animal ethics, it serves less purpose.

Loving Animals: Toward a New Animal Advocacy

By Kathy Rudy. University of Minnesota Press. 288pp, £18.50. ISBN 9780816674688. Published 10 October 2011

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