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Odyssey with Animals

Adrian Morrison, DVM, PhD. is professor emeritus of Behavioral Neuroscience at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine.  In his new book An Odyssey With Animals he explores the touchy balance between animal rights and animal welfare.  In the original post below he discusses the various shades of gray in this debate.

Throughout history, humanity has associated with animals in ways that have benefited human beings. Animals have been hunted for food and clothing, accepted at our hearths for companionship, and brought into our fields to produce and provide food. Only during the latter two-thirds of the last century could most people – in the developed, wealthy West — begin to imagine living without animals as part of our daily lives. We were completely dependent on them. As the twentieth century progressed, though, technological advances rendered animals’ visible presence in our lives unnecessary. We can eat a steak without coming close to a living cow, or wear a wool sweater without having to shear any sheep. But now, according to some, we have no need, indeed no right, to interfere in animals’ lives, even to the extent of abandoning their use in life-saving medical research. This belief motivates the animal rights/liberation movement, which follows the thinking of a small group of vocal philosophers.

But what does the term “animal rights” mean in a practical way to most in our society? All of us do use the word “rights” quite commonly: the right to decent, humane treatment when animals are in our charge. This is our obligation as humane human beings. Indeed, this duty is embodied in law, and we can be prosecuted and punished if we ignore it as lawyer/ethicist Jerry Tannenbaum from the University of California-Davis pointed out to me years ago when I was focused on the depredations of the “animal rights movement” against biomedical researchers and blinded to the obvious. Thus, the ongoing debate – and recent violence in some California universities for example – is about a more radical (and unworkable view) of rights. To clarify things in my own mind, I have come up with a ranking of views/behavior from the extreme to the reasonable as I see it.

First, there are those within the animal rights and welfare movement who believe that human life is worth no more than that of other animals. Some of these people damage property, threaten the lives of those who use animals, and even attempt to commit assault or murder in their effort to save animals. This subsection of the animal rights movement has been classified by the FBI as “one of today’s most serious domestic terrorism threats.” They are extremists in the truest sense.

Others in the movement, such as those who condemn the fur industry, engage in stunts like parading naked with signs. Though extreme, these tactics do not, to my mind, constitute extremism—just activism. Unfortunately, there are others who damage stores, throw paint on fur coats, and release mink from farms to die in the wild. They would obviously fit into the first category: extremists.

Then there are those who gather in peaceful (and lawful) protest, or who contribute money to organizations engaged in some of the activities just described, often because they have been fooled by false claims of animal abuse or graphic photographs that have been doctored or taken out of context. Of course, overlaps among these groups are possible, if not likely. I would consider these members of the movement—those who object to animal use but who do not employ extreme measures themselves—to be animal rights and welfare activists (as opposed to extremists).

Then, there are those who use animals but are also involved in efforts to improve the treatment of them. These individuals comprise what I consider to be the animal welfare movement—whether they engage actively through contributions to local humane societies or other good works or simply share the beliefs of those who do. Certainly, I am a member of this group. We think animals have certain claims on us humans when they are under our control, including the right to decent care. Put another way, we believe that, as humans, we have a moral responsibility to treat animals as well as is practically possible.

This position is distinct from the aims of the animal rights/liberation movement, and here I think it is important again, to acknowledge the difference between “animal rights” as envisioned by the movement and “animal welfare.” Those who belong to the animal rights/liberation group believe in severely limiting the way humans use animals, encouraging our removal from the animal world in many ways. Those who belong to the animal welfare group wish to improve animal health and welfare in a number of different contexts.

There are those I place in an extreme animal welfare camp that I consider less than reasonable, though: they object to the idea that many species are “renewable resources” that humans may justifiably use—hunting them for food or fur is one example. They aim to change drastically the way we use animals. On the other hand, I think that animals are a renewable resource and that ensuring animals’ welfare while they are alive, and providing a humane death for a legitimate purpose, is our only charge.

Finally, it is my perception that over the years there has been a noticeable shift toward use of an umbrella term, animal protectionism. I do not favor this designation because, though a noble-sounding banner, it could easily cloak an extremist fringe.

Now, you can decide where you fit in this spectrum.

Recent Comments

  1. Amanda

    I am looking forward to reading this book and seeing more of how you have experienced the changes in the animal rights vs animal welfare movements over the past few decades.

    I hope many read it with an open mind and will be able to then have the background to do their own analysis of the problems and then determine where they stand with the current issues.

  2. Bob Speth

    One of the most ignorant/hypocritical concepts of the animal rights movement is the thought that by being vegans or vegetarians they are saving animals. They are either completely uninformed as to how many millions of wild animals are killed by farmers whose crops would otherwise be eaten by these “vermin”, or they choose to ignore the plight of these wild animals because they don’t want to acknowledge that the ecosystem in which we exist requires us to compete with animal interests or become extinct.

  3. Alice Ra'anan

    This book thoughtfully examines a topic more usually given over to screeds. Morrison describes his research as a neuroscientist in terms that are highly accessible to a non-scientist. He also discusses his involvement as an expert witness in the Silver Spring Monkeys case that put PETA on the map, along with the impact of an animal rights break-in that trashed his own lab and the evolution of his views about humans and animals over the course of many decades. Most importantly, Morrison invites the reader to think critically about human-animal interactions.

  4. debt reduction

    I am excited to read this book. i just orderd it online and i really don’t want to wait a week for it. O well i can’t wait to see what they have to say in the book

  5. Carol Drew

    Obviously Adrian Morrison has not visited abattoirs where animals are killed for human use. If he has, and he can still argue he is a supporter of animal welfare (as opposed to animal rights) then he is completely switched off. Do you know why they won’t let you in the abattoirs or the sheds where these animals live out their short lives? Because the owners of these places know they would be shut down overnight if the general public were allowed to see what went on. It is so shameful.

  6. Robyn Cooper

    So many topics all confused and lumped under another guise of “science”.

    I consider myself in the first category, but I don’t damage property or attempt murder. Where does this leave me in this hierarchy of yet another round of myopic ‘scientific’ thinking?

    Why would 2-legged lives be “worth” more? Why would furry four legged lives be “worth” less? Or feathered, or finned, or scaled?

    All life lives on life and all is sacred. As a veggie-head, I make my own personal decisions about my diet, but I still wear shoes of leather, sleep under a goose-down duvet, drive on tyres that will never degrade, and consume oil-based fuel for warmth and transport.

    Where do we draw a line? What is that line? And whom makes it?

    For me, certainly not Adrian Morrison. This pseudo scientist might well go back and look at the 1977 study by Harvard grad, Irene Pepperberg, before making any further insulting “observations” about animals of any ilk.

  7. Hallie

    Sounds like a well-written, well-thought out argument by someone who has been through it all and has given the topic much consideration. I look forward to reading it.

  8. Animal lover

    WOW – a onclusion that doesn’t follow the inhuman arguments of H$U$ – the biggest scam going! ARs and liberals – watch out – your leaders are selling you short, taking your rights, AND H$U$ wants to destroy ALL domestic animals. Better dead than in your keeping!! Amazing – he sees through the hypocrisy fo the ARs (Animal Rights/Radicals). Their intent is to separate humans from the rest of the animal world! What’s next – your kids???? Ya better read this book – THEN re-look at the idiots passing laws all over this country against animals!

  9. Adrian Morrison

    If Robyn Cooper will now buy Odyssey and read it, she will find that the book allows her to answer the questions she poses for herself. She will have the benefit of the thoughts of many who have pondered these issues for centuries before she comes to final decisions.

  10. Sylvia

    I agree with Adrian that animals should be protected from inhumane treatment as their ability to suffer pain, stress, fear, hunger, thirst, grief, boredom etc are just the same for all animals including humans.

    Because i would hate to see anyone suffer being shot, skinned alive, gassed, having their throat slit, confined to a small cage for years, being poisoned or maimed in a laboratory, I protest these atrocities whether they happen inside or ouside of the law, to any being capable of suffering.

    If that makes me a dangerous extremist in Adrians “boxes” so be it – I have to be able to live with myself.

  11. Patrick OBrien

    Thank God for the extremists and activists. If we left the welfare of animals up to academics like this, nothing would change. This is one book I have no desire to read….

  12. Meghan

    The term “protectionism” could also cloak those who will only minimally protect animals. The current standards of the meat producing industry are abyssmal – so thosw who would keep it at its present level of basic abuse which is widely accepted.

  13. Jack Doyle

    This is a very well thought out and well written book looking at all sides of the issue. A closed-minded animal rights person who does nothing but through out outdated and inaccurate cliches will not be convinced, but a thinking person who espouses animal rights may be forced to examine their position.

  14. Barbara Davies

    From a UK perspective at least, we have identified at least four different positions in this debate. It’s not just animal welfare & medical research v animal rights. Opinion research has shown that many people have moderate views, are unsure or feel conflicted.

    We have developed a questionnaire on our website which allows individuals to find out where they stand:


  15. Staffof2cats

    Re: Robyn Cooper’s labeling Adrian Morrison a pseudo-scientist — I’ve examined his credentials and see nothing ‘psuedo’ about them. I’d like to see Robyn’s qualifications that would justify her evaluation of his experience and education.

  16. Dov Henis

    Reality Is Genes Is Organisms
    Cognition Is Virtual Reality
    Virtual Reality Includes Culture And Spirituality

    A. An Odyssey with Animals
    In his new book, an animal researcher reflects on animal rights and what extremists get wrong

    B. Reality is genes is organisms, our cognition is virtual reality that includes culture and spirituality

    Reality is that life is genes is Earth’s biosphere, for temporary constraint of energy that would otherwise be fueling universal expansion. Natural reality is that within the biosphere genotypes survive naturally by ingesting each other, each other’s energy.

    Within the biosphere some organisms evolved cognition, evolved virtual reality realms, including thoughts about a purpose of human life, a purpose which is OURS to formulate and promote. It derives solely from our cognition. And it includes spiritual values, ethics and beliefs about life. It includes also cultural values that transcend the “spiritual aspects” of existence, in contrast with nature.

    So the prospects are dim that the issue of “separating the radical from the sensible” in regards to “animal rights” versus “human needs” will ever be settled, as dim as the prospects that other issues of reality versus virtual reality, comprising “radical” versus “sensible” aspects, will ever be settled…

    Dov Henis
    (Comments From The 22nd Century)
    Updated Physical Evolution Defintion

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