“Why Dogs Hump and Bees Get Depressed,” by Marc Bekoff. New World Library, $15.95.
A title like this certainly prompts a buzz (pun intended) or double take, doesn’t it? And if a reviewer can’t wait to get the answers to the titled subjects, New World Library’s publicity department provides us with page numbers for that information.
Since being asked in 2009 to write essays on animal emotions for Psychology Today magazine, the noted animal-behavior scientist and expert on animal emotions has crafted more than 400, many of which are featured in this far-ranging collection that will leave you with a new-found perspective and appreciation for other species.
Organized by theme (11 parts), rather than chronologically, the essays have been revised from original publication to some degree and designed to inspire the reader to make a difference in the arenas of global compassion and peaceful coexistence with multiple species.
“We live in a wounded world that needs deep healing,” he emphasizes. “It’s a magnificent place that’s filled with awesome animals and awe-inspiring webs of nature that are increasingly fragile and disappearing at unprecedented rates. Most of all, caring about other animals does not mean caring less about humans.”
Here’s a taste of some of the section titles: “Animals and Us: Reflections on Our Challenging, Frustrating, Confusing, and Deep Interrelationships with Other Animals”; “Media and the (Mis)representation of Animals”; “The Emotional Lives of Animals”; “Wild Justice and Moral Intelligence: Don’t Blame Other Animals for Our Destructive Ways”; “The Lives of Captive Creatures: Why Are They Even There?”; “Who We Eat Is a Moral Question.”
Bekoff establishes the volume’s tone quickly: “Our interactions with animals run deep, and in very direct and pragmatic ways, these interactions affect both ourselves and the animals involved. Simply put, when we harm other animals, we hurt ourselves, and when protect and nurture other animals, we heal ourselves. Whether we deny or recognize animal emotions and intelligence, this has real-world consequences for everyone.”
Throughout, he prefers using the word “interrelationships” rather than “relationships,” and phrases like “other animals” and “nonhuman animals” to simply “animals.”
“In these ways I try to emphasize that all animal species share a continuum of being, which includes the way we feel and what we think,” he writes.
Because they are viewed as property by the courts in most cases, we lose and they lose with mistreatment, oversight and neglect, Bekoff notes, as he cites inspirational as well as gut-wrenching incidents and their effect on those involved both directly and on the periphery.
Because each essay prompts plenty of room for reflection and digestion, this inspirational turn-key work allows the reader to put it aside for a while and consider Bekoff’s solid points and challenges to make the world a better place, from simply observing the actions of squirrels or crows in your yard to considering the true worth of zoos and sea parks in our metropolitan landscapes.
Bekoff continually points to the complexity and diversity of other species and how they protect each other, display their emotions and interact with man. From whales to hamsters and even bees, it’s a resonating wakeup call to the reader, who most likely relates chiefly to companion species such as the dog or cat.
Rather than toss too many superlatives Bekoff’s way it makes more sense to cite some riveting passages that capture the essence of this volume. Here are a few:
“Indeed, by honoring our companion’s trust in us, we tap into our own spirituality. These wonderful beings make us more human.”
“The hearts of our companion animals, like our own hearts, are fragile, so we must be gentle with them.”
“I don’t know of any date that shows that wild animals torment one another to the extent of causing severe psychological trauma that even marginally resembles how humans routinely harm other humans or members of other species.”
“Clearly we’re not the only animals who possess the cognitive and emotional capacities for grieving and mourning the loss of others.”
“People who care about animals and nature should not be considered ‘the radicals’ or ‘bad guys’ who are trying to impede ‘human progress’; in fact, they could be seen as heroes who are fighting not only for animals but also for humanity.”
Yes, Bekoff is an optimist and a cheerleader throughout. But what’s wrong with that in this troubled and complex world today? There are tailwinds and headwinds to the flow of his prose, but always a resilient can-do spirit overhead.
And, no, I’m not going to reveal what pages you’ll find the answers to the book title’s subjects. Each essay serves up plenty of passion and persuasion and soon enough you’ll find them.