— By Susan Eirich, Ph.D. —
We are moving towards treating animals with compassion. Not fast enough, but in the right direction.
In the last e-newsletter, I wrote about a conference held in July at the University of Cambridge on the nature of human and animal consciousness. There, neuroscientists from different fields were moved to make a formal declaration, based on their findings, that animals, birds, and other creatures such as octopuses have the neurological underpinnings necessary for consciousness. I said this is a big deal.
A friend wrote back asking, “You mean we are still trying to prove this? Will people who don’t already realize this ever have enough proof? I find it amazing that animal consciousness is a discovery or even news. I wonder if people who are unaware of this are capable of making an animal connection.”
I think it is important because it takes time for an idea to become accepted—especially one that has been so radically denied, like animals seen as conscious beings. But I understand her question. We are trapping wolves now all over Wyoming and Idaho in painful and terrifying leg-hold traps that only have to be checked every 72 hours. One hour in a trap like that is an eternity—ask people who have been caught in one or watched their frantic pets try to free themselves. Could we allow this if animals are conscious beings?
Scientific proof gives back-up to people who sense this but have been cowed (sorry cows) by the power of conventional beliefs of the time. It gives focus to we humans who are so busy with other concerns we aren’t attentive to the cruelty of what we do. It gives backing to politicians who are trying to break through to make better laws protecting animals against naysayers who have their political reasons for not acknowledging this change in our world view.
If animals are conscious, then we have to change the very foundation of how we treat animals we raise for food and how we hunt wild ones—or take their land. It is another “inconvenient truth.” Only it isn’t really inconvenient, it is beautiful. With a bit of effort, once we change how we see animals, we will have a sense of companionship that adds immeasurably to our joy and meaning in life.
In a similar academic vein, the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics is another big deal. Their mission is “Pioneering ethical perspectives on animals through academic research, teaching, and publication.” Once research on animal ethics and consciousness reaches into the halls of science and academia, it will eventually seep into the public awareness and change our behaviors as a society. We are moving towards an idea, a realization whose time has come. Until then I pray for those wolves who were unfortunate enough to be born before then, and will keep working towards changing our consciousness through the animals of Earthfire.
Dr. Susan Eirich is the Founder and Executive Director of Earthfire Institute Wildlife Sanctuary and Retreat Center. A licensed psychologist, biologist and educator, her goal is to widen the circle of conversation about conservation to include the voices of all living beings.