Saturday, September 17, 2016

The Psychology of Killing Wolves, Cats, and other Animals

By Marc Bekoff Ph.D.
How can people say they love animals and then kill or advocate killing them?

Posted Sep 16, 2016

One would have to be significantly out of touch not to realize that there are a number of on-going and unrelenting wars on a wide variety of nonhuman animals (animals; other sources can be seen here). In a recent essay, I highlighted what's happening to wolves in Washington state and a recent book concerned with free-ranging cats (please see "The Wars on Wolves, Cats, and Other Animals: It’s Time to Forever Close Down the Killing Fields").

Killing wolves for eating steaks left at their door like room service

Here are some excerpts from, and brief summary of, the above essay, in which there are numerous current links for information about the topics at hand. Basically, during the past few weeks, along with many other dedicated people, I’ve been working hard to stop the killing of wolves in Washington state and to call attention to a call for removing all free-ranging cats “by any means necessary (please see "'Cat Wars' Calls For Killing Free-Ranging Cats”). These are but two real life examples of widespread wars on the lives of nonhuman animals, including direct or indirect endorsements of various groups that claim to be on the side of the animals. It’s sickening, and even if these brutal assaults worked, they are ethically repugnant and absolutely and unquestionably unnecessary. And, they don’t work.

Updated information, including media coverage, about the slaughter of the Profanity Peak wolf pack in Washington, can be found on the website of the organization Predator Defense. The details of slaughtering these animals basically comes down to killing the wolves for eating steaks left at their door like room service. You can keep abreast of the on-going situation with Predator Defense’s updates.
Removing free-ranging cats “by any means necessary:” Turning garbage into gospel
"From a conservation ecology perspective, the most desirable solution seems clear—remove all free-ranging cats from the landscape by any means necessary." (Cat Wars, pp. 152-153)
It’s not surprising that the call for an all out assault on the lives of free-ranging cats is far more well-known than the slaying of members of Washington’s Profanity Peak wolf pack. Indeed, in the case of free-ranging cats, the publishers and authors of the book at hand, Cat Wars: The Devastating Consequences of a Cuddly Killer, have both issued disclaimers saying they are against the inhumane treatment of any animal. Nonetheless, the call to remove all free-ranging cats “by any means necessary” (p. 152-153) somehow slipped by the authors, editors, and other pre-publication readers.

 And, I cannot find any public statement amending their suggestion about how to remove all free-ranging cats. Clearly, the authors are not advocating removing free-ranging cats softly. Rather, they are advocating outright and unregulated removal “by any means necessary.” When I asked some people what this meant to them, answers ranged from trapping, snaring, poisoning, bludgeoning, and shooting. A number of people feared we would see violence “in the name of science.”

The publishing business also can be an interesting enterprise and the publication of Cat Wars show how this is so. To wit, I was asked by a representative of the publisher to delay my review of Cat Wars until the end of September after the book became available. However, there already was one review on Amazon and the book actually became available in the beginning of September, despite what the publication date was supposed to be. After learning about the book and what it offered, I turned down a free copy from the publisher. It didn’t feel right to get a copy and then criticize its numerous flaws and misguided call for potential violence against all free-ranging cats.

There are numerous problems with Cat Wars. You can read about them in a number of references in "The Wars on Wolves, Cats, and Other Animals: It’s Time to Forever Close Down the Killing Fields" and in the predominantly strongly negative reviews on Amazon. The reviews on Amazon offer a panoply of opinions, and, as of this writing, are around 90% one star and 10% five-star reviews. There are no intermediate two, three, or four-star reviews that would indicate reviewers sort of liking and not liking the book. The scientist in me got me to look at 50 other books in the same general area, and there is not a single one that has such polarized reviews. Clearly, Cat Wars lays out a “them — cat lovers” versus “us — bird lovers” agenda.

One of the most thorough reviews that takes “the science” behind Cat Wars to task is called “By Any Means Necessary”: War is Declared on U.S. Cats,” and, if you read only one essay, this is the one to go to. A summary of this piece reads as follows:
Cat Wars is, to anybody familiar with the topic, an obviously desperate attempt to fuel the ongoing witch-hunt against outdoor cats “by any means necessary,” including the endorsement of discredited junk science, an oceanful of red herrings, and B-movie-style scaremongering. The book’s central thesis—that outdoor cats must be eradicated in the name of biodiversity and public health—is, like the authors’ credibility, undermined to the point of collapse by weak—often contradictory—evidence, and a reckless arrogance that will be hard to ignore even for their fellow fring-ervationsists.
How many birds are actually killed by free-ranging cats? Of course, one point of contention centers on the actual number of birds who are killed by free-ranging cats. In this essay, we also read about a paper published by the senior author of Cat Wars called “The impact of free-ranging domestic cats on wildlife of the United States,” published in January 2013. The author of “By Any Means Necessary” writes, “With its ‘estimate that free-ranging domestic cats kill 1.3–4.0 billion birds annually in the contiguous U.S.’—which the authors describe more than once as ‘conservative’—the paper attracted immediate media attention. Unfortunately, the underlying science was only rarely called into question. To this end, he cites an excellent essay by Barbara King, Chancellor Professor of Anthropology at the College of William and Mary, called “Do We Really Know That Cats Kill By The Billions? Not So Fast.”

Cat Wars contains rhetorical slights of hand and abuses reader's trust

In another review of Cat Wars by Colin Dickey we read, “Cat Wars is one of those strange books, reading which one can feel generally comfortable with the authors’ conclusions while growing increasingly frustrated with their bad faith arguments, rhetorical sleights-of-hand, and other abuses of the reader’s trust. A chapter that focuses on cats as disease vectors is the worst offender." Mr. Dickey also writes, “Cat Wars also bends over backward to paint cat owners, particularly those who advocate for outdoor lifestyles, as unstable and poorly educated.” Furthermore, “This point-counterpoint continues for much of a page, never getting any more thoughtful than this. Such language — including the gallingly general ‘science says’ — enlightens no one, and serves only to quell dissension and shut down meaningful debate.”

I'm sure debates about Cat Wars and the polarizing messages it contains will continue for a very long time. And, indeed, it's essential to emphasize that people who choose to share their lives with cats bear the responsibility of giving their cat(s) the best life possible while being sure they don't harass, harm, or kill potential prey.

How can people say they love animals and then kill or advocate killing them? Can psychologists and anthrozoologists help answer this question? 

The above is an up-to-date summary of what's happening in the wars on wolves and cats. Many people who have never been involved in "animal issues" have spoken out strongly against the killing of the wolves and suggestions that all free-ranging cats should be removed "by any means necessary." Surely, we must hope that suggestions that there should be an open war on all free-ranging cats will not be gospel.

Loving and killing. Perhaps especially in the case of cats -- but there are people who say they love wolves but have not yet unequivocally called for an end to the killing -- I'm often asked something like, "How can people say they love animals and then kill or advocate killing them?" I honestly don't know how to answer these sorts of questions. After all, the senior author of Cat Wars claims he actually likes cats. I found this utterly surprising because of his and his co-author's call to remove all free-ranging cats "by any means necessary." And, some conservation groups support the current killing of the Washington wolves, hoping that this will end future killing.

I'm glad they don't love me. In an earlier essay, I wrote, "The 'I love them but we gotta kill them' attitude baffles me. It’s hard to imagine that people who favor removing free-ranging cats 'by any means necessary' truly love them. When I hear this I always say, 'I'm glad they don't love me.'"
There's a very serious side to questions about claims of loving and killing, and I hope psychologists and anthrozoologists and others will study them closely. We really need to know more about the dissonance, if any, that people feel when they say they love but are willing to kill, other beings, in this case, nonhumans.

This is an incredibly important topic for serious study, and learning about how these individuals come to terms with these conflicting views will yield important information that could be used on behalf of other animals.

Marc Bekoff's latest books are Jasper's Story: Saving Moon Bears (with Jill Robinson), Ignoring Nature No More: The Case for Compassionate Conservation, Why Dogs Hump and Bees Get Depressed: The Fascinating Science of Animal Intelligence, Emotions, Friendship, and Conservation, Rewilding Our Hearts: Building Pathways of Compassion and Coexistence, and The Jane Effect: Celebrating Jane Goodall (edited with Dale Peterson). The Animals' Agenda: Freedom, Compassion, and Coexistence in the Human Age (with Jessica Pierce) will be published in early 2017.


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