The Dodo: For The Love Of Animals
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Hillary Clinton and Prince William champion elephants. The National Institutes of Health releases its research chimps. New York City plans an end to its carriage horses. Shark fins are banned again and again and again. Then there's”Blackfish.” And Al Gore. Banksy. Chipotle. Even Burger King.
We’re resurrecting The Dodo -- which we drove into extinction nearly 400 years ago -- because my co-founder Izzie Lerer and I see signs of a revolutionary shift in our relationship with animals. It’s not (just) all those cute cat and puppy videos, either. Animals matter more to us now. No longer domesticated beasts, we let more of them into our homes than ever, and to 90 percent of us they’re “members of the family.” And it goes way beyond our homes and the fortunes we spend on them, past the halls of academia where animal studies programs are exploding in popularity, through the state, federal and global legislatures that are passing greater welfare and species protection laws, beyond the various demographics who list animal rights as the top issue that motivate them, even beyond the growing number of people changing their diets out of ethical concerns.
Many of us have always felt, deep in our bones, that the rational arguments (“speciesism,” academics call it) that allowed us to feel superior over our furrier, scalier counterparts were intellectually flimsy, emotionally false. The dog I grew up with, an irascible lab-mix named Boots, had an unflagging loyalty and flinty intelligence; a more recent orange tabby in my life named Lucas had a pure sweetness and compassion that no one would be able to convince me was in the least bit unevolved. And science, thankfully, has increasingly stepped up to prove us right. We know elephants exhibit self-awareness and empathy, orcas and other cetaceans are capable of great mourning, and Emory University’s Gregory Berns took brain scans of dogs that suggest the completely startling and yet absolutely unsurprising news that canine brains appear to look and function much the way ours do. Who knows? Soon dogs might be able to tell us all about it.
This has fueled the burgeoning “nonhuman personhood” movement that’s challenging the way we can legally treat animals, providing the argument for a ban on using dolphins or other cetaceans for entertainment in India, and fueling a buzzy case in New York that seeks enhanced rights on behalf of chimps. It’s rapidly pushed us way beyond thinking of animals as things we raise for food or press into entertainment. They’re intelligent, sentient beings whose cognitive, emotional and social capacities mirror our own. Those creatures big and small that have fed, frightened, entertained, comforted and awed us are no longer just them. Increasingly, they are us.
We’re talking about a movement with compassion at its core. Sure, there will be cute videos on The Dodo, but we’ll focus on images you won’t feel conflicted about watching -- as Izzie puts it, we’ll celebrate animals, and not just laugh at them. We plan to explore our fierce and fraught bond with animals broadly and enthusiastically, from animal testing to the ethical eating movement. Most people are still figuring out where they stand on a lot of these issues; one of my favorite voices belongs to Bob Comis, a pig farmer in upstate New York, who openly grapples with the ethics of what he does, once writing: “What I do is wrong, in spite of its acceptance by nearly 95% of the American population. I know it in my bones, even if I cannot yet act on it.” We’re not saying we have all the answers, by the way. But we’re committed to searching for them.
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Be part of the team that resurrects The Dodo. It’s time.