Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson's groundbreaking bestseller, When Elephants Weep, was the first book since Darwin's time to explore emotions in the animal kingdom, particularly from animals in the wild. Now, he focuses exclusively on the contained world of the farm animal, revealing startling, irrefutable evidence that barnyard creatures have feelings too, even consciousness.
Weaving history, literature, anecdotes, scientific studies, and Masson's own vivid experiences observing pigs, cows, sheep, goats, and chickens over the course of five years, this important book at last gives voice, meaning, and dignity to these gentle beasts that are bred to be milked, shorn, butchered, and eaten. Can we ever know what makes an animal happy? Many animal behaviorists say no. But Jeffrey Masson has a different view: An animal is happy if it can live according to its own nature. Farm animals suffer greatly in this regard. Chickens, for instance, like to perch in trees at night, to avoid predators and to nestle with friends. The obvious conclusion: They cannot be happy when confined twenty to a cage.
From field and barn, to pen and coop, Masson bears witness to the emotions and intelligence of these remarkable farm animals, each unique with distinct qualities. Curious, intelligent, self-reliant-many will find it hard to believe that these attributes describe a pig. In fact, there is much that humans share with pigs. They dream, know their names, and can see colors. Mother cows mourn the loss of their calves when their babies are taken away to slaughter. Given a choice between food that is nutritious or lacking in minerals, sheep will select the former, balancing their diet and correcting the deficiency. Goats display quite a sense of humor, dignity, and fearlessness (Indian goats have been known to kill leopards). Chickens are naturally sociable-they will gather around a human companion and stand there serenely preening themselves or sit quietly on the ground beside someone they trust.
For far too long farm animals have been denigrated and treated merely as creatures of instinct rather than as sentient beings. Shattering the abhorrent myth of the "dumb animal without feelings," Jeffrey Masson has written a revolutionary book that is sure to stir human emotions far and wide.
The horrors have been pointed out before-that factory farm chickens are genetically altered, debeaked without anesthesia, and crammed into overcrowded coops; that calves are separated from their mothers and kept in dark crates to become veal. Here Masson (Dogs Never Lie About Love) makes the case that the animals humans eat on a regular basis-pigs, chickens, sheep, cows and ducks-feel, think and suffer. Each animal gets a chapter, in which Masson interweaves folklore, science and literature (he quotes Darwin, Gandhi and the Bible) with his observations of the animals' behaviors. He relates how a pot-bellied pig saved the life of her keeper and visits Dr. Marthe Kiley-Worthington, of Little Ash Eco-Farm in England, whose cow does agility tricks; he also interviews those who raise animals for profit. But there is no subtlety in his sometimes nauseatingly Edenic anecdotes: abused animals always come around and we live happily ever after. The text is pocked with far-fetched hypotheses (e.g., "A woman coming across a young lamb in ancient times might well have nursed the lamb" to explain the domestication of sheep). Arguing that all farming of animals for food is wrong (even eggs), Masson rebuts the fallacy that farm animals would die out without us, but doesn't say how we are to make the transition. His peripatetic style lacks transitions, for example going from cock fighting, which gets only one paragraph, to meditations on why roosters crow at dawn. Despite the holes in his preachy argument, his narrative contains some solid, fascinating information on the emotional life of farm animals.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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November 22, 2004
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Excerpt from The Pig Who Sang to the Moon by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson
Pigs is Equal
An old English adage claims, "dogs look up at you, cats looks down on you, but pigs is equal." There is some truth in the folk wisdom of this saying, which has been ascribed to different people, including Winston Churchill, but nobody is sure who said it first. Pigs are more or less the same size as human beings and resemble us in many ways. The organs of pigs are so similar to our own that surgeons have resorted to pig heart valves for replacing the patient's aortic or mitral valve.
There is a wonderful quote from W.H. Hudson, the great naturalist who lived for some time in Argentina, that perfectly describes the pig's attitude towards us:
I have a friendly feeling towards pigs generally, and consider them among the most intelligent of beasts. I also like his disposition and attitude towards other creatures, especially man. He is not suspicious or shrinkingly submissive, like horses, cattle and sheep; nor an impudent devil-may-care like the goat; nor hostile like the goose, nor condescending like the cat; nor a flattering parasite like the dog. He views us from a totally different, a sort of democratic standpoint, as fellow citizens and brothers, and takes it for granted that we understand his language, and without servility or insolence he has a natural, pleasant camaraderie, or hail-fellow-well-met air with us.
The fact that pigs will become extremely friendly with humans, given half a chance, is something of a miracle, considering how we have almost invariably treated them. Perhaps pigs themselves are aware of our resemblance and so regard us more as cousins than members of a completely different species. Unlike dogs, pigs don't seem to have a critical period after which they can no longer be socialized. Handled with affection, even an adult pig might well become as friendly as a dog who has always lived with the family since puppydom. This shows remarkable trust and flexibility on the part of the pig. The one big difference between pigs and dogs is the way we treat them. We play with our dogs, take them for walks, and romp with them. We rarely do the same with pigs.
One has to wonder why the pig came to be despised by both Jews and Muslims. Was it merely the flesh of the pig that was distrusted, or the pig itself, as an animal? By and large people have believed the former, claiming that because pig meat was so easily prone to spoiling and trichinosis, the consequent human diseases led them to avoid the meat and thereby censor the animal. But the late F.E. Zeuner, the leading expert on domestication, rejects this view, pointing out that pork is no more likely to spoil than any other meat in a hot country, and in any event there are tropical islands where pork is the main meat eaten. He proposes instead an interpretation having to do with the people who raised pigs. Unlike cattle, pigs cannot be driven, and therefore the pig is only valuable to the settled farmer. The nomad, who always felt superior to the farmer, "came to despise the pig as well as the farmer who bred it." The religious prohibitions seem to have been transferred from the people on to the animal, one they "themselves could neither breed nor keep." But then why would this not apply equally to chickens? Could it be that they are smaller and more transportable?
In most parts of the world today, we cannot own another person in the way that we can own an automobile. The law is also increasingly taking the view that a human cannot "own" an animal companion either.
This became evident when a wealthy man in Philadelphia sought to have his two dogs euthanized after his death. In a surprising victory for the views of the movement for the rights of animals, a United States federal court decided that animal companions cannot be owned, and therefore could not be disposed of at will as if they were merely chattels. The logic then (as now) is that living beings can never be property. As early as the nineteenth century, Henry Bigelow, professor of medicine at Harvard University, was writing: "There will come a time when the world will look back to modern vivisection in the name of Science, as they do now to burning at the stake in the name of Religion."