Do Animals Have Souls, Part Two: How Can People Be So Cruel?

Kitten roasted alive in an oven.

Greyhound repeatedly thrown against a wall because it did not win a race.

Neglected horses in a pasture slowly starving with hooves so overgrown they can barely walk.

Cat beaten to death with a pole and video shown on  the internet.

Young  pitbulls used as bait to teach older pitbulls to fight.

Mother cat and kittens tied in a sack and thrown in the river.

Chihuahua dropped from the top of a multi-story parking garage by teenage boys, just to see if it would survive the fall.

Orcas kept as captive entertainers in sea parks.

Elephant kept chained in a roadside zoo.

Elderly dog left at animal shelter because family now wants a puppy.

Family cat left behind when family moves away.

These are just a few of the things people do to animals. The list could have been a lot longer. How can people be so cruel?

One reason: We don’t even agree on what constitutes animal abuse. Some would say all the things on the list are animal abuse. Some would not, arguing that elephants and orcas enjoy performing for humans, that pitbulls are born fighters, that the owner of the starving horses had grown senile or was having financial difficulties or had just forgotten about the horses.

Some might even say the most horrific abuse examples on this list are okay, because animals don’t have the intelligence, the self-awareness, and the feelings that people do, and therefore God gave man dominion over the animals to use as he wished. After all, it’s only a cat, or a dog, or a chicken, or whatever.

Whether animals have souls, as the title of this post asks, is as debatable as whether we have souls. We do know, though, that as human beings we have intelligence, self-awareness, and feelings. There is more and more evidence that animals share these same qualities with us, that there is even a bond between us, based on our shared existence on this planet Earth.

Those who don’t believe animals share our “human” qualities just may be uninformed and still guided by the stereotypes about animals they learned in childhood. They aren’t deliberately cruel to animals; they just don’t think of animals as having the same emotional wants and needs as we do.

These are the people who may accept using animals for medical testing, or raising them for food in cramped conditions on factory farms, or having them perform for humans in zoos and parks, or turning in a pet at an animal shelter because it is no longer convenient to have it in the family.

And then there are the real, true abusers. The people who get joy out of torturing, killing, and abandoning animals. They abuse animals because they are dead emotionally and because making an animal suffer at least makes them feel something.

So maybe you don’t care that much about animals, but here’s a reason you should care about their abusers: people who abuse animals may go on to abuse people–like maybe their wives and children.

My thinking on animals has evolved over time, as readers of my earlier posts Do Animals Have Souls? Part One and Who Keeps Abusers from Abusing Again? already know. My thinking evolved because of all the companion animals who have shared my life and the shelter animals I have encountered as a volunteer and the examples I have seen, heard, or read about of animal intelligence, emotion, and bonding among animals and between animals and their humans.

My newspaper earlier this year carried an especially poignant story of a mother animal feeling grief:

A female orca whale in a pod roaming the Pacific Ocean between Vancouver, B.C. and San Juan Island gave birth to a calf that was the first live birth in the pod since 2015. This calf lived only about half an hour. For 17 days the mother orca carried her dead calf with her “in an unprecedented act of mourning,” according to whale researchers following the pod.

The mother would balance the baby on her head or push it along with her nose, and retrieved it each time it began to sink in the water. This made it difficult for the mother to keep up with her pod, but she would not let her baby go. Finally, after 17 days, she did release the dead calf to sink in the ocean.

How could anyone seeing this whale mother’s behavior deny she was grieving her dead baby, just as a human mother would?

How could anyone witnessing a tortured animal howling in pain or a victim of past torture trembling in fear deny that animals suffer physically and psychologically from ill treatment, just as humans do?

At this point it is appropriate to recall the wisdom of Charles Darwin:

There is no fundamental difference between man and animals in their ability to feel  pleasure and pain, happiness, and misery.  

Charles Darwin

I’m  with Charles Darwin. Animals and humans have too much in common for animals to be treated as commodities or objects of neglect and abuse.  All humans and all animals deserve respect.

Thank you for reading my blog.

Joy and Peace, and may you always respect and be loved by the animals in your life.

Marjorie Beck

Do Animals Have Souls? Part One

My thinking on this question  has evolved.

I grew up with a succession of three small family dogs: Lucky the cocker spaniel, Skippy the wire hair fox terrier, Adolph the dachshund. We knew next to nothing about the breeds of the dogs we bought (yes, bought–back then we never even thought about adopting a homeless dog). Thus we knew nothing about the kind of behavior to expect from each one and whether that behavior would be a good match for our family. We got the dogs as puppies and we based our buying decisions on the cuteness factor of each pup.

Our dogs spent most of their time outside in a fenced yard and slept in the garage at night. They got cheap canned food and minimum necessary vet care. (Spay or neuter? Nobody did that.) We had male dogs because they couldn’t get pregnant.

Back then the dog training we knew emphasized punitive measures like rolled up newspapers and blasts from a garden hose, and when we employed such disciplinary measures we thought we were properly teaching our dogs how to behave.

Lucky and Skippy and Adolph were sweet pets, and we cried when each one died. But they were dogs, not people, and we thought them capable of only very basic thought and feeling.

I was an English major in college, and as a graduate teaching assistant I taught English 101, an introductory course for freshmen. One day we were discussing an essay that claimed humans were the only beings who could  understand that they and those they loved would die some day, and thus were the only beings capable of grieving. No members of the animal kingdom could do that.

Discussion followed. The freshman boys sat mostly silent and bored, but some of the freshman girls argued quite strongly that animals could understand death and thus did grieve, using as examples elephants gently caressing the bones of dead elephants they encountered, or chimp mothers refusing to give up the bodies of their dead babies, or old and weak prey animals going off by themselves to die, so as not to endanger the rest of the herd.

No, I countered gently, that wasn’t possible. Only human beings could feel impending death and grieve at the death of others.

I believed the essay’s author and I had the truth. The young women believed they had the truth. I don’t think any minds were changed.

After years of  amateur study of animal behavior, behind-the scenes encounters with zoo animals, volunteering at homeless animal shelters, and living with a succession of eight cats and four retired racing greyhounds, I know the college girls were right, and the essay author and I were wrong.  Animals are sentient beings. They have intelligence. They have souls.

I’ll share more on this topic in later posts.

But I’ll end with this declaration. I’m an atheist. I don’t believe in an all-seeing, all-knowing god, and I don’t believe people go to heaven or hell when they die. But I believe  there is a rainbow bridge and a kitty cat lane. All dogs go to the Rainbow Bridge, where they are young and spry again, with all their illnesses and injuries gone. All cats go to Kitty Cat Lane, where they too are young and healthy again, and the sun is always shining, and all the mice are slow and fat.

Thank you for reading my blog.

Marjorie Beck