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Increasing Our Compassion Footprint
The human-dog interconnection is the way forward



Our relationships with animals are challenging, complicated, frustrating, awkward, ambiguous, paradoxical and range all over the place.We already know a lot about animals’ lives and what they want, more than we often give ourselves credit for. Indeed, their lives aren’t all that private, hidden or secret.We know that animals experience deep feelings, and care about what happens to them.When people say they’re not sure if dogs have emotions, if they feel joy or grief, I say I’m glad I’m not their dog.When people tell me that they love animals and then harm or kill them, I tell them I’m glad they don’t love me.

The best way to make the world a more compassionate and peaceful place for all animal beings, to increase our compassion footprint, is to “mind” them.“Minding animals” means that we must mind other beings by recognizing that they have active and deep minds and feelings.We must also mind them as their caretakers in a human-dominated world, one in which their interests are continually trumped in deference to ours.We easily mind dogs, and this close relationship is a way forward.

It is also essential for people with varied expertise and interests to talk to one another, to share what we know about our animal kin and to use this knowledge for bettering their—and as a result, our—lives. And what could be a better place to do this than at dog parks?

There are many ways of knowing, and figuring out how science, the humanities and non-academics—including those interested in animal protection, conservation and environmentalism (with concerns ranging from individuals to ecosystems)—can learn from one another is essential. We observe animals, gawk at them in wonder, experiment on them, eat them, wear them, write about them, draw and paint them, move them from here to there as we “redecorate nature,” make decisions for them without their consent, and represent them in many and various ways, yet we often ignore who they are and what they want.

We also double-cross animals. I can imagine an utterly exhausted polar bear asking, “Where’s the ice?” as she attempts to swim with her offspring from one floe to another as she has in years past, only to discover that the ice is gone due to climate change. Despite global attempts to protect animals from wanton use and abuse, what we’ve been doing hasn’t been working; “good welfare” just isn’t good enough. Excuses justifying animal exploitation, such as “Well, it’s okay, I’m doing this in the name of science” or “in the name of this or that,” usually mean “in the name of humans.”We’re a very arrogant and self-centered lot.

Existing laws and regulations allow animals living on earth, in water and in air to be treated in regrettable ways that demean us as a species. Indeed, in the eyes of the law, animals are mere property and thus can be treated like backpacks, couches and bicycles. The animals’ own eyes tell us they don’t like this at all. They do, of course, have a point of view.

Enough is enough.We all need to coexist peacefully and gracefully, and it’s mutually beneficial to make every attempt to do so in the most compassionate ways possible. Compassion for animals will make for more compassion among people, and that is what we need as we journey into the future. I’m reminded of something Albert Schweitzer once wrote: “Until he extends his circle of compassion for all living things, man will not himself find peace.” Of course, animals aren’t living “things,” but let’s not worry about that right now.

Each of us can make a difference.We can make positive changes for all beings by weaving compassion, empathy, respect, dignity, spirituality, peace and love into our lives. We also need to focus on what we can do rather than what we can’t, or what hasn’t worked in the past. I’m an unrelenting dreamer who remains unflaggingly hopeful about what we can do collectively if we put our hearts and heads together and agree to work harmoniously toward shared goals.

We always need to mind animals—as well as earth, water and air—from deep in our hearts. We can always add more compassion to the world. Animals are asking us to treat them better or to leave them alone, and we need to listen to them now. Time isn’t on our side.We’re truly lucky to be able to work together to increase our compassion footprint. Animals and future generations will thank us for our efforts. So let’s get on with it. Never say never. Let dogs lead the way!



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Submitted by Anonymous | August 14 2012 |

Dear Marc,

I cried when I read your article. Bravo! You have written what I consider to be one of the very best articles I have ever read. It touched my heart because you spoke the truth. Thank you. I was given a two week old German Short Haired Pointer since her mother and siblings died during the birth process. She has turned out to be a stunning, beautiful,and absolutely intelligent little girl. My little girl that I have had at my side nearly 24 hrs 7 days a week. It was the constant love and attention I gave her and her unending need to be loved and to love me back that has made our world absolutely perfect! The most recent thing tidat that occurred was when she saw the cat finish his meal. (I feed them together at the same time.) The cat had walked away after eating but my pup (less than 2 years old that weighs 76lbs)normally runs to the cat's bowl and licks it. Normally, I say "NO!" Today, she came to me, stood in front of me and gave several small yelps then looked at the bowl. I smiled at her and said, "Ok, go lick the bowl!" She darted at it. Marc, she has language skills. She comprehends what words mean. It's like we are having a real conversation now. She is becoming smarter and smarter day by day. I'm actually blown away by it. One thing I have noticed is that she hears something long before I do. I could go on and on. I love her more than words can express. My little girl is perfect in my eyes. Bye the way I am a big fan of Jane Goodall!

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