Thanks for joining us today as Jim Willis, the author of best-selling Pieces of My Heart , talks about how society looks at animals and animal “people.” Willis has been active in the animal rescue movement for decades both here and in Europe.
Joy: You seem more tolerant today of a lack of knowledge about animals in people.
Jim: I hope I am. I consider it critically important for us who know animals to pass on that knowledge, to educate children, and to encourage adults, especially legislators, to do better by them. I shudder when some extreme members of the movement for animals behave in a manner that causes the public to regard all animal-people as crazy. Its also true that you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar and I think we animal-people owe it to the animals who, of course, can never speak for themselves to convey the message in a reasonable and intelligent way.
Joy: You wrote in your book, “Pieces of My Heart” that you dont differentiate between animal rights and animal welfare. Why dont you make a distinction between the two?
Jim: I see them as two branches of the same tree, the distinction is a human concept, flawed, and counter-productive. I have an essay in that book written from the animals point of view. I much prefer the term that Europeans and other countries use, animal protection, because that most closely expresses what the animals want for themselves.
The animals need us to be concerned about their welfare, their habitats, and their rights. In every historical attempt for social change, whether it was the womens movement, rights for African-Americans, gay rights, the leaders of the movements saw that there was little hope for change if their movement became polarized and paralyzed by in-fighting. In those movements the actual victims of discrimination spoke out for change. But in the campaign to protect animals, in speaking for them, we need to realize that getting hung up on divisive details when we need to accomplish so much in general is not going to help most animals.
Joy: Does that mean that you seek equality for animals?
Jim: I know Ill never see that in my lifetime. It is human nature to regard animals as inferior. But I see reasons for hope. I lived in Germany for many years and that is the first country in the world to add animal rights to its federal constitution and the animal protection movement there is very strong. I hope to see animals regarded as sentient beings, which is the language the Swiss government adopted a few years ago regarding their laws.
I studied biology and animal behavior. I know that most animals, especially mammals, experience pain to the same degree we do, they experience fear to the same degree we do. They are as maternal as we are, they experience separation anxiety, they grieve, they love.
Where I depart from the sound science is my spiritual belief that animals have souls. All the major religions of the world have writings that illustrate that. In our country, the majority are Christian, and the Bible says that we should be stewards of the earth. Considering the meaning and responsibility of stewardship, how do we justify our reality of being exploiters, abusers, neglecters, and ignorers of animals and our environment?
Come back tomorrow for the next installment of this interview with noted animal author and rescuer when he discusses vegetarianism for pets.