Do you think that having pets is beneficial to both people and animals? And that pets enjoy an easy life?
Longtime former veterinarian Charles Danten asks us to set aside preconceived ideas to take an honest look at what underlies our love of the animals we hold dearest in his book Slaves of Our Affection. The Myth of the Happy Pet? This provocative exposé puts our most revered interactions with animals under the microscope. Meticulously documented, it raises poignant questions about the nature of our relationships with animals, and reveals little-known aspects of the industry behind it all. Pet food manufacturers, pharmaceutical companies, veterinarians, shelters, humane societies, animal activists, factory farms, and even pet owners are at the core of a subtle exploitation that operates under the guise of love and compassion.
Charles took some time out to answer some of my questions.
Why did you decide to write your book?
First for myself, I had a lot of things to clear up when I left the profession. Writing this book was my way of getting some closure. I had to put words on what I felt deep down in my gut when I made the decision to sell my clinic and leave the profession all together. I spent the last 15 years of my life basically doing just that, whenever I had some spare time. It involved doing a lot of research to try and find out what was behind it all. It was also my way of righting a wrong that was never righted. I also wanted to share my discoveries with society. I felt it could help all of us to better understand and love not only animals but people, since the two are tightly connected.
What do you hope to achieve with the release?
Hopefully change people’s perspective on the pet phenomena that has overcome every industrial country in the world. That being said, it’s not for me to decide how people should behave with animals. This book is not about prohibiting anything or about telling people what to do. I figure people are mature enough to take their own decisions. If they see the big picture as clearly as I have seen it, they will know how to behave without having anyone tell them what to do. Although I am not neutral, what that result will be in the end is none of my business.
What has the response been like so far?
The response from the first version of this book which was published in French in 1999 was quite positive in many ways. I must add though, that at the time, this first book was published, my understanding of the situation was far from complete. I feel now, with this much more polished version, that I have come full circle. So to be honest, I dont know how my readers will respond this time.
What’s the message you want people and activists to take from your book?
Take time to look at all the issues thoroughly, to see the big picture in a eurêka fashion, the only thing capable of really changing things. Don’t be afraid to dig deep into the roots of the problem you are concerned with, don’t be afraid to question your founding credo and values, the solution to any problem is in it’s investigation. In the end, don’t feed the problem by your actions, take time to analyze their results, and don’t let your ego lead the way, ask yourself why you really want to help animals, ask yourself finally if your sole concern is not yourself.
What are your future plans?
To go on with my life, I don’t intend to become a professional activist and to make a living out of this. I’m just an anonymous messenger, I feel I have done my part just by writing this book. I’ll leave it up to others to carry on, in whatever way they feel most helpful.
Do you have anything else to add?
- In our culture, we usually keep cruelty and abuse disassociated from pleasure and affection. But obviously, manifest or hard violence is not the only form of abuse and cruelty especially in more democratic societies, where hard violence is severely punished. The violence in a person cuddling a pet or defending it peta-style is much less apparent, but the effects of this soft violence on animals in a broader sense are nevertheless as devastating if not more than the more visible types of violence. Hard violence is episodic and punctual, it can be stopped as soon as it’s detected, but not soft violence precisely because its effects are not immediately obvious to the person who is unaware of them. This is what this book is partly about, uncovering the effects of soft violence on nature, animals, and people. It’s also about debunking several notions that are responsible for this softer type of violence. Veterinarians, animal activists, and several other social agents, including pet owners are all part of a ruthless industry that operates under the guise of love and affection. It looks so innocent on the surface, I mean who would believe at first thought that love and affection can have such a negative effect. It’s beyond most people’s comprehension. Which brings me to the second reason why the damaging nature of this relationship stays out of focus.
- In our psychology, there is no other behavioural point of reference with which to compare it. This type of soft violence is the norm in our society. We interact in more or less the same way with animals as we do with human animals – and not always in accordance with safeguards like laws, rules, and principles. The animal condition is essentially a transposition of the human condition, “the duplicate in positive and negative of our relationships with our own kind,” as stated by ethnologist Jean-Pierre Digard. Thus, we treat our own children, spouses, employees, friends, citizens, and on a larger scale, nations, and the environment, like animals, and that is precisely the problem. There is no other point of view that would allow us to step back and see things for what they are. This book does just that, It offers another point of view which allows us to see beyond appearances.
Most of us believe that pets have been awarded a special place among mankind – that they are treated altogether
differently from other domestic animals – but this impression is false. As I will show in this book, the “pet on a
pedestal” theory is a myth that must be shattered.
The veterinary profession and animal activism will be scrutinized in these pages like never before. This will be
followed by an examination of the claimed benefits of zootherapy, or animal-assisted therapy, and the root causes
of the pet frenzy that has overtaken every industrialized and democratic nation on earth.
The portrait I trace is somber, but I feel it is important to present, for once, an unsentimental appraisal of something
that is so often taken at face value. This is the only way any meaningful change can occur in the animal condition –
or in the human condition, for that matter, since the two are tightly linked. The treasure at the end of this journey
through the heart of the human-animal bond is that you will never look at an animal, nature, your fellow man, or
yourself in the same way again. “To investigate a problem,” goes the Chinese proverb, “is, indeed, to solve it.” The
question of how we should relate to other species is one that is in each individual’s best interest to examine
thoroughly, for his own sake.
Finally, it is important to keep in mind that although I am condemning a situation created by people, I am not, in
any way whatsoever, suggesting that someone in particular is responsible. Our modern ties with animals were born
long ago of a misunderstanding that was never righted.
See upcoming Articles for more book excerpts
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