A central theme of my work for the past decade or so has been the exploration of our cognitive confusion—our “moral schizophrenia”—when it comes to nonhuman animals. Recently, I commented on how entertainer Ellen Degeneres sobbed on her television show about a dog that she adopted and gave away while, at the same time, promoted her dead-animal luncheon menu on her website. Football player Michael Vick was excoriated for his involvement with dog fighting by a public that thinks nothing about eating nonhumans tortured every bit as much as one of Vick’s dogs.
We humans claim to have some sort of “special” characteristic that justifies our exploitation of nonhumans. One such supposed characteristic is that we are supposedly rational and they supposedly are not. When we consider that it is humans who build nuclear weapons and who destroy the very environment necessary to sustain life, including our lives—just to identify two irrational human behaviors—the rationality claim rings rather hollow. But every now and then, particular examples of what a strange species we are really hits me. I want to share a recent experience with you.
On October 16, popular U.S. entertainer Ellen DeGeneres told her talk-show audience–and the world–that she adopted a dog, Iggy, in September. She claimed that Iggy did not get along with her cats, so she gave him to her hairdresser, who has two daughters who wanted him. This apparently violated the adoption contract used by the rescue group, Mutts and Moms, from which Ms. DeGeneres adopted Iggy, because the contract apparently required that she return him to them if she no longer wanted him. The rescue group took Iggy from the hairdresser’s home. Ms. DeGeneres broke down and sobbed as she made a plea that Mutts and Moms return the dog to her hairdresser’s children.
Paola Cavalieri, co-editor with Peter Singer of The Great Ape Project: Equality Beyond Humanity, wrote an essay about the recent shooting of a chimpanzee, Johnny, a chimpanzee in his 40s, at Whipsnade Zoo in Bedfordshire, north of London. According to Cavalieri, Johnny was shot because he was described by zookeepers as “‘a bit of a thug.’” The Times claims that Johnny and another chimpanzee, Koko, had escaped and Koko “gave herself up to a keeper in a nearby field” whereas Johnny apparently did not, and the decision was made to shoot Johnny for reasons of “public safety.”