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Thanking the Monkey: Rethinking the Way We Treat Animals

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The animal rights movement has reached a tipping point. No longer a fringe extremist cause, it has become a social concern that leading members of society endorse and young people embrace. From Michael Vick's dog fighting scandal to CNN?s airing of the eye-opening film Blackfish, animal rights issues have hit the headlines?and are being championed by students and senators, pop stars and producers, and actors and activists.

Don't you want to be part of the conversation? ...

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Thanking the Monkey: Rethinking the Way We Treat Animals

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The animal rights movement has reached a tipping point. No longer a fringe extremist cause, it has become a social concern that leading members of society endorse and young people embrace. From Michael Vick's dog fighting scandal to CNN’s airing of the eye-opening film Blackfish, animal rights issues have hit the headlines—and are being championed by students and senators, pop stars and producers, and actors and activists.

Don't you want to be part of the conversation? In Thanking the Monkey, Karen Dawn covers pets, fur, fashion, food, animal testing, activism, and more. But as the title playfully suggests, this isn't like any previous animal rights book. Thanking the Monkey is light on lectures meant to make you feel guilty if you're not yet a leather-eschewing vegan. It lets you have fun as you learn why so many of your favorite actors and musicians won't eat or wear animals. And you'll laugh over scores of cartoons by Dan Piraro'sBizzaro and other animal-friendly comics.

This fun primer for a smart and socially committed generation delivers some serious surprises in the form of facts and figures about the treatment of animals. Yes, it will shock you with tales of primates still used in animal testing on nicotine or killed for oven cleaner. But it will also let you lighten up and laugh a little as we work out how to do a better job of thanking the monkey.

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Editorial Reviews

Washington Post
“[Karen Dawn is] logical. She’s levelheaded. She’s funny. That’s why her message is so . . . darn . . . persuasive. THANKING THE MONKEY is a glossy, nearly 400-page, eminently readable book.”
Daily News
“Karen Dawn discusses how people from all standpoints on animal rights can find common ground. Dawn, who writes the daily e-newsletter DawnWatch (, covers cultural differences, historical practices and a range of divergent views on the ways animals are raised and used.”
“[A]n easily digested, sound-bite-laden primer to all sides and gradations of the crusade for animal rights . . . An excellent introduction.”
Publishers Weekly

Animal rights activist Dawn is familiar to readers of her memorable opinion pieces for the Washington Postas well as her daily e-newsletter DawnWatch, but her first book should gain her a wider audience. This is a cogent and thoroughly researched overview of all the major issues in animal rights, past and present, She defines animal rights "more loosely than some would like," focusing on the general movement to advance the interest of animals and "discourage the use of animals as objects of commerce." Her goal is "to tell you everything you wanted to know about animal rights-but were afraid to get into a fight about-and to let you weigh that information against your own values," and she succeeds admirably. Often supplying hilarious but pointed illustrations and quotes from well-known animal lovers such as Bill Maher and Natalie Portman, she illuminates the use of animals as pets, entertainment, food, in scientific testing and the "Green" movement. This has the potential to become a big hit for a general reading audience that wants to know what the fuss is about animal rights, as well as the many college students at the forefront of animal rights activism. (Feb. 26)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

Los Angeles-based animal-rights activist Dawn's opinion pieces have been published in the Washington Postand the Los Angeles Times; she is presently the author of the daily e-newsletter DawnWatch ( Sensitive and informative, her first book, while encompassing all aspects of animal rights, focuses on animal exploitation. Dawn's view is not only uniquely free of overt sensationalism but factual. She covers cultural differences, historical practices, and a balance of divergent views on the ways animals are raised and used. Sections include "Slaves to Love-Pets," "All the World's a Cage-Animal Entertainment," "Zoos-It's No Jungle in There," "Fashion Victims," "Deconstructing Dinner," and "Animal Anonymous-On Animal Testing." Dawn manages, despite the seriousness of the subject matter, to intersperse bits of humor throughout, primarily through cartoons. A riveting text you'll be sure to want to read; highly recommended for public libraries and other libraries with collections focusing on animal rights.
—Melody Ballard

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061351853
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 4/29/2008
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 852,703
  • Product dimensions: 7.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.96 (d)

Meet the Author

Born in the United States, Karen Dawn grew up and studied in Australia. She pursued a science degree colloquially tagged "rats and stats," so she knows firsthand that views and habits can shift. She hopes her furry subjects will shine forgiving blessings upon this book.

She worked as a news researcher and writer for Australia's national nightly news magazine show The 7:30 Report, then moved to New York, where she played the downtown music scene—and made fruit salad at the Saint Francis of Xavier soup kitchen every Sunday. After reading Animal Liberation she was moved to devote her efforts to those most abused by society and least able to help themselves—the animals.

Karen founded the animal advocacy media watch As a spokesperson for the animal rights movement she has appeared on MTV and hosted talk shows on major radio stations. Her opinion pieces have been published in leading newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post. This is her first book.

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Read an Excerpt

Thanking the Monkey
Rethinking the Way We Treat Animals

Chapter One

Welcome to the World of Animal Rights

Welcome to the world of animal rights. When I tell people I work full-time as an animal rights activist, many of them have questions. Am I vegan? If so, why—aren't California's "Happy Cows" really happy? Do activists who target medical research like mice more than men? And who belongs in the zoo—are the animals there good ambassadors for their species? After spending eight years fully immersed in animal rights issues monitoring the media for, I decided I was ready to tackle those questions and wanted to do so in as friendly and fun a manner as possible—and so we have this book. In it, I hope to help dispel the myth that animal rights activism is radical and unreasonable. In fact, as you read of the cruelty we offer animals as thanks for what we take from them you may see radical departures from your own standards of reasonable decency.

Animal Rights vs. Human Rights

Let's start by addressing some common questions animal rights activists get asked.

Why worry about animal rights when there is so much human suffering in the world?

Animal rights activists are asked that constantly. And you wonder why we tend to be feisty! Why don't people ask human rights activists how they can do their work when there is so much animal suffering in the world? Seriously, though, part of the answer is in the question. Even somebody who does nothing to end human hunger wouldn't justify his apathy by telling relief workers that there are more important things toworry about. That's because society as a whole acknowledges that human suffering matters. Animal suffering, however, is treated as trivial, even as billions of beings endure unimaginable institutionalized cruelty. To those touched by the suffering of animals, the injustice of the suggestion that animals just don't matter is a call to action.

The question, moreover, is based on a faulty premise. It suggests that compassion is like a pie we must divide into parts, and that if we offer big pieces to some, others will get left with slivers. But compassion is not some sort of finite substance that might run out. It is more like a habit we get better at as we practice, and the animals are a good place to start exercising it—for their sake and for ours. George Angell, the founder of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, put it well when asked why he focused on kindness to animals when there is so much cruelty to people in the world. He said, "I am working at the roots."1

Before I extended my own efforts toward animals, I worked every Sunday, for six years, in a soup kitchen for New York's homeless people. I worked alongside many fellow vegetarians. And when I saw the film Amazing Grace,2 I was not surprised to learn that William Wilberforce, who led the parliamentary campaign against the British slave trade, was also one of the founders of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. That's because compassion and cruelty are not species-specific. Most of us have heard that serial killers usually start by killing animals. The same compulsion drives the killers' behavior when they move on to humans; the urge to hurt just becomes so strong that it outweighs societal norms and fears of legal retribution. So it is with less active cruelty, with the closing of our hearts that has us sit by as others suffer. The compassion shutdown switch that allows us to chew pieces of veal while blocking out thoughts of baby calves alone in crates is the same switch that guides us to change TV channels away from news of children starving in Darfur. We don't want the images to hamper the taste of the meat or our enjoyment of the wine we are drinking, a bottle of which costs more than it costs to feed a child in Darfur for a month. When we disengage that switch, when we get out of the habit of closing our hearts, the world will be better for the calves and the kids.

Animal What?

What exactly do you mean by animal rights?

Funny you should ask—I will surely be challenged to a duel or two over the heading of this chapter, for I use the term "animal rights" more loosely than some would like. I use it to refer to what is commonly known as the animal rights movement—those who devote themselves to advancing the interests of animals and who discourage the use of animals as objects of commerce. For some activists the term "animal rights" is literal; those activists seek legal rights for members of other species. Though they do not wish to earn nonhuman animals the right to vote—any more than they wish to see that right given to human children—they do wish to see animals granted the right, as it is put by the animal rights lawyer Steve Wise, to "bodily liberty and bodily integrity."3 That means no cages, no knives, and no scalpels.

Political conservatives in our movement generally hold that animals don't have rights at all, but that we have responsibilities toward them. One of the leading proponents of that view is Matthew Scully, who was a senior speechwriter for President George W. Bush. He argues that our basic responsibility to other animals is to treat them with mercy.4 Scully is now vegan, which means he believes his responsibility to animals includes abstaining from eating them or the products of their common abuse, while living in a society with so many other alternatives.5 If he were to persuade the world to follow his lead, would it matter, at least to the animals, whether or not he spoke about rights?

Thanking the Monkey
Rethinking the Way We Treat Animals
. Copyright © by Karen Dawn. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Table of Contents

1 Welcome to the World of Animal Rights 1

2 Slaves to Love: Pets 21

3 All the World's a Cage: Animal Entertainment 59

4 Fashion Victims: Animal Clothing 105

5 Deconstructing Dinner 127

6 Animals Anonymous: Animal Testing 215

7 The Greenies 273

8 Compassion in Action 305

Recommended Resource Groups 350

Notes 354

Acknowledgements 372

Index 374

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 6 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 30, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    "Thanking the Monkey" is an eye-opening animal welfare

    "Thanking the Monkey" is an eye-opening animal welfare classic just like "Animal Liberation" by Peter Singer. Written in an incredibly engaging style and visually-intriguing illustrations, this book offers something interesting for readers both in content and images. What I find particularly interesting is the author's boldness to cover areas of animal welfare that I had never even considered. Karen Dawn's message is not simply that we should be kind to animals. It is that we need to analyze our relationship with animals in a more comprehensive and active way. We need to consider whether eating factory-farmed chicken that are so stuffed with antibiotics that they can't sit upright and have their beaks chopped off. She asks us to consider whether we need to kill and skin dozens of animals for just one individual to make a fashion statement. She also questions whether we should have animals subjected to frivolous tests (cosmetic testing, smoking tests) when there are non-animal alternatives that are readily available. She also questions whether we should subject chimpanzees to smoking tests while pregnant, even though we already know that this damages a fetus.

    Karen Dawn isn't content to stay there, however. She analyzes animal welfare organizations, from Greenpeace to the World Wide Fund, openly questioning some of their recent decisions to allow hunters and other animal-harming supporters into their fold in order to raise funds. She also criticizes the organic and open-range movement. While stating in several places that free range and organic farming, she questions the brutality and treatment of animals in these environments that are supposed to be more "humane". 

    This book was truly an eye-opener because I always considered myself knowledgeable about animal welfare issues, but this book showed me how much I lacked. I didn't even consider the fact that the only way we get from a cow is if they are pregnant. I never considered what happened after the bullfight is over in the "Running of the Bulls". I also never considered what happens to animals that perform in the movies after they are retired. Her book cause me to really re-evaluate my common assumptions about modern man's interactions in many situations. We have been really cruel and careless to animals for a very long time in a lot of different ways!

    I highly (emphasis) recommend this book if you are interested or involved in animal welfare on any level, this will deepen your interest and desire to help animals. This book is not for the squeamish, however, Karen Dawn has no problem going into the gory details to prove a point!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 15, 2010

    small steps

    I was already a vegetarian, but this book puts what we eat into such a larger social context, I'm considering veganism. But the book is not overly sentimental, self-righteous or any of those things people associate with 'isms.' Instead it presents the author's own views coupled w/other opinions within the animal rights/activism movements and practical choices the casual eater may want to make simply b/c it's a good idea for your body or the earth. Even for those already aware of the atrocities associated w/circuses, sea parks and factory farms, the numerous links to videos and references to news pieces is eye-opening. The book looks and is organized like a text, but fortunately it doesn't read like one. All the chapters are very conversational filled with examples, quotes, high quality photos and comic strips. A great book to keep on the shelf and refer back to again and again.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 24, 2008

    Karen Dawn is here to educate

    Karen Dawn's book is going to make you continue to read. When I picked up this book from the local Barnes and Nobles I could not put it down because it was one of the first books that I had read that didn't act people from harming animals. Karen helps you think about what you can do with all of the information that she has given you. She is going to make you think about whats on your plate and will inform you of the actions you can take to be more compassionated when it comes to animals and the environment. How could you not love Karen Dawn? No one cant not love her because she will have you wanting more. Also, you should checkout Karen Dawns website dawnwatch

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 30, 2008

    It's not about perfection, it's about progression.

    What brilliance! It is by far the best, most practical, balanced, logical, and well written book on animal rights and animal welfare I have ever come across. I have read many. Karen Dawn writes that it's not 'all or nothing' that there are compassionate steps we all can make -- every one of us. It answered all my questions about many areas of animal abuse I wasn't aware of. It's important to know what your money supports when you patron places like Sea World or the Circus. How about that fur collar? It might come from a dog or cat. It might be labeled fake, but really be from a domesticated animal. What about the horse meat industry? Cattle ranching supports horse slaughter. Love horses? Don't eat cows. Seriously. It's all connected. All people, meat eaters too, can take steps to help animals live better. You learn about this in a very, very insightful way with humor and compassion. There's no name calling or holier than thou in this book. Karen rocks! It's not about perfection, it's about progression.

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    Posted December 5, 2009

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    Posted November 12, 2008

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