Stopping Cruelty to Animals
Looking for hundreds of easy, nonconfrontational ways to stop cruelty to animals? You won't find them in Ingrid Newkirk's book, You Can Save the Animals: 251 Simple Ways to Stop Thoughtless Cruelty. That's not to say that some aren't one or both of those things. But this book, like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which the author founded, also pushes boundaries and offers far more difficult, in-your-face ways for readers to choose to deal with animal-rights issues.
Moreover, the book is not simply a list of suggestions: Each chapter begins with enough information, anecdotes, and graphic descriptions and accusations to make even the most hard-hearted reader squirm while at the same time read with interest about how amazing and inspiring animals can be. In essence, you may be repulsed by, or simply disagree with, much of what is contained in You Can Save the Animals, but it is also a book both impossible to put down and guaranteed to make you think hard about your own actions (or inaction) regarding animals.
The first chapter is indisputably inspiring, containing fascinating observations about various animal species and how human beings have been pompous enough to wrongfully assume their own superiority over animals. Did you know that male emperor penguins go without food for up to 145 days while guarding their eggs in the frozen tundra? Or that octopuses decorate their caves with pretty objects they collect? Or that ants form living bridges to get their fellow ants across streams? Probably not. It willalsolikely make even the most animal-friendly reader shamefaced to be reminded of how kind animals are to humans, with examples of pigs that have pulled children from ponds or dolphins that have kept sailors afloat in shark-infested waters.
If this beginning has not taken us human beings down a notch or two, Newkirk hits hard in Chapter 2 when she explains, in graphic detail, what happens to animals such as cows and chickens on the way to what many consider to be their rightful place America's dinner table. No reader could possibly expect to enjoy a buffalo wing or well-done sirloin for at least a little while after reading Newkirk's anecdotes. By the end of the chapter, readers will be relieved to consider various ways to assuage their guilt, with the What You Can Do list (one also appears at the end of every subsequent chapter). "Go vegetarian," urges Newkirk: Call a hotline, or order a starter kit or cookbooks. Sounds straightforward enough, though certainly changing one's eating habits entirely (Newkirk doesn't just espouse vegetarianism but also advocates becoming vegan, which includes removing eggs and dairy from one's diet) isn't a simple task. And some suggestions, such as protesting the Wienermobile and Ronald McDonald, or liberating a lobster, may seem downright silly to some.
Such a dichotomy exists throughout the book. Each chapter is heartfelt and affecting, and many of the suggestions are perfectly valid. Others, however, seem as over-the-top as the well-publicized PETA rallies that include throwing fake blood on women's fur coats. Chapter 3, called "Those Amusing Animals," rails against the mistreatment animals face in zoos, circuses, marine theme parks, and rodeos. You Can Save the Animals advises readers to boycott roadside zoos, write letters, join organizations, and help pass local ordinances all excellent ideas. However, the suggestions in Chapter 5, which spotlights the cruelty done to companion animals like dogs and cats, like "liberating your language" from phrases such as "He's an animal" and baking vegan dog biscuits, seem impractical.
Chapter 6 takes a harrowing look at America's animal-testing laboratories and offers an equally mixed bag of "simple" ways to take action: Along with joining an animal-rights society, using cruelty-free cleansers, and ridding your house of products tested on animals, Newkirk suggests demonstrating your feelings by dressing up as a vivisectionist, scaling a crane, or blocking a bus.
Whether you're a bona fide animal lover or not, You Can Save the Animals offers plenty of food for thought. If you are willing to overlook the sometimes unusual advice offered by Newkirk and PETA, you will almost certainly find some wonderful nuggets of useful information (the appendix offers plenty of book titles, phone numbers, and other information) and almost as certainly the desire to avoid eating a hamburger or hot dog. How long that desire will last, however, is entirely up to you.
Sharon Goldman Edry has written about pets for the New York Post