The Human Animal

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The internet is all a-Twitter about the killing of a protected lion named Cecil in Zimbabwe last week. Predictably, there have been criticisms over the uproar. How can people be so up in arms about the death of a mere animal and not equally incensed over the shooting death of a Cincinnati man by a police officer in the same week? they want to know.

In the past, I might have been in that backlash camp. I have noticed that many of the most ardent animal rights proponents are somewhat misanthropic. (Ricky Gervais and Bill Maher come to mind.) And I often find the care people lavish on their pets a bit extreme.

But the online haters are missing the point. Protesting the senseless killing of Cecil does not negate our concern over the loss of human life. But rather, caring about animals and their suffering makes us more human. Who among us has not cried at the loss of a beloved pet – or at the very least, a showing of Old Yeller?

I have heard it said that a person’s humanity can be measured by his or her care for the least creatures. And the reverse – torturing and maiming animals – has often been associated with psychopaths and sociopaths.

Hunting animals for trophies is cowardly and cruel. What animal has a prayer against the weapons human beings have invented? Cecil’s death was slow and painful. His hide and head were taken, and his carcass left to rot. His death was not to feed a person but to feed an ego.

When my kids were little, they adored animals. We read books ad nauseum about everything from dinosaurs to dolphins. We visited zoos and petting parks. And their lobbying for a dog still hasn’t dissipated. Children feel an instinctive kinship with animals.

We too need to embrace our inner child and work to protect all living creatures, whether human or beast.

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