What Is an Animal Lover?

By Robert Bernstein   |   November 1, 2022

Some topics are still taboo to discuss and this may be one. Are you an “animal lover”? What does that mean to you? If you say you don’t like dogs, people are quick to ask if you like cats. Are those the only choices?

There are 10-30 million species of animals on Earth. The exact number is unknown. When you “love animals” are you thinking about insects? Most animals on Earth are insects. Maybe you are thinking of vertebrates. Do you love snakes? There are many more species of reptile than mammal.

Maybe you just care about warm-blooded birds and mammals? What about rats? Maybe it is just the “cute” animals that you love?

The Endangered Species Act protects all species, fortunately. Even those that are not cute or cuddly.

In 2005, the National Park Service began eradication of feral pigs on Santa Cruz Island to prevent extinction of native species. One of my friends astonished me by saying she would rather let a species go extinct than to kill even one animal. Even though she is not a vegetarian.

The former girlfriend of a close friend was a vocal vegetarian. But she had a large dog and bought whole chickens at the supermarket to feed her dog.

UCLA geography professor Gregory Okin found that cats and dogs are responsible for 25 to 30 percent of the environmental impact of meat consumption in the United States. Professors Robert and Brenda Vale at Victoria University in New Zealand estimate that the ecological footprint of a medium-sized dog is greater than that of an SUV.

Dog walking in wildlife areas causes over one-third reduction in bird diversity and numbers according to Australian researchers Peter Banks and Jessica Bryant. Even if the dog is leashed. And on our local trails and beaches most dogs are not even leashed. I have been forced to give up hiking alone because of too many frightening encounters with unleashed dogs with no owner in sight. I can only imagine the terror induced on animals far smaller than me.

A single dog chase can keep snowy plovers from breeding for an entire season, according to the caretakers at Coal Oil Point Reserve. No amount of signs or education of dog owners could stop these chases. These “animal lovers” are only thinking of the “freedom” of their dogs to run loose. Only constant presence of volunteers, organized by Audubon, has protected the plovers.

Activists have rallied to stop windmill projects, claiming harm to birds. Properly designed and sited windmills have minimal harm to birds. But domestic cats kill over a billion birds and about ten billion mammals per year in the U.S., according to a 2013 Nature Communications article.

Many animal species only exist because humans raise them. Domestic sheep must be sheared or they can die. Is it ethically better for pigs and cows to be raised for meat than for them not to exist? I have talked to vegetarians who refuse to have a conversation about raising food animals more humanely. One said this was like asking if the Nazis should have made their death camps more humane. Really?

Factory farming is so cruel and brutal that agribusiness has successfully passed laws forbidding any photos or videos to be released showing these conditions. Yet there is relatively little organizing to change these conditions, compared to the huge concern about how dogs and cats are treated.

“Animal rights” organization PETA opposes any breeding of animals as pets and opposes the concept of “pet.” In their ideal world such a relationship would not exist.

So, what is the answer? Sometimes the best answer is to start by asking questions. What does it mean to “love animals”? Is the concern for the animals or for our own needs? Many people find comfort having a pet. But much of the psychological benefit comes from having something that depends on you. Much of this benefit can come from having a goldfish or even a garden of plants.

Everything we do has an environmental impact. Just as with a household budget, we can make priorities. Perhaps it is worth considering how much we love the animal in our possession in comparison to the vast universe of animals that are just needing a sustainable habitat and planet to live on? And that maybe the domestic animals we love are having a negative impact on the animals we rarely think about?  


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