Saturday, July 14, 2018

Marley and me and the tragedy of no-kill shelters

Charles Danten, former veterinarian

One day, watching television, I saw a team of firemen trying to save a Labrador that was stranded on a piece of ice drifting along a river. While one fireman was holding the boat steady alongside the chunk of ice, another was trying to grab the dog and pull him to the safety of the boat. Suddenly, without warning, the panic-stricken dog, which obviously couldn’t fathom what this was all about, launched forward and bit the face of the unsuspecting fireman severely. Undoubtedly, the poor fireman had made a dangerous assumption: that the dog, like a human being, would know what he was trying to do. Such self-centeredness technically called anthropomorphism, which is the attribution of human qualities and needs to other species and objects, has endless consequences for both animals and humans.


Hollywood is particularly determined to entertain our ignorance and delusions regarding animals. In movies, animals are never portrayed as they are, but rather as mere props or narcissistic human projections. Movies like Marley and Me by David Frankel, The Bear by Jean-Jacques Annaud or The Emperor, a film sponsored by the World Wildlife Fund, to name but a few of the major movies that opinion-makers are constantly spinning out, use animals exclusively to highlight human ideals – friendship, effort, the joys of paternity, sacrifice, honour, and so on. Animal lovers and ecologists in general are under the false impression that by putting a human face to animals, people will be inclined to do good by them. [1]

How do animals think?

Although animals have emotions and feel pain just like we do, they do not intellectualize these sensations. They lack – perhaps fortunately for them, depending on how you look at it – a symbolic language like ours, which allows us to name our feelings and categorize them according to artificial conventions. Hume’s famous postulate, can they suffer, is not the only point to consider when dealing with “sentient beings.” Do they think like we do, do they construct ideologies are crucial questions we never bother to ask precisely because we tend to assume they do.

About death

For example, animals, like young children, are not conscious of their impending death. The fear of death is a human concept that must be taught. In other words, we are not born with it. To fear death, psychologically, like humans do, one must have an idea of what death is. And without a conceptual language such as ours, death cannot be described or anticipated. Pets in pounds and veterinary hospitals – and farm animals in slaughterhouses for that matter – are petrified and anxious, but they can’t fathom the end is near. How could they anticipate their future death? They are reacting to an unusual situation which they do not understand and cannot cope with, but they have no way of knowing if the man with the white lab coat and the gentle voice is there to heal them or put them down. Hospital, pound, it’s all the same to them. From the animal’s point-of-view, that funny thing with a needle at the end could just be a toy. When I euthanized an animal, and I have euthanized hundreds of them, the better-socialized dogs were quite relaxed and undisturbed by the procedure as I injected them with a deadly dose of a barbiturate. I could probably have played ball with them right to the last breath.

Newtonian time

Newtonian time is a human-invented time scale. Other species have their own internal clocks and they do not judge the success or the quality of life by its length. They can’t even imagine how long their life is supposed to be. They couldn’t care less if they live 10 or 15 years. When we think it’s a good thing for animals to live longer, we are simply projecting on animals our own wish to live longer and evade death. We are the only death-fearing species on earth.

No-kill “shelters”

Those who work in no-kill shelters to unduly prolong the lives of animals that will never be adopted because of unredeemable physical or psychological flaws should think twice before imposing their egocentric way of interpreting life events on those animals. Some of these animals spend their lives cooped up in cages or runs at the total mercy of so-called Good Samaritans, who are only pleasing themselves by insisting on keeping the animals alive, as a matter of principle, or for business and image reasons regardless of the animal’s best interest, sometimes for years, under miserable conditions from the animal’s point of view. Have you ever seen these places? A house of horror in most cases. No one is less dependable than volunteers. I know, I’ve worked in shelters. They come and go whenever they feel like it. Animals are often left for days without being cleaned and fed.

A lot of people make a living out of these incredibly self-centred views that see what is worthy in nature as that which resembles us. Their attempts to humanize animals with high-sounding words like “refugee,” “children,” ‘adoption,” "rescue," and “companion” is counterproductive, even dangerous. Dogs bite millions of people, for example, mostly children, because their owners think animals are like us in their thoughts and feelings. Most of the animals involved are destroyed. “It is folly and anthropomorphism of the worst kind, says scientist Stephen Budiansky, to insist that the intelligence that every species displays must be the same as ours to be truly wonderful” [2][3][4].

You have to agree with People for the Ethical treatment of Animals (PETA) and the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine. [5] Unadopted and unredeemable animals are better off dead. Yes, PETA puts them down, but so does the SPCA and other animal welfare agencies. Nobody makes an issue out of it because most reasonable people know it’s the best outcome possible for these throw-away left-overs of consumerism. Besides, pet owners who complain about the destruction of unwanted pets should take an honest look at what they themselves are doing in their own homes. As described in this blog, they are also killing animals with their self-centred "love," albeit in a less spectacular way.


Budiansky, Stephen (1998). If a lion could talk. The Free Press.

Bernardina, Sergio Dalla (2006). Épilogue en forme de satire. Du commerce avec les bêtes chez les Terriens civilisés. L’éloquence des bêtesMédaillé.

Hoffer, Eric (1951). The true believer. Thoughts on the nature of masse movements. Harper and Row.

West, Patrick (2004). Conspicuous compassion. Why sometimes it’s really cruel to be kind. Civitas.


1] Éric Conan (1989). "La zoophilie, maladie infantile de l’écologisme".  Esprit, no 155, p. 124-126.

[2] Robert F. Brasky (1997). Noam Chomsky: a life of dissident. ECW Press, p.174.

[3] Stephen Budiansky (1998). If a lion could talk. The Free Press.

[4] Stephen Budiansky. If they’re so smart how come they aren’t rich. The Truth About Dogs. Penguin Books, p. 124.