Animal rights: some progress, but not enough; Animals' Rights: Considered in Relation to Social Progress, by Henry S. Salt. Clarks Summit, Pa.: Society for Animal Rights Inc. $9.95.; Returning to Eden: Animal Rights and Human Responsibility, by Michael W. Fox. New York: The Viking Press. $13.95
Animals have been companions, servants, and food for mankind almost since time began. Society has become increasingly aware that they are not just animated "things," but are living entities with thought processes and feelings, hence the growing interest in according them rights.
In theory, if not always in practice, the lot of animals has improved since Henry Salt's book was first issued in the 1800s. But his book covers all the problems animals face today, showing that even with changing times, much remains the same. For instance, laboratory experiments still use thousands of animals. And Salt, who thought the treatment of farm animals in his day was inhumane, would be amazed at how much more adept we've become (through factory farms) at raising animals that are "scarcely more than animated beef or mutton or pork."
Appealing as much to the head as the heart, he outlines the basic arguments against animal rights. Then, with dexterity and wit, shreds them to bits. In this respect, his book is superior to Michael Fox's work, which is perhaps too studiedly restrainted in its discussion.
For example, Salt cites comments that domestic animals should be grateful for the comforts they receive from their masters. His reply: "We have taken the animals from a free, natural state, into an artificial thraldom, in order that we,m and not they,m may be the gainers thereby; it cannot possibly be maintained that they owe us gratitude on this account, or that this alleged debt may be used as a means of evading the just recognition of their rights."
The author of nearly 40 books, most dealing with the need for humane reforms for people and animals, Salt is a formidable, yet exquisitely courteous adversary. Though he clearly has deep feelings on the subject, he appeals to the intellect with unimpeachable logic. The anecdotes and the excellent bibliography (updated by Peter Singer) are a valuable resource.
Both Salt and Fox would agree that education and legislatin based on empathy for other creatures must be the foundation of animals's rights. Fox's book is particularly useful in educating the public. Besides covering the major areas of animal abuse, such as wildlife management, factory farms, owner-pet relationships, and laboratory work, he gives extensive attention to the philosophical issues. His short chapter "Education to Empathy and Communion" is packed with creative research and study topics of special interest to parents, teachers, and students.
Both books are weak on examining the impact of religion on animal rights. Religion is not Salt's main theme, and though Fox devotes a chapter to this subject, he doesn't probe deeply enough. Fox seems to feel that the Eastern religions offer the most hope to animals, writing: "It is from the Judeo-Christian misinterpretation of the Scriptures concerning man's dominion over all living things and his God-given freedom to subjugate nature that the utilitarian principle [which leads to animal abuse] gains acceptance. Dominion is regarded as dominance over all to do as one wishes, rather than as responsible stewardship." This desire for dominance, he says, is what has cut us off from our unity with all creation.
Fox's book includes excellent appendices: a section on humane alternatives, a report on animal welfare laws, and a segment on federal committees, departments, and agencies that deal with animal rights.
Overall, Fox is not as engaging a writer as Salt. But he does cover the current issues in detail. A veterinarian, Fox has written or edited nearly 25 books on aspects of animal behavior. Actually, one annoyance in the present work is the frequency with which Fox refers to his other writings. Also, certain portions are unduly repetitive. Tighter editing would have helped.
Both books offer powerful ammunition for the activist on behalf of animals, and give others plenty to think about. They present their arguments in an unhysterical, rational manner. Read together, they show that, while progress toward giving animals rights may be increasing, however slowly, there is still a long way to go before all animals will receive the "foods, rest and tend er usage" they deserve.