I think he overlook a phase: that empathy stage in our lives when we may begin to see even the commonest animals on their own terms, fellow creatures with their own needs to meet and hardships to bear, joined with us in the mystery of life and death--and frankly, for all of our more exalted endowments, not all that much less enlightened than the sagest of naked apes about the meaning of it all.That kinship is to me reason enough to go about my own way in the world showing each one as much courtesy as I can, refraining from things that bring animals needless harm. They all seem to have enough dangers coming at them as it is. Whenever human beings with our loftier gifts and grander calling in the world can stop to think on their well-being, if only by withdrawing to let them be, it need not be a recognition of 'rights.' It is just a gracious thing, an act of clemency only more to our credit because the animals themselves cannot ask for it, or rebuke us when we transgress against them, or even repay our kindness.
Such terrifying powers we possess, but what a sorry lot of gods some men are. And the worst of it is not the cruelty but the arrogance, the sheer hubris of those who bring only violence and fear into the animal world, as if it needed any more of either. Their lives entail enough frights and tribulations without the modern fire-makers, now armed with perfected, inescapable weapons, traipsing along for more fun and thrills at their expense even as so many of them die away. It is our fellow creatures' lot in the universe, the place assigned them in creation, to be completely at our mercy, the fiercest wolf or tiger defenseless against the most cowardly man. And to me it has always seemed not only ungenerous and shabby but a kind of supreme snobbery to deal cavalierly with them, as if their little share of the earth's happiness and grief were inconsequential, meaningless, beneath a man's attention, trumped by any and all designs he might have on them, however base, irrational, or wicked.
My earliest recollection is of coming upon some rabbit tracks in the backyard snow. I must have been three or so, but I had never seen a rabbit and can still recall the feeling of being completely captivated by the tracks: Someone had been here. And he left these prints. And he was alive. And he lived somewhere nearby, maybe even watching me at this very moment.Four decades later, I do not need to be reminded that rabbits are often a nuisance to farmers and gardeners. My point is that when you look at a rabbit and can see only a pest, or vermin, or a meal, or a commodity, or a laboratory subject, you aren't seeing the rabbit anymore. You are seeing only yourself and the schemes and appetites we bring to the world--seeing, come to think of it, like an animal instead of as a moral being with moral vision.
Wildlife, we are constantly told, would run loose across our towns and cities were it not for the sport hunters to control their population, as birds would blanket the skies without the culling services of Ducks Unlimited and other groups. Yet here they are breeding wild animals, year after year replenishing the stock, all for the sole purpose of selling and killing them, deer and bears and elephants so many products being readied for the market. Animals such as deer, we are told, have no predators in many areas, and therefore need systematic culling. Yet when attempts are made to reintroduce natural predators such as wolves and coyotes into these very areas, sport hunters themselves are the first to resist it. Weaker animals in the wild, we hear, will only die miserable deaths by starvation and exposure without sport hunters to control their population. Yet it's the bigger, stronger animals they're killing and wounding--the very opposite of natural selection--often with bows and pistols that only compound and prolong the victim's suffering.