Animals’ Best Friends

Barbara J. King / University of Chicago Press / 280 pages 

Animals’ Best Friends: Putting Compassion to Work for Animals in Captivity and in the Wild, by Barbara King, uses the power of storytelling to allow readers to peer into the lives of countless animals humans interact with or impact in one way or another. Through these stories, King challenges the reader to rethink our effect on animals in our homes, in the wild, in captivity, in agriculture, and in research labs, and presents a powerful call for compassionate action in our daily lives. 

King chooses to highlight the extraordinary behaviors and capabilities of creatures that don’t initially come to mind in various settings. For instance, when discussing animals in the home, she takes us into the world of spiders. She begins her chapter on “animals on our plates” with an enthralling look into the lives of European rabbits. 

King does an admirable job of balancing some of the competing arguments for or against different interactions with animals that society often struggles with—whether it is hunting, keeping animals in zoos, or allowing pet cats outdoors. But she isn’t afraid to draw the line when it comes to some of the more appalling practices to which animals are all too often subjected. 

Notably, this book examines a reaction so many experience when faced with unpleasant emotions, especially in response to animal suffering: We shut down and insist on not knowing, whether it is to spare us the pain of coming to terms with how our actions and the actions of other humans inflict so much suffering, or to relieve us of the guilt we may feel from not being able or willing to intervene. But King’s eloquently told stories all lead to the same conclusion: We cannot simply turn away. There is so much that can be done to alleviate animal suffering and it starts with taking compassionate action, whether it is supporting animal welfare organizations, demanding policy change from our elected officials, or simply skipping the breakfast bacon.

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