Animal welfare

Animals feel pleasure

In this article, animal behaviourist Jonathan Balcombe discusses the ability of animals to feel pleasure, which provides further points of discussion about the sentience of animals. I’ve lived with several animals over the years; I have absolutely no doubt that they can feel pain, pleasure, contentment, and an assortment of other feelings. In his book  The exultant ark: A pictorial tour of animal pleasure, Balcombe celebrates the full range of animal experience with dramatic portraits of animal pleasure ranging from the charismatic and familiar to the obscure and bizarre.  Below are two images from the book: 

Piggy Love

Balcombe provides an earlier and more in depth discussion of animal pleasure in Balcombe, J. (2009). Animal pleasure and its moral significance. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 118 (3/4), 208–216. Part of his discussion focuses on animals and play: what is largely lacking in discussions of animal play is its affective element. Inasmuch as the context and expression of animal play often resemble that of human play, we may expect that it is pleasurable for them, too. Having fun seems to many of us the main characteristic of animal play. 

Balcombe argues that lives that contain pleasure are lives with intrinsic value That is to say, an individual who can experience good feelings has a life that is of value to that individual, independent of any value that individual’s life might have to another, for example as a source of entertainment, or revenue. Put another way, an animal who can experience pleasure has the capacity for a quality of life  It is a life worth living, one in which there are better and worse days, and moments that are more or less pleasurable than others.

Balcombe concludes that our treatment of animals continues to languish in a Cartesian framework, one that permits the sacrificing of animals’ most precious possessions (their freedom and their lives) for such relatively trivial human ends as gustatory pleasure, and recreation

Balcombe’s focus on animal pleasure is a welcome addition to the discussion of animal sentience which, perhaps unfortunately, has tended to focus heavily on animals’ abilities to feel pain and suffering. Peter Singer, for example, one of the most influential proponents of animal sentience and rights, has focused almost exclusively on animals’ capacity to suffer. As Balcombe suggests, if we view animals’ interests solely in terms of avoiding pain and suffering, then the case for their moral protection appears sound. When we include their capacity for pleasure, the case is made stronger.

Animal welfare, Veganism

Eat like you care

Eat like you care is a new book by animal rights activist Gary Francione and Anna Charlton, who are the co-founders of the Rutgers Animal Rights Law Clinic. Excerpts from the publisher’s description:

We all claim to care about animals and to regard them as having at least some moral value. We all claim to agree that it’s wrong to inflict “unnecessary” suffering and death on animals and–whatever disagreement we may have about when animal use is necessary-we all agree that the suffering and death of animals cannot be justified by human pleasure, amusement, or convenience … So how can we justify the fact that we kill many billions of land animals and fish every year for food? However “humanely” we treat and kill these animals, the amount of animal suffering we cause is staggering.




Bible films

I was quite disappointed with the dearth of Bible films over this Easter weekend, with the exception of the always reliable Turner Classic Movies (TCM). You are now more likely to see Harry Potter and Star Wars marathons over the Easter holiday weekend, than good Bible films.  I am partial to a number of Bible films; of course, not all of them are necessarily appropriate for Easter, if they do not depict the death of Christ, but they make for enjoyable viewing.  My favourite Bible films are listed below:

The ten commandmentsTen Commandments (1956): Cecil B. DeMille puts the E in Epic. Lavish cinematography, a cast of thousands, the parting of the Red Sea, an incredible cast and, of course, Charlton Heston at his heroic best.



Benben-hur 1025-Hur (1925; 1959): While there have a few film versions of this story, these two are my favourites (TCM, bless them, showed both last week). Both feature beautiful cinematography, strong performances and, of course, the famous chariot races.  I shudder to think about how many horses were injured in the 1925 version before animal welfare protection was introduced to the film industry.


ben-hur 1959






The robeRobe (1953): The main attraction of this film is the performance of Richard Burton, who can elevate any film with his sheer presence.  Jean Simmons imbues her usual elegance and class. It’s an interesting perspective of the effect of guilt on Burton for having participated in the crucifixion. Michael Rennie is perhaps a little too elegant for Peter, but he does bring a great deal of gravitas to the role.



Demetrius and the Gladiators (1954): This film follows The Robe. It’s not the best film in the genre, but I think it’s an earnest rendition of early Christianity, and Jay Robinson’s over the top performance as Caligula is worth the price of admission.  Victor Mature is an actor it’s always a bit difficult to take seriously, but I think he does a good job with the material.


There are some newer Bible films, of course, such as Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, and The Last Temptation of Christ, but I don’t have the same attachment to these films, likely because they were not part of my traditional exposure to Bible films during Easter.



Dame Angela Lansbury

Angela Lansbury has been made Dame by Queen Elizabeth, to honour the former’s lifetime of acting and charity work. I’ve always liked Dame Lansbury, and I am pleased that she has been acknowledged and honoured by her country of birth. Most people, of course, know her as Jessica Fletcher on Murder, she wrote.  I admit to watching this series often, as it’s shown every night on a Canadian network.  The stories are formulaic, of course, and the resolution is rather silly, as people spontaneously admit to crimes based on evidence that would not stand up in court.  The show is enjoyable purely for the fun of watching the smart, kind, and charming Jessica Fletcher.  From what I have seen and heard of Dame Lansbury, she shares many of Jessica’s lovely qualities.

Dame Lansbury has been involved in many film projects as well; the three below are my favourites from her repertoire, and for each of which she was nominated for an Oscar:

gaslightmanchurianThe picture of Dorian Gray


The ever elegant William Powell and My man Godfrey

I notice that today, TCM is showing the 1936 My man Godfrey, starring William Powell as the titular character, Carole Lombard, and Eugene Pallette.  This is one of my favourite comedies:  It features bitingly funny and sophisticated dialogue, delivered to wonderful effect by all the actors, but particularly by Eugene Pallette, as the beleaguered patriarch of an oddball assortment of family members, including the wastrel hanger-on Carlo played by the excellent Mischa Auer.  When it comes to comedies, Hollywood really doesn’t make them like this any more:  So many of today’s comedies rely upon vulgarity, broad slapstick, juvenile and scatological humour, all of which render them distinctly unfunny.  This film, on the other hand, uses wit, subtlety, and sophistication, and assumes that its audience has a certain degree of intelligence and discernment.  I never tire of watching this film, as I always pick up a subtle element that I missed in my last viewings. Powell excelled at sophisticated wit and wry humour.  Lombard is, as always, a treat:  She is scatterbrained, talks a mile a minute, and is absolutely loveable. Not to be missed.



Animal welfare

Further atrocities revealed at Maple Leaf Foods

The CBC is reporting today that a video has been released that shows further evidence of appalling treatment of chicks at a Maple Leaf Foods processing plant. Some chicks are cooked alive, and several are pushed into a macerator while still alive.  What is particularly troubling is this line:  Using a macerator to euthanize chicks is an accepted industry practice and considered humane according to industry guidelines. The guidelines were written by a group that includes industry, researchers and government.  I can’t bear to watch the video.  I suspect this is simply the tip of the iceberg:  How much of this practice exists in other plants that is not reported?