Animal disorders—those erratic, contradictory, irrational relationships that humans have with their nonhuman compatriots—abound in contemporary U.S. culture. In a series of personal essays, Deborah Thompson relates her own complicity in some of these disordered approaches to nonhuman animals, including such practices as pet-keeping, animal hoarding, animal sacrifice (both religious and scientific), magical thinking, and grieving. The sometimes funny, sometimes poignant essays in this collection deliver dispatches from one representative sufferer of animal disorders.
Animal Disorders by Deborah Thompson
I wrote the essays in this book as a response to what I came to call “animal disorders”: the impossibly and irreconcilably contradictory relationships humans have with other (nonhuman) animals. Extreme forms are easily recognizable: A man cages lions and tigers in his backyard; a woman’s house teems with so many cats that she’s lost count and doesn’t even notice when one dies; a man longing to become one with bears gets devoured by one. But more mundane and plentiful contradictions often go unnoticed: people condemning cock-fighting as cruel might eat chicken raised cruelly on factory farms; we euthanize hundreds of thousands of unwanted dogs every year while spending millions of dollars on a wanted few; researchers “sacrifice” one dog to save another; an animal rights advocate may condemn animal cruelty in research laboratories but receive radiation therapy treatments first tested out on beagles; a woman who considers herself a vegetarian feeds her dogs meat.
Finding myself very much enmeshed in these contradictions—I am the vegetarian who feeds her dogs meat—I wrote this series of essays to try to make sense of my own disordered relationships with (nonhuman) animals. Alongside my own, I also try to think through other, related animal disorders I’ve seen over the past fifty odd years of my middle-class American culture. I lift the cover and peek into practices like pet-keeping, animal research, hoarding and rescuing, anthropomorphizing, and more. The essays that resulted deliver dispatches from one representative sufferer of animal disorders. — Deborah Thompson on writing Animal Disorders