Animal Disorders by Deborah Thompson


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.

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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


Animal Disorders is a compassionate but clear-eyed critique of the contradictions and hypocrisies embedded in humankind’s messy relationship with animals. In reflective, lovely, often funny prose, Deborah Thompson explores the deep emotions that animals evoke in us, and the ways that emotion, especially grief, upends our beliefs about animals, about ourselves, and about our place in the world.

–Claire Boyles, author of Site Fidelity

In this elegant and moving collection of essays, Deborah Thompson renders for us the aftermath of her husband’s death from cancer. Grief leads her to reflect on animal companions, from a childhood hamster to dogs fostered later in life. She feels with and through them, poignantly imagining a blue heron as her husband reborn. In the strongest tradition of the essay, Thompson performs a rigorous self-examination, and the outcome is a book that reimagines love.

–Marcia Aldrich, author of Girl Rearing

Animal Disorders by Deborah Thompson