Book review: ‘Do Unto Animals,’ by Tracey Stewart
December 24, 2016
With the increase in factory farming and the broader visibility on animal rights issues because of the internet, there has been a growing movement toward vegetarianism and veganism across the world, as animal lovers are coming to terms with both a planet in peril and the rise of anthropogenic, or human-driven, environmental impacts, as well as the prevailing acknowledgement that animals, primarily domesticated ones, deserve better treatment.
First-time author Tracey Stewart adds a delightful voice to the dialogue of animal advocacy with her recently released book, "Do Unto Animals: A Friendly Guide to How Animals Live and How We Can Make Their Lives Better." Though a lover of animals her whole life, it was her husband, Jon Stewart, formerly of "The Daily Show," who saw a need in her that she had suppressed due to her family's expectation that she strive for practical pursuits, rather than for endeavors that fed her soul. With his encouragement, she felt empowered, and she returned to school, getting a degree in veterinary technology.
When the Stewarts had kids, the passion for animals became a family endeavor, and the local animal shelter became a regular destination. Stewart chronicles her own family's immersion in the world of animal activism, but her personal experiences frame a larger template in her beautifully rendered book, which includes lovely hand-drawn illustrations by Lisel Ashlock, as well as recipes, crafts and home projects that will benefit members of the animal community.
'Adopt, don't shop'
Stewart leads with an overview of dogs, a species for which she — and much of the world — has a deep love. For all the animals she profiles, Stewart highlights the importance of rescuing versus purchasing. "Adopt, don't shop" is a much-used mantra, but it is worth emphasizing that so many wonderful animals — millions each year — are destroyed because people choose breeders over shelters and fosters. Mutts are worthy of love and often exhibit a better genetic makeup than many breeds that have been cruelly served from inbreeding. She offers some delightful no-breed names for those who feel their dogs need a label: "the Bearded Schnitzel and the Bed-Headed NewYorkie."
Stewart includes plenty of practical advice, as well, ranging from behavioral guides to potty-training tips, and she always emphasizes reward-based training over punishment-based. "Shock collars, choke collars or physical domination have more in common with animal abuse that with teaching dogs to trust humans," she says, as it risks increasing anxiety and, thus, aggression.
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She does not ignore cats, though she admits the species did not enter her world until one came into her life along with Jon Stewart. Beyond cats and dogs, she believes exotic pets — reptiles, fish, etc. — should remain wild and enjoyed as such for as long as their fragile ecosystems allow, emphasizing that the more exotic animals that are pulled from their natural habitats, the more vulnerable those systems are to collapse.
A good third of the book is dedicated to farm animals, and many of those she introduces are special animals that have found their way to the Farm Sanctuary that the Stewarts have opened in rural New Jersey following Jon Stewart's retirement from television. Stewart says that in industrialized countries, the human relationship with farm animals has changed in profound ways. "The growth of the industrial farm has not only adulterated the foods we eat but also has horribly mishandled the animals in its care."
For Stewart, this is unacceptable, and she says concerned citizens need to push hard against the heartbreaking realities of factory farming, examples of which she lays out for each type of farm animal that pays the ultimate sacrifice for our tables. If not a vegetarian or vegan before her poignant reminders of the animal souls that count on humans for compassionate husbandry, then the reader may very well consider that path after reading the book. The touching "survivor" stories of individual creatures that now reside at the Stewart farm are profoundly moving and inspiring.
"Do Unto Animals" makes one think and makes one want to be involved in the awakening toward a more compassionate and sustainable coexistence with the creatures who have the misfortune of sharing this planet with our notoriously selfish species. The Stewarts aim to lead the way, one lucky animal at a time.
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