The 2,145th Meeting of the Society

April 12, 2002

Animal Communication and Awareness

Michael W. Fox

Humane Society of the United States

About the Lecture

Ethology, the study of animal behavior, is a phenomenological science of the subjective that provides a window into the animal mind. Ethological studies will be reviewed concerning animal emotions, communication, and the biological basis for ethical behavior. The presentation, which will include slides, links the evolution of empathy and altruistic behavior in humans and other animals with the emergence of morality and the human imperative to develop a global bioethics.

About the Speaker

Dr. Fox has authored over 40 books and for the last 25 years has written a nationwide syndicated newspaper column, “Ask Your Animal Doctor,” enjoying a weekly readership estimated at 12 million. He has produced numerous publications and developed several technical research programs that applied scientific methods to the investigation of the many uses of animals, notably laboratory, companion, and farm animals. He is also a consulting veterinarian and bioethicist, and gives lectures, seminars and presentations both in the U.S. and abroad on a variety of topics related to animal welfare, behavior, conservation, and bioethics. Dr. Fox has a veterinary degree from London's Royal Veterinary College, and a PhD in medicine and a DSc in ethology/animal behavior, both from London University, England. He is profiled in Who's Who in America and in Who's Who in the World. His latest book is Beyond Evolution: The Genetically Altered Future of Plants, Animals, the Earth, and Humans (1999, The Lyons Press, New York). Dr. Fox serves as Senior Scholar, Bioethics, for the Humane Society of the United States, Washington, DC.


President Collins called the 2145th meeting to order at 8:20 p.m. on April 12, 2002. The Recording Secretary read the minutes of the 2144th meeting and they were approved. The speaker for the 2145th meeting was Michael W. Fox of the Humane Society of the United States. The title of his presentation was, “Animal Communication and Awareness: From Ethology to Bioethics.” In way of an overview, Mr. Fox described ethology as the study of animal behavior. It is a phenomenological science of the subjective that provides a window into the animal mind. During his delightful presentation, Mr. Fox reviewed the results of his studies concerning animal emotions, communication, and the biological basis for their ethical behavior. Mr. Fox first pointed out that he is an animal rights advocate. He clearly distinguished for us that this entailed advocating equal and fair consideration of an animal's rights and not advocate animal's rights to be the same as people's rights. As an example, Mr. Fox pointed out that many people are wont to humanize an animal's behavior – giving its behavior human traits and characteristics. Whereas a more realistic approach in the case of a dog is to dogify the human. This will allow one to understand the animal's wants and needs. Mr. Fox kindly provided us all with an impressive exhibition of a male pigeon display, complete with pigeon noises and postures involving a puffed-up chest and repeated bowing. Mr. Fox also described dog signals for “play time” which would avoid misunderstanding and inadvertent hurt. This involved one of the Mr. Fox's dogs “play attacking” him – but only after lots of low stretching, panting and shoulder shrugging on the part of both the dog and Mr. Fox to clearly show each other that all this attack stuff was just for fun. Thus all the resultant snapping, snarling and growling that would otherwise be quite threatening and frightful was all just part of the day's game. Mr. Fox also described a downside from his observations. The natural ethos or spirit of an animal is related to its natural environmental or ecological purpose. The downside is from the fact that the animal's ethos is interrupted by the domesticating process. Mr. Fox continued with the observation that some purebred dogs have essentially become idiot savants. A clear upside and pragmatic result was also provided. Mr. Fox's approach to understanding animals provides practical insights for the effective and efficient care of animals in zoos, laboratories and other domestic settings – which is clearly a good thing. Mr. Fox's presentation was a multimedia event with lots of slides showing animal emotions. For example we saw an impressive photo of a large wolf nuzzling Mr. Fox's infant son. We also saw the results of something that could only be described as a type of animal “surgery” whereby one of Mr. Fox's many dogs essentially surgically removed (read chewed off ) three large wart-like growths from the lip of another dog. Mr. Fox noted that the night before he was inspecting the afflicted dog's lip and making plans for conventional veterinary surgery the nest day. However, a canine surgeon was watching Dr. Fox examine the ailing dog; and sometime during the night this other dog performed the needed surgery – instead of the degreed veterinary surgeon, Mr. Fox – and may have even done a better job! Mr. Fox also showed us a video depicting various types of animal behavior. This included grooming behavior with a monkey methodically grooming a dog, and a dog methodically grooming a goat; and play behavior involving a calf and a dog playing chase. Mr. Fox then closed his presentation and kindly answered questions from the floor. President Collins thereupon thanked Mr. Fox for the Society, welcomed him to membership, announced the next meeting and made the usual parking announcement. He then adjourned the 2145th meeting to the Social Hour at 9:32 p.m. Attendance: 46 Temperature: 21°C Weather: Clear Links: Humane Society of the United States Beyond Evolution: The Genetically Altered Future of Plants, Animals, the Earth, and Humans (Amazon Books) Respectfully submitted, Bill Spargo Recording Secretary