Current Research

For the past couple of years, I’ve focused most of my attention on animals and animal welfare. I’ve been particularly interested in end-of-life issues, such as euthanasia and hospice care for our companion animals. A great deal of the bioethics literature focuses on death and dying, and I’ve been interested to note various parallels–and striking divergences–in our approach to animal death, as compared to human death. The most obvious, of course, is that for our animals, euthanasia at the end of life is available and morally accepted (if not almost obligatory). For our fellow humans, such compassionate release is not so easy.

bekoff-pierce-theanimalsagendaI have two books coming out this spring. The first is called The Animals’ Agenda: Freedom, Compassion and Coexistence in the Age of Humans (Beacon Press) and was co-authored with cognitive ethologist Marc Bekoff. We argue that the science of animal cognition and emotion has huge potential to benefit  animals, but only if it is used to promote greater freedom. Animal welfare science has largely been co-opted by industry and is being used to make small improvements to animal husbandry, while glossing over the most significant aspects of animal suffering.

The second book is a collaboration with two veterinarians, Amir Shanan and Tami Shearer. Hospice and Palliative Care for Companion Animals: Principles and Practice (Wiley) is the first comprehensive text for animal hospice practitioners. This book will be available in April of 2017.

cover designRun Spot Run: The Ethics of Keeping Pets is about my life as an avid pet owner with an overactive conscience. Although I love animals and cannot imagine life without them, I also feel constant internal conflict because pet-keeping culture is so morally fraught. I’ve had a ridiculous number of pets–particularly in my role as mother–and I feel as though I’ve overdone it a bit. I feel guilty. Silly things bother me, like buying pig snouts for my dog. And big things bother me, too, like the idea that by supporting the culture of pet keeping, and the vast pet industry, I’m actually causing harm to animals. Does having a dog myself make me complicit in the killing of unwanted pets in shelters? I think maybe it does. Does keeping a dog and cat in my house amount to a form of imprisonment, even if they seem to pretty much enjoy themselves? Sometimes I wonder.

Pierce-jktMy book The Last Walk was published in 2012, by the University of Chicago Press. Here is a brief description:

The Last Walk is about the journey we take with our companion animals as they grow old and infirm and as we usher them toward death. This book weaves together a chronicle of the final year of my dog Ody’s life with in-depth consideration of the practical and moral issues facing pet owners at the end of a companion animal’ life. Through a combination of anecdotes, interviews, scientific research, and personal reflection, I consider a broad range of questions about animal death, aging, end of life care, and aftercare. For example, are animals aware of death? What changes might we expect as our companions grow old, and how can we help them adapt to their changing physical and mental capabilities? How do we know when an animal is in pain, and what should be done to help? When, if ever, is euthanasia appropriate? How can we honor the lives of our animals, both while they live and after they have died? The material in the book is brought to life through the story of Ody, a dog of immense appetite, supreme powers of destruction, and a capacity for love as big as the Wyoming sky. This book will make you laugh, might make you cry, and will most certainly make you think.

Future projects include a book, as yet untitled, about euthanasia. I’m particularly interested in the euthanizing of animals, and how the practice of euthanasia is so deeply entrenched in the cultural narrative of pet keeping in this culture. I’m exploring differences between “veterinary” euthanasia and other forms of killing. I argue that the language of euthanasia needs to be far more nuanced, and that most of the killing we do doesn’t qualify as true euthanasia. I am also exploring the sometimes uncomfortable comparisons between end of life care for animals and end of life care for people.