We love the wrong animals.
Dogs and cats? How can they miss? They share our beds, for goodness sake.
Other animals, including birds — they take care of themselves, mostly. Unless we get in the way.
The new book “Unnatural Companions,” rethinks, as the subtitle says, “our love of pets in an age of wildlife extinction.”
The author, science journalist and dog owner Peter Christie, tells us the numerous and diverse ways he believes pets harm wildlife — as predators, invaders, disease carriers, and consumers.
He looks closely at pet owners’ contributions to the issue, pointing then to what he calls “the pet industry’s immense role in driving the extinction crisis.” Pet food gets a thorough examination. The meat we eat is just part of the problem, he says.
Christie wants us to know what he considers the hidden price paid for the pleasure we receive from pets. His concern is that our total investment in pets will cause neglect of the environment and the animals therein.
Eventually, he fears, this will cause the ecological functions of the world to falter, piece by piece. His analogy is automobiles — you can only remove so many parts before your car stops working.
He lists as issues the direct removal from the environment of species of birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians, the use of land to grow crops that directly or indirectly become pet food, the carbon dioxide thus produced, and disposal of the waste animals produce.
He points to species now more numerous in homes as pets than in the wild. His example is sun parakeets, a species found in declining numbers in South America.
He sees hope because he views people who keep pets (or watch and feed birds) as the most likely conservationists. What is needed is awareness and concern.
Better funding for wildlife conservation is needed as well, he says. Money spent on pet food, pet toys, pet clothing shows that greater contributions to conservation are possible.
He supports his comments with statistics and various reports and studies.
We have remade the world for our pleasure, according to Christie. We will suffer for that, he says.
If we pay attention only to pets, he implies, pets will be all that is left for us. Pets can, however, provide the connection we need to other animal life — if we take advantage of the opportunity pets offer.
Hardcover, published by Island Press, 256 pages with notes, index, and bibliography, $28, (islandpress.org).