A life shared with pets brings many emotions. We feel love for our companions, certainly, and happiness at the thought that we're providing them with a safe, healthy life. But there's another emotion, less often acknowledged, that can be nearly as powerful: guilt. When we see our cats gazing wistfully out the window, or watch a goldfish swim lazy circles in a bowl, we can't help but wonder: are we doing the right thing, keeping these independent beings locked up, subject to our control? Is keeping pets actually good for the pets themselves?
That's the question that animates Jessica Pierce's powerful Run, Spot, Run. A lover of pets herself (including, over the years, dogs, cats, fish, rats, hermit crabs, and more), Pierce understands the joys that pets bring us. But she also refuses to deny the ambiguous ethics at the heart of the relationship, and through a mix of personal stories, philosophical reflections, and scientifically informed analyses of animal behavior and natural history, she puts pet-keeping to the test. Is it ethical to keep pets at all? Are some species more suited to the relationship than others? Are there species one should never attempt to own? And are there ways that we can improve our pets' lives, so that we can be confident that we are giving them as much as they give us?
Deeply empathetic, yet rigorous and unflinching in her thinking, Pierce has written a book that is sure to help any pet owner, unsettling assumptions but also giving them the knowledge to build deeper, better relationships with the animals with whom they've chosen to share their lives.
"So, you want to share your home with a companion animal? Millions of people make pets out of a wide variety of animals, from dogs and cats to hamsters, gerbils, rats, mice, birds, fish, reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates, and this decision is one that demands careful attention, for we truly are the individuals' oxygen. Unfortunately, the lives of innumerable pets are intentionally and unintentionally highly compromised – indeed many are simply horrific – because people haven't done their homework about what it means to live with another being or because they are ignorant of just whom the animal is. There are many ethical questions that need careful attention and these quandaries, some obvious and others less so, don't fit into a nice and clean 'right' and 'wrong' mold. Run, Spot, Run will force potential and experienced pet-keepers to think about what they're getting into, and likely mean that many readers will be moved out of their comfort zone. For equitable human-pet relationships to occur, and for animals to be able to express their full behavior repertoire, things are going to have to change. Jessica Pierce confronts many difficult and challenging issues head-on, and I hope her latest book becomes essential reading for those people who make the choice to bring a nonhuman into their lives. Currently, it's all too easy to become a pet-keeper, and this results in many unhappy humans and nonhumans."
– Marc Bekoff, author of Rewilding Our Hearts
"In Run, Spot, Run, Jessica Pierce has produced a timely examination of pet keeping today that challenges our rationalizations and justifications for keeping nonhuman animals of all persuasions for our amusement under conditions that, even at their best, are inadequate and at their worst inhumane. A pet keeper, herself, Pierce makes clear that some animals should not be kept at all while we should re-evaluate and reform our approaches to keeping others, like cats and dogs, who have long lived with us. Anyone thinking of getting an animal of any sort for any reason should first read this book."
– Mark Derr, author of Dog's Best Friend
"Even those of us with the best intentions for the dogs, cats, rabbits, and goldfish in our care will discover new, profoundly important ethical questions to ponder in Jessica Pierce's book. With gentle humor, clear compelling language, and always in search of the physically and emotionally healthiest lives possible for our animal companions, Run, Spot, Run moved me all the more because it's written from the inside looking out. Pierce herself lives with three pets and understands the deep urge so many of us feel to connect across species lines."
– Barbara King, author of How Animals Grieve