A world without animals

A world without animals

May 01, 2007

It's an important day in the life of every veterinarian. Do you remember your day? Put yourself back in time: It's graduation day.

The effort and sacrifices on the pathway of knowledge and wisdom are about to be rewarded with a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine diploma. You are being honored for your achievement at a special ceremony. Many dignitaries, including those from the university, the college's veterinary alumni association, the state veterinary medical association and faculty, are seated on the stage in front of you. You are dressed in the traditional robe and mortarboard reserved for this splendid occasion. The university chamber orchestra is enthusiastically playing heart-stirring renditions of "Pomp and Circumstance" and other graduation favorites. After introductions of the VIPs on the stage directly in front of you, the dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine introduces the keynote speaker: Professor John P. Brantner.

Dr. Brantner was born in Aurora, Ill., in 1921, and earned a BA and PhD in psychology at the University of Minnesota. He is a professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the university and is a highly sought-after speaker on a variety of topics, including legal and ethical aspects of treatment for the critically and terminally ill patient, caring in a competitive world, chemical dependency, burnout, grief and dealing with change. He has devoted his professional life to helping the poor, terminally ill and elderly. As evidenced by the number of outstanding teaching awards accumulated in his career, it's fair to say he is a very popular professor.

On this day, his message is riveting and captivating. His words carry truth.

I'll let you be the judge. His speech is outlined below:

"What if the animals all went away?"
— presented by Dr. John P. Brantner

Distinguished colleagues, honored graduates and guests: Occasions like this are like mileposts, or 'way-stations' where we might sit together, pausing in a long and difficult journey, to congratulate ourselves that we have safely reached this point, to consult our maps and charts for the road ahead, to refresh ourselves, celebrate and rest a while before resuming our journey.

The journey ahead is a long and difficult one for all of us, as poet Christina Rosetti knew, when she penned, "Does the road wind uphill all the way? Yes, to the very end."

You have just come through a deep and long study of that curious interface between human beings and those other moving and darting life-forms with which we share the world.

This interface is so close that the nearness and similarity of some animals draws our concern and caring, brings out our affection, astonishes the thoughtless observer, troubles our theologians, bemuses the philosopher and puzzles the psychologist. An interface so close and yet a gulf so wide and deep that it leads many of us into arrogance and pride in which we can and do say, 'It is our world, not theirs, and they are all our beasts; and if we choose we may take them, use them or destroy them.'

Let us look together at the complex relationship between human beings and the animals in a single environment:

Let me ask you a very troubling question, and then send you on your way with some advice and best wishes. The question that I want to ask can serve as a title for my brief remarks today: "What if the animals all went away?"

We have always shared the world with animals. Through most of human history, a true ecology has existed in which we adapted together to the environment.

Sometimes, if they were larger, swifter, stronger and hungrier than we, they prevailed.

We were dependent almost completely on them, and our very humanity grew from some of our partnerships with, and surrenders to, various animal species.

Above all, they fed us with their milk, eggs and their very flesh. They protected us, hunted with us and guarded our families and homes. Patiently they transported us, and gave us their strength and power, plowing our fields, drawing our loads and finally helped to make it our world and no longer a shared ecology.

Throughout history, our humanity has been informed, confirmed and enriched by our more or less obligatory relationship with animals.