Just responding to the 100 member email that Dallas Gaytheist sent out:
First, congratulations; I was spending time last night on Patricia McConnell's blog
(she's an animal behaviorist who teaches at the U of Wisconsin), and was pondering if there was a link between atheism and positive dog training. I doubt there's anything keeping theists from employing positive training methods, but I wonder if atheists are more prone to using humane training methods than non-theists.
Second, I have a question about what to discuss: I understand humane treatment of animals, and I understand atheism, but I'm never sure how to link the two -- unless this is a forum more or less about animals, and the attendees happen to be atheists.
But here's an attempt: It reminds me when my Cocker Spaniel Max died. He was 17 years old at the time, and I had moved to Dublin the year before to do a master's degree. I knew he was sick -- going deaf, epileptic, and he had a bad back that kept him from doing his favorite thing, going up the slide at the park and running down it.
I was studying in my flat one night, and all the sudden something just struck me; I looked up and told my then-girlfriend that I think Max just died. Two days later, I found out that my parents had to have him put to sleep that week because his kidneys failed. My girlfriend was a lapsed Catholic, running fast away from Christianity and exploring the alternatives to religion. When I told her Max died, she said something like 'Well, he's in heaven now,' and I said 'I don't think Max was a Christian.' She responded, jokingly but well-meaning-ly, 'Well, maybe he's in nirvana,' and I said 'I don't think Max was a Buddhist.' I can't say why, exactly, but right after I said those words out-loud, something tripped.
I had long left religion, but I guess I'd never thought about non-theism as a kind of natural state of things, as opposed to just something that worked for me. I'd seen lots of dogs come and go; we raised Springer Spaniels every few years, and we had an amazing Bouvier that basically adopted me when I was born -- she'd wrap herself around me and lick the top of my head, and her name was my first word (Nikki). But it took Max's death to push my thinking to another place; maybe it was maturity, or maybe I was reading too much Beckett, but the way I looked at the world and the way I appreciated animals (especially dogs) changed at that point.
So there's my attempt at linking atheism and animals.