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.

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Replies to This Discussion

Hmm...don't know anything about the difference between the training methods of atheists v. theist.

And yes, "this is a forum more or less about animals, and the attendees happen to be atheists."

Interesting you had a premonition about Max dying. Interesting thought: about non-theism as a kind of natural state of things...

Perhaps you are correct. Theism is more of an imposition on the natural order, isn't it. So you're saying that Max's death made you more of an atheist, or reaffirmed your atheism?
(Sorry I'm so late with this; I turned off replies for a while because I'm swamped with work.)

I think Max's death both reaffirmed and helped develop my atheism. I'd always held my atheism egocentrically, as I imagine most people hold their theism. When he died and I said those words, the lightbulb went on, and I've been thinking about atheism differently ever since.

I can't say anything about the premonition, really. I was pretty tight with Max, and have always had a good but strange connection with dogs. When I was in Ireland, I went on a canal/river trip with some friends, and we stopped to open a lock and dam. This was out in the middle of the country. A woman came over a hill on the horizon, about 100 yards off, and she had a Border Collie. The collie took off in a dead-sprint straight towards me, then turned around and sat on my feet, smiling. I'd never seen this dog or that woman in my life.

Another time I was out running on a trail (again in Ireland), and all the sudden two Irish Setters popped up out of nowhere and started running with me; they were on a walk and just decided to join me.

I'll spare more stories, but that sort of thing seems happens a lot. (Granted, it's the hits that register; I don't recognize it when a dog doesn't come up and say hello.)
Hmmm -- I'm not exactly sure what kinds of discussions I'd like to see, but here's me spit-balling:

Did you see the NOVA special Ape Genius? A couple things really struck me about some of the studies.

I wrote a longish response here, and then realized maybe I should just post it as a discussion topic -- which I just did.
So strange, your story. I was around 9 years old and a my dad brought home a feral kitten, born to a mom cat in a warehouse. The kitten had no tail and his back legs were stiff so he kind of hopped everywhere. We tried to make him an indoor cat, but he was pretty ferocious. He was neutered and allowed to come and go as he pleased. He hated everyone except me and my dad. My brothers were able to pet him on his terms, but I could always carry him around. He was my first real pet. One night, I was at my cousin's house and I woke up to see a fleeting glimpse of my cat sitting on my bed. I sat upright and the phone was ringing downstairs. It was my dad telling my aunt that my cat was just hit by a car. When my aunt came up to tell me, I told her what I'd seen. It's very strange!

I suppose people who use 'positive reinforcement training' are more scientific minded. The trainer I take my dogs to uses these methods and suggests Pat McConnell as a wonderful reading resource. I don't know her religious status, but she's very into the mind of dogs and likes to explain things to us scientifically. It all makes sense to me. After reading Animals in Translation I feel like I have a better knowledge of how my dogs are thinking and why they respond to things the way they do. I love to analyze my dogs' behavior to figure out why they're doing something, then ask the trainer and see if it's correct. :)
I loved Animals in Translation.
Me too! I read it through once and then I went back and re-read sections that pertained to me and how I could better train my dogs. I love animal behavior. My trainer teaches a class at the local college about dog behavior and I wanted to attend, but it's $300.00 and money is pretty tight right now. Luckily, she is giving me a lot of great resources to train myself.
Yes, animal behavior is pretty interesting to me as well.
McConnell is really very good. I'm originally from Wisconsin, where she's from, and for 14 years she had a show on Wisconsin Public Radio called "Calling All Pets" -- that's where I first learned about her. she gave me advice once when coyotes moved into our neighborhood and my cat was giving them a hard time, and getting beat up for it.

What you said about waking up and seeing your cat: Ever heard of hypnogogic episodes? The extreme form is night terrors and sleep paralysis, but the gist is that sometimes a person can nearlhy wake up, but they're still in a kind of dream state, and their mind imposes the dream-state images over the real-world images the eye perceives. When something breaks that state of consciousness -- like a phone ringing -- the images fade. So one possible explanation is you might have been dreaming or thinking about the cat, and in that flash your REM mind saw the cat against the impression of your conscious mind.


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