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  • An Egregious Slander
  • Andrew Linzey and Clair Linzey

Have you been to the doctor lately? Have you had a recent medical checkup? These questions must be asked because there is apparently a serious malaise that affects animal-concerned individuals.

Apparently the malaise, actually a disease, has a name. It is called "Zoophil-Psychosis," and it was discovered in 1909 by enterprising neurologist Charles L. Dana. His original article in Medical Record was headlined in The New York Times as follows: "Passion for Animals Really a Disease: Its Name Is Zoophil-Psychosis, Dr Dana Says, and It Attacks Morbid Lovers of Pets" (1909). "Heightened concern for animals" was diagnosed by Dana as a "form of mental illness" (Dana, 1909).

Apparently, after the disease develops, "the individual becomes the victim of a psychosis and a source of distress to self and friends, or demoralization to family and of serious social injustice" (Dana, 1909). The New York Times concluded that women were especially susceptible to the affliction, "which like the historic hysterias, 'phobias' and fanaticisms of history, is apt to sweep over whole communities" ("Passion for Animals," 1909).

For the above, we are indebted to scholar Robyn Hederman (2018), a fellow of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics, whose pioneering research has exposed the (more recent) origin of this slander against animal advocates. Hederman shows how "advocates of animal experimentation embraced zoophil-psychosis to pathologize antivivisectionists" (Hederman, 2018, p. 221) in particular, but of course the slander has a more general provenance. Dana's work legitimized the idea that an individual who cared for animals wasn't quite right in the head, and that idea has persisted over time. In this context, the appellation "animal lover" (a term still used today) is hardly a neutral one. The assumption is that feeling, emotion, or sentiment toward animals, rather than humans, is somehow improper; that emotions of concern and love are only properly directed toward humans. [End Page v]

The serious slight on women contained within the discovery of this "disease" should not be overlooked. Concern for animals was diagnosed as a female concern by definition, a result of an excess of sentimentality, a hysteria to be treated. No wonder historians have shown an interest in how the imputation of illness was a double slander on both animals and women (for a pioneering discussion of this, see Lansbury, 1985, Chapter 7).

This is just one example of the kind of name-calling and denigration that animal advocates have had to endure. Of course, labeling concern for animals as a disease to the modern ear sounds absurd. But is it so different from being labeled "extremists," "sentimentalists," "fanatics," or even (worst of all) "terrorists"? When those expounding the rational case for the ethical treatment of animals are outrageously labeled, we do well to invite some historical reflection.

References

Dana, C. L. (1909). The zoophil-psychosis: A modern malady. Medical Record, 75(10), 381–383.
Hederman, R. (2018). Gender and the animal experiments controversy in nineteenth-century America. In A. Linzey & C. Linzey (Eds.), The ethical case against animal experiments (pp. 112–119). Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
Lansbury, C. (1985). The old brown dog: Women, workers, and vivisection in Edwardian England. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.
Passion for animals really a disease: Its name is zoophil-psychosis, Dr Dana says, and it attacks morbid lovers of pets. (1909, March 18). The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/1909/03/08/archives/passion-for-animals-really-a-disease-its-name-is-zoophilpsychosis.html

EDITOR'S NOTE

PROFESSOR PRISCILLA COHN

It is with great sadness that we learn of the death of co-editor Professor Priscilla Cohn.

Andrew and Priscilla were friends and collaborators for over twenty years. She worked tirelessly to help establish the Centre, indeed without her support and friendship the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics would not have come into existence. As associate director of the Centre, she was co-editor of the Journal of Animal Ethics and the Palgrave Macmillan Animal Ethics Series. She was an established philosopher in her own right, with a great deal of her work being dedicated to writing on animals...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2160-1267
Print ISSN
2156-5414
Pages
pp. v-vi
Launched on MUSE
2019-09-19
Open Access
No
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