Dr. Marc Bekoff ― Gentle Giant of the Animal World
By Rochelle Lesser, School Psychologist
Founder, Land of PureGold Foundation

There is little that separates humans from other sentient beings―we all feel pain, we all feel joy, we all deeply crave to be alive and live freely, and we all share this planet together. ―Ghandi


Marc Bekoff is one of my personal heroes. Through my readings of his work, I have continued to be inspired by his efforts to help us improve ourselves and our world.

Learning is a life-long process, our views hopefully shaped by that which we read and personally experience. Yet, beliefs are not easily altered, and are, in fact, quite resistant to change. Our brains actually are comforted by consistency, repetition, and pattern recognition. We seek out that which is familiar, buoyed by the knowledge that no surprises lurk around the corner, and we can be pretty confident about what to expect. It is the reason that we repeatedly revisit the same kinds of restaurants or vacation spots, or are resistant to tasting something new or attempting new ventures.

For (too) many years and through over 22 books, Dr. Marc Bekoff has gently attempted to take us out of our comfort zone. His ideas are revolutionary to some as they challenge the very foundations of who we believe we are. They further challenge us to rethink our relationship with, and also responsibilities toward our fellow animals.

Some believe Marc is an enigma, a methodical scientist on one hand, yet a man who clearly wears his heart on his sleeve. In his own words, Dr. Bekoff is a dreamer, a natural born optimist, a scientist with a heart, and an animal rights advocate/activist.

Basically, I am an animal rights advocate/activist with deep concerns about all animals, plants, bodies of water, the air we breathe, outer space, and inanimate landscapes. I have always had these concerns according to my parents, since I was a toddler. Thus, I am not sure how I came to my compassionate views of the world in which I live. Often, I feel deep in my heart it is simply genetic―inborn―and that I have been blessed with a keen sensitivity of the plight of other animals and all other "beings" in the world. I am a vitalist and see and feel life in everything, animate and inanimate. ...

I find myself at odds particularly with my scientific colleagues and with some others because I am a scientist with a heart, a scientist who feels that the business of science could do much much better in the area of animal protection. I also disdain how science chops everything into little bits―how science fragments, slices, cuts, and disembodies. I am a holist at heart. My anthropomorphism and sentimentalism are off-putting to many other scientists but that's just who I am. I think my academic record shows clearly that I (and some others) can do solid science and still be driven by my (our) heartstrings―that solid science can be done even if one goes to the beat of a different drummer. ...

I maintain my sanity by keeping up hope. I am an inborn optimist and I simply believe that there are many reasons for hope. I worked on a set of millennial mantras with Jane Goodall and her optimism and hope and friendship are among the most important ingredients for my recipe for a better tomorrow―a better world for our children and theirs.


May 2009 Science & Animal Activism Presentation

Marc Bekoff is most definitely an activist, but clearly one who rather intelligently embodies non-aggressive means. He has internalized the psychological dictum that responsible assertiveness, which does not involve the use of coercive power, wins out over aggression any day. In his article, The Importance Of Activism, Marc speaks about gently taking a stand on issues despite the personal costs.

Expressing one's opinions—taking an active role to stand up for one's values and beliefs—is essential for creating dialogue and for making informed decisions. There are many different forms of activism; "activism" isn't synonymous with "radical." Nor does activism mean violence or the destruction of property. Boycotting is a form of activism as are silent candlelight vigils. Gandhi was an activist as was Mother Teresa. ...

There has also been much controversy over dog killing at CU's medical school. RMAD's efforts to stop this practice have had a large effect. Channel 7 news and the Daily Camera have called for an end to the use of dogs as have State Reps. Tom Plant and Dan Grossman. Two years ago five medical students opted out of the dog labs, last year 15 made this choice, and this year 31 did so. It's safe to assume that activism had some influence. Non-animal alternatives are justified educationally, economically, and ethically.

There are also costs to activism that often become personal. Activism can make one vulnerable to an opponent's onslaughts, especially when an activist is thought to be of "inferior" status. Recently, a medical student at CU claimed she has been harassed because of her criticism of the dog labs (Colorado Daily, April 20, 2000). My own concerns with the dog labs were met head-on by an insulting letter from 11 professors at the medical school (Silver & Gold Record, December 16, 1999) who claimed I wasn't a reliable judge of whether dog labs were essential. That numerous prestigious medical schools have stopped dog labs made little impression. Interestingly, these professors also claimed that the dog labs weren't essential but didn't want outsiders telling them that! I've also felt the effects of attempts to silence my asking questions about the reintroduction of lynx into Colorado.

Costs of activism—harassment, intimidation, and frustration — are the price of putting one's beliefs on the line. Activism also takes a lot of time, but it's well worth it. Be patient. Protest gently but forcefully. Changes that come about due to heavy-handedness are usually short-lived and make little difference. Often it takes many efforts to accumulate the momentum needed to produce deep changes in attitude and heart that truly make a difference. It's important to listen to all views and master opponents' arguments. Only by knowing your opponents' tactics and arguments can you mount a serious offense.

It's essential to remember that every individual counts and that every individual makes a difference. As Margaret Mead noted: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." Creative proactive solutions drenched in deep humility, compassion, caring, respect, and love need to be developed to deal with the broad range of problems with which we're currently confronted. Activism often underlies their formulation and implementation.

It's essential to maintain hope even when things seem grim. Rather than take a doomsday view that the world won't exist in 100 years if we fail to accept our unique responsibilities, it's more disturbing to imagine a world in which humans and other life coexist in the absence of any intimacy and interconnectedness. Surely we don't want to be remembered as the generation that killed nature. Now's the time for everyone to work for peace with other humans, other animals, and with all of nature—for universal planetary peace. There is a sense of urgency—time is not on our side. Indifference is far too costly.

The Emotional Lives of Animals: A Leading Scientist Explores Animal Joy, Sorrow, and Empathy and Why They Matter

This must-have book was my first experience discovering the talents of this incredible man. But, it was not the first time I had looked at the concept of animals having feelings and emotions. Since the 1970's, visionary, Dr. Allen Schoen, has been a believer that all animals have emotions and feelings. He has always treated them accordingly, even though his colleagues were dismissive of such beliefs. I am frequently the recipient of anecdotal evidence supporting this concept, this December 2006 message from Chandler Rudd about his disabled Golden Retriever, Lucy.

We think Lucy had a minor stroke a few weeks ago. Half of her face is now paralyzed but we did a full battery of tests, shy of an MRI and we found nothing. She's having great difficulty getting around at all. She is still happy though and we treasure every moment with her. Bennie, bless his heart, has stepped up and will not leave her side. Last night he even grabbed a paper plate from me (it had crust from a pizza on it) and carried it to her so she could have a snack. How could I be mad? Bennie has never begged or counter surfed or taken anything from my plate . . . ever. So, this can only be what it appeared to be. A simple act of generosity and love.


Based on award-winning scientist Marc Bekoff’s years of experience studying patterns of social communication in a wide range of species, this important 2007 publication shows that numerous animals have rich emotional lives. Animal emotions not only teach us about love, empathy, and compassion, argues Bekoff, but they require us to radically rethink our current relationship of domination and abuse of animals.

Bekoff skillfully blends extraordinary stories of animal joy, empathy, grief, embarrassment, anger, and love with the latest scientific research confirming the existence of emotions that common sense and experience with animals have long implied. Bekoff also explores the evolution of emotions and points to new scientific discoveries of brain structures shared by humans and animals that are important in processing emotions. He goes on to emphasize their role in establishing evolutionary continuity among diverse species and presents new findings of non-invasive neurological research and detailed behavioral studies. Filled with Bekoff’s light humor and touching stories, The Emotional Lives of Animals is a clarion call for reassessing both how we view animals and how we treat them.

Dr. Marc Bekoff is simply amazing, and his books never disappoint. To get a flavor of what he is all about, please read and download the following articles



Any dog owner knows that her own pet has feelings, but what evidence exists beyond the anecdotal, and what does this evidence teach us? Bekoff, professor emeritus of biology at the University of Colorado, pores through decades of animal researchbehavioral, neurochemical, psychological and environmentalto answer that question, compelling readers to accept both the existence and significance of animal emotions.

Seated in the most primitive structures of the brain (pleasure receptors, for example, are biologically correlative in all mammals), emotions have a long evolutionary history. Indeed, as vertebrates became more complex, they developed ever more complex emotional and social lives, "setting rules" that permit group living-a far better survival strategy than going solo.

Along the way, Bekoff forces the reader to re-examine the nature of human beings; our species could not have persevered through the past 100,000 years without the evolution of strong and cohesive social relationships cemented with emotions, a conclusion contrary to contemporary pop sociology notions that prioritize individualism and competition. He also explores, painfully but honestly, the abuse animals regularly withstand in factory farms, research centers and elsewhere, and calls on fellow scientists to practice their discipline with "heart." Demonstrating the far-reaching implications for readers' relationships with any number of living beings, Bekoff's book is profound, thought-provoking and even touching.

For several years ethologist and author Bekoff studied communication in wild and domestic animals and gradually became convinced that humans are not the only animals that experience emotions. Here, Bekoff examines the concept of emotion in the lives of nonhumans, the evolutionary advantages of emotions, and the neurological basis for emotions. The final sections focus on how to conduct scientifically rigorous research while addressing scientific rigidity on the subject of animal emotions, and the ethics of how we live our lives with animals. A readable book equally charming and challenging. 

His Holiness the Dalai Lama: "As a boy studying Buddhism in Tibet, I was taught the importance of a caring attitude toward others. Such a practice of nonviolence applies to all sentient beings — any living thing that has a mind. Where there is a mind, there are feelings such as pain, pleasure, and joy. No sentient beings want pain; instead, all want happiness. Since we all share these feelings at some basic level, as rational human beings we have an obligation to contribute in whatever way we can to the happiness of other species and try our best to relieve their fears and sufferings. I firmly believe that the more we care for the happiness of others, the greater our own sense of well-being becomes. Therefore, I welcome Marc Bekoff’s book, The Emotional Lives of Animals."


The Animal Manifesto: Six Reasons For Expanding Our Compassion Footprint

In this 2010 inspirational call to action, Marc Bekoff, the world’s leading expert on animal emotions, gently shows that improving our treatment of animals is a matter of rethinking our many daily decisions and “expanding our compassion footprint.” He demonstrates that animals experience a rich range of emotions, including empathy and compassion, and that they clearly know right from wrong.

Driven by moral imperatives and pressing environmental realities, Dr. Bekoff offers six compelling reasons for changing the way we treat animals — whether they’re in factory farms, labs, circuses, or vanishing wilderness. The result is a well-researched, informative guide that will change animal and human lives for the better.

The Animal Manifesto is a quick, yet intensely powerful read. I cannot imagine anyone reading it and not being forever changed. And, for the better, I might add. The book first discusses our common bonds of compassion, led by this compelling quote from J. M. Coetzee (from his book The Lives of Animals): "Anyone who says that life matters less to animals than it does to us has not held in his hands an animal fighting for its life. The whole of the being of the animal is thrown into that fight, without reserve."

There are six chapters, each detailing one of the following reasons for expanding our compassion footprint:

  1. All animals share the earth and we must coexsist
  2. Animals think and feel
  3. Animals have and deserve compassion
  4. Connection breeds caring, alienation breeds disrespect
  5. Our world is not compassionate to animals
  6. Acting compassionately helps all beings and our world

Dr. Bekoff asks, why should we expand our compassion footprint, to care more about animals and treating them better. Although he aptly reminds us that "sometimes getting to know one animal is all we need," he does go on to list many reasons that prompted him to develop this important book.

  • because they're smart
  • because they feel
  • because they are
  • because they care
  • because we don't have to use or abuse them
  • because we can do better science without them
  • because we'd be healthier if we didn't eat them
  • because they're our buddies/consummate companions
  • because we're so powerful
  • because we all need to look out for each other
  • because they're good for our souls and we are for theirs
  • because they're a compassionate species


  • because they're innocent
  • because animals make us human
  • because they bring us joy
  • because we're all animals
  • because silent springs are unacceptable
  • because we're their voice
  • because compassion begets compassion
  • because by taking care of animals, we take care of ourselves
  • because if we lose animals, we're screwed . . . we lose ourselves
  • because we need more peace among all beings
  • because animals do not harm Earth, humans do

Come and Learn More

Marc Bekoff & Bessie, a rescued dairy cow, at Orland, CA's Farm Sanctuary

Marc Bekoff's Psychology Today Blog: Animal Emotions Do animals think and feel? is a must-subscribe proposition.

Especially for Children
Kids & Animals: Drawings From the Hands and Hearts of Children & Youth

This inspirational book is the result of a collaboration between Dr. Bekoff and the Children, Youth and Environments Center at the University of Colorado to feature the drawings, writing, and activities of children and youth engaged in Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots programs in countries around the world. It is their goal that this book will inspire other young people to draw and write about their feelings for animals and to put their own ideas into action to care for animals, protect their habitats, and promote compassion, empathy, coexistence, and peace. It is perfect for classes, discussions, and activities focusing on humane education and conservation education so that we can all expand our compassion footprint.

Just click here to print out your own copy of Kids & Animals: Drawings From the Hands and Hearts of Children & Youth.


Marc Bekoff is Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and is a Fellow of the Animal Behavior Society and a former Guggenheim Fellow. In 2000 he was awarded the Exemplar Award from the Animal Behavior Society for major long-term contributions to the field of animal behavior. Marc is also an ambassador for Jane Goodall's Roots & Shoots program, in which he works with students of all ages, senior citizens, and prisoners, and also is a member of the Ethics Committee of the Jane Goodall Institute. He and Jane co-founded the organization Ethologists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals: Citizens for Responsible Animal Behavior Studies in 2000. In 2009 he became a faculty member of the Humane Society University. Marc also is a scholar-in-residence at the University of Denver's Institute for Human-Animal Connection, where he is working with colleagues to develop the field of Conservation Social Work.

Marc's main areas of research include animal behavior, cognitive ethology (the study of animal minds), and behavioral ecology, and he has also published extensively on animal issues. He has published more than 200 papers and 22 books, including Species of mind: The philosophy and biology of cognitive ethology (with Colin Allen, MIT Press, 1997); Nature's purposes: Analyses of function and design in biology (edited with Colin Allen and George Lauder, MIT Press, 1998), Animal play: Evolutionary, comparative, and ecological perspectives (edited with John Byers, Cambridge University Press, 1998), Encyclopedia of animal rights and animal welfare (Greenwood Publishing Group, 1998), and a book on the lighter side, Nature's life lessons: Everyday truths from nature (with Jim Carrier, Fulcrum, 1996). His children's book, Strolling with our kin was published in Fall 2000 (AAVS/Lantern Books) as was The smile of a dolphin: Remarkable accounts of animal emotions (Random House/Discovery Books). The cognitive animal: Empirical and theoretical perspectives on animal cognition (edited by Marc, Colin Allen, and Gordon Burghardt) appeared in 2002 (MIT Press), as did Minding animals: Awareness, emotions, and heart (Oxford University Press) and Jane Goodall and Marc's The Ten Trusts: What we must do to care for the animals we love (HarperCollins). Marc has edited a three volume Encyclopedia of Animal Behavior (Greenwood Publishing Group, 2004), and a collection of his essays titled Animal Passions and Beastly Virtues: Reflections on Redecorating Nature was published by Temple University Press (2006).

A summary of Marc's research on animal emotions titled, The Emotional Lives of Animals: A Leading Scientist Explores Animal Joy, Sorrow, and Empathy and Why They Matter, was published in 2007 by New World Library, and his and Jessica Pierce's book on the evolution of moral behavior titled Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals was published by the University of Chicago Press in 2009. Marc has also edited a four-volume Encyclopedia of Human-Animal Relationships: A Global Exploration of our Connections with Animals for Greenwood Publishing Group (2007). Marc's book, Animals Matter: A Biologist Explains Why We Should Treat Animals with Compassion and Respect, was also published in 2007 (Shambhala Publications) and Temple University Press published Marc's children's book, Animals at Play: Rules of the Game in 2008. The two-volume revision and expansion of Marc's 1998 Encyclopedia of Animal Rights and Animal Welfare was published in November 2009 (ABC-CLIO) and The Animal Manifesto: Six Reasons For Expanding Our Compassion Footprint was published in February 2010 (New World Library). Marc is working on a number of new books including Ignoring Nature: Animal Losses and What We Must Do About Them Now (University of Chicago Press) and Rewilding Our Hearts (New World Library). He is also working with Steven Kotler on a project dealing with the emotional, moral, and spiritual lives of animals. 

Marc's work has been featured on 48 Hours, in Time Magazine, Life Magazine, U.S. News and World Report, The New York Times, New Scientist, BBC Wildlife, Orion, Scientific American, Ranger Rick, National Geographic Kids, on NPR, BBC, Fox, Natur GEO, in a National Geographic Society television special ("Play: The Nature of the Game"), in Discovery TV's "Why Dogs Smile and Chimpanzees Cry," and in Animal Planet's "The Power of Play" and National Geographic Society's "Hunting in America." Marc has also appeared on CNN, Good Morning America, and 20/20.


Some of the articles here contain copyrighted material, the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. I am making such material available in my efforts to advance understanding of social justice and human bond issues, among others. I believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material in this article is distributed without profit for research and educational purposes.