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Our Symphony with Animals: On Health, Empathy, and Our Shared Destinies    by Aysha Akhtar order for
Our Symphony with Animals
by Aysha Akhtar
Order:  USA  Can
Pegasus, 2019 (2019)
Hardcover, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Dr. Aysha Akhtar's Our Symphony with Animals: On Health, Empathy, and Our Shared Destinies explores how the kind of relationship we have with different animals support or damage our humanity. The author, a leader in the fields of animal ethics and neurology, shares her own story of the difference a dog, Sylvester, made to her own life and struggle with childhood abuse.

As Carl Safina (author of Beyond Words) says in the Foreword, 'these stories are about recovery, renewal and hope.' They fall into three parts - Healing with Animals, Breaking with Animals and Joining with Animals - all addressing the question, 'how does our empathy with animals - and lack of it - affect our health in the deepest sense of the word?'

In the first chapter, Dr. Akhtar explores human treatment of animals during and after natural disasters; interactions relating to domestic violence; companion animals in long chronic care and PTSD cases; and how they have helped psychiatric patients and prison inmates. They have made a huge difference!

The second chapter moves to the other side of the equation to reveal the damage humans do to themselves - and other people - when they hurt animals. 'A strong link exists between violence toward animals and violence toward humans.' The author goes as far as to interview a serial killer, hoping to understand the roots of his horrific acts. I found her descriptions of new animal cruelty investigation squads (e.g in the NYPD) encouraging, though the cases they pursue are not.

Dr. Akhtar also talks about 'the public health dangers of industrial animal farming' and how our high consumption of animal products 'causes more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire transportation sector.' Her final chapter, Joining with Animals, examines the formation of empathy with our fellow creatures, with many fascinating examples. She ends by challenging us to make our world a better place, one life at a time. Highly recommended!

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