All creatures big and small

Updated 13 Mar 2016


From small furry creatures to giant majestic beasts, the living beings that we share our planet with come in lots of different shapes and sizes, exhibiting an awe-inspiring display of nature’s many wonders. But ever so often we fail to marvel at their all-round awesomeness and acknowledge their importance for our own continued existence. Animals not only play a vital role in supporting human survival but also bring joy to our lives, and that’s the message Tracey Stewart wants to communicate in her first book, Do Unto Animals: A Friendly Guide to How Animals Live, and How We Can Make Their Lives Better, a tome that tries to inspire us to be more compassionate towards all creatures, furry, feathered, or scaled.

The book — which first came to the world’s attention when the writer’s husband, comedian Jon Stewart, plugged it during one of his final episodes as host of The Daily Show, instantly spiking its sales — finds the former veterinary technician sharing her love for animals, as she conveys the warmth and fulfilment they provide her and implores others to treat them with more kindness.

Do Unto Animals begins with a section titled ‘Animals at Home’, in which the writer discusses the creatures that are closest to us — the ones we often adopt, bring into our homes, and cherish as pets. Her focus is primarily on our feline and canine companions, as she opines that “most people are not equipped to provide at home the very specialised and nuanced care that more exotic creatures require.” Tracey offers advice on how best to take care of our four-legged friends, including tips on understanding their body language, learning the art of the animal massage, and making toys and treats that will keep our pets happy. She also advocates spaying and neutering animals, adopting from the shelter instead of purchasing animals from pet stores, and considering virtual adoption for those who aren’t in the position to keep a pet at home but still want to make a difference in the lives of dogs and cats in need.

Tracy Stewart’s book is a light read that inspires compassion towards animals

The animal advocate then turns her attention to ‘Backyard Wildlife’, sharing information about critters that act as a workforce in our gardens, below and above ground. Examined therein is the role played by what Tracey calls the “landscaping team”, “pest control team”, and “cleanup crew”, explaining how everything from bees and bats to earthworms and crows play a crucial part in maintaining our gardens, and why we should take care of them while humanely dealing with any unwanted visitors.

In the third and final section of the book, Tracey talks about ‘Falling in Love on the Farm’, shedding light on the emotions and intelligence possessed by barn animals, while highlighting the cruel, traumatic practices — like separation from their young ones, mutilation, confinement to gestational crates, improper shearing, and ill-treatment in industrial, factory farms — that bring sorrow to these lovely creatures. The book wraps up with inspirational stories of animals rescued by Farm Sanctuary that will break your heart.

“I would jump in front of a train to save my family, my dogs, and any cow. Cows are my favourite animal of all those that can’t live in my house. Their large doe eyes, warm breath, and wet noses warm the cockles of my heart. My son says that the cow is his favourite animal, as well. When he was very young, he asked me why I didn’t eat hamburgers. I said that I didn’t eat hamburgers because I love cows too much. He said, “I love them, too! It’s so nice how they give us hamburgers and milk.” — Excerpt from the book

Sprinkled throughout the text are animal-related stories and reminiscences from the writer’s own life, including an encounter with “Jon’s cat” (an animal to which she is allergic) at the start of their relationship that involved the feline leaping up and attaching himself to her face with claws, and the experience of getting a pregnant cow back on her feet by massaging her muscles and then assisting in the birth of her calf, an incident she describes as one of the happiest days of her life.

True to its title, the style of the book is very “friendly”, and even the more difficult topics are broached with gentleness and restraint. The writer’s voice is very amiable and her passion for her subject is palpable as she celebrates the relationship between animals and humans, empathising with the farm gang and seeing beauty in the existence of the creepy-crawlies that others may see as a nuisance. Accompanying Tracey’s words are beautiful, colourful illustrations by artist Lisel Ashlock, which make Do Unto Animals one of those books that instantly put a smile on your face; just looking at the cute drawings of adorable critters is sure to cheer you up.

Despite how charming it is, however, the book is a little light on content. The selection of animals is a bit narrow and obvious, and there is very limited information on each topic. Other than a handful of scattered facts, there isn’t much on offer here that most animal lovers won’t already know. Still, while Tracey doesn’t dig deep enough as she explores the world of fauna, her effort might inspire you to explore the issues further. Plus, someone advocating compassion towards animals and bringing animal rights issues to the forefront can never be a bad thing.

Perhaps this colourful book is better suited for younger readers who haven’t had much experience with the animal world, as it could potentially inspire them to learn more about animals, serving as a good starter to raise awareness about animal issues.

It is fairly obvious that Do Unto Animals has been put together with a lot of affection. Tracey’s enthusiasm is contagious, and while most readers won’t necessarily learn a lot from the book’s contents, they will be left with a gentle reminder that we need to be kinder and do more for the creatures that make our lives better in so many ways.

The reviewer is a Lahore-based freelance writer and critic.

Do Unto Animals: A Friendly Guide to How Animals Live, and How We Can Make Their Lives Better
By Tracey Stewart
Illustrator: Lisel Ashlock
ISBN: 978-1579656232