Quaker Universalist Voice

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Animal Status

A Book Review of Frans deWaal, Mama’s Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us About Ourselves (2019)

In the new book, Frans deWaal, Mama’s Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us About Ourselves (2019), the author seeks to validate the commonality of emotions in animals and humans based on their common evolutionary origin.

The author’s careful human observations of animal behavior support the conclusion for the reality of similar animal emotions with those emotions of humans. These observations aare not human projections of human emotions onto animals.  They do not support a distorted sense of human observer projection of human experience onto the observed animals. 

 The experiences of the final chapter in a human life span facing death, grieving, greed, ambition, boredom, treachery, cooperation, competition, uncertainty, and distributive justice are the same experiences observed in other animals.  These human emotions accurately reflect and describe the same behaviors in animals. 

It is not an accurate conclusion that animals are simply good at approximating and imitating human behavior in the observational setting.  Animals may act in human-like ways or humans may act in animal-like ways.  It is an evolutionary mutuality.  Observe and ask your pet to start the conversation.

Ethology is the study of animal behavior from an evolutionary perspective. This ethologist author of this book argues that our evolutionary past is a shared past and that all animal behavior, including human behavior, is driven by shared emotions. The emotions have the same evolutionary sources and the same observable behaviors.

The book is non-technical and is well written. The author vigorously makes the point for shared emotions by carefully describing and accumulating observations of many animal species. The author tilts his analysis toward the exploration of the kinder and gentler emotions and behaviors.  Shared violence and associated emotions are not emphasized. There is some meandering into related topics.

Quakers:  There is no reference to Quakers in this book.  The author’s thesis is clear that we (humans and other animals) are all of a piece. The issue presented for Quakers is how this evolutionary commonality of emotions, between humans and other animals, addresses the status of animals in our human-dominant globe. 

 The expansion of the scope of human rights to some, or all, animals and some, or all, plants is of monumental significance and full of practical challenges. The consequences of this shared emotional reality for human use of natural resources and diet are hard to set in a practical context for management.


  • Do Quakers have a particular role in recognizing the changing legal status of animals?
  • How should Quaker testimonies be clarified to include changing understanding of the shared emotional character and behavior of humans and other animals?


  • Frans deWaal, Mama’s Last Hug: Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us About Ourselves (2019)
  • Frans deWaal, Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? (2016)
  • P. Wohlleben, The Secret Wisdom of Nature (2019)
  • P. Singer, Animal Liberation (2009
  • C. Sunstein and M. Nussbaum, Animal Rights: Current Debates and New Directions (2005)
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