For the love of animals

Mar 222011
Authors: Erin Udell

When CSU philosophy professor Bernard Rollin was 6 years old, his mother took him to an animal shelter. It was there, looking at the dogs, when he asked a shelter employee, “What happens to them?”

The employee’s answer was simple: Most of the animals are killed.

“I didn’t understand it,” Rollin said in a brusque voice. “I still don’t.”

On Tuesday evening, almost 30 people gathered in the CSU Bookstore to hear Rollin tell stories and read excerpts from his new book, “Putting the Horse Before Descartes,” which chronicles his 41 years at CSU.

It was here, after 10 years of teaching philosophy, that Rollin met a veterinary pathologist who suggested he teach an animal ethics class.

“If I believed in God, I’d say that the hand of God intervened,” Rollin said.

In 1978, during the first animal ethics class at CSU, several senior veterinary students came in to speak to Rollin’s class about what to expect in a surgical course, which included having to perform nine successive surgeries on the same dog over the course of a weekbefore killing the animal on the last day of operations.

“This actually became a tipping point in my life,” Rollin said of the beginnings of his career as an animal advocate.

Soon 58 of Rollin’s 138 sophomore veterinary students had signed a petition refusing to operate on an animal more than once. Eventually Rollin helped create a committee that ensured students would only perform single survival surgeries.

Students began to be graded on the quality of the animals after care instead of just the success of the surgery.

Rollin also wrote a law, which passed in 1986, requiring the use of painkillers in lab animal experiments.

“I asked myself why we didn’t have moral obligations to animals, and it’s because they don’t have language,” Rollin said. “So what? What if they can’t do geometry or can’t write poetry?”

That thought served as the basis for more than 15 of Rollin’s books and several articles he has written.

Auria Tellechea, a Fort Collins resident who hopes to study humane animal husbandry one day, found the progress in animal treatment to be not only inspiring, but she also said she enjoyed Rollin’s conversational tone and meaningful yet humorous stories.

“He was hilarious,” Tellechea said, “just a great storyteller.”

Rollin told the crowd story after story about his adventures in Colorado, all pertaining to a beloved family pet that he said proved how much more emotionally developed animals are than previously thought.

“Morality is not a single shot shotgun,” Rollin said. “They (animals) are certainly more nice to us as we are to them.”

Senior Reporter Erin Udell can be reached at

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