The HSUS is in the news somewhere every day, and we expect continuing coverage because the moral urgency of our work demands constant exposure and then dialogue and then remediation. But regular attention is a relatively recent phenomenon for The HSUS and even for the broader cause. Not long ago, each press treatment of our issues seemed a minor cause for celebration. One of the people who inspired many a mini-celebration over the last four decades was my dear friend and longtime columnist Colman McCarthy.
"At Rest with the Animals" is an anthology published by Humane Society Press that draws mainly from Colman’s body of animal protection commentary as a 30-year columnist for The Washington Post. Together, these columns comprise a monument to Colman’s foresight and commitment to the principle of justice for non-human animals. As we revisit his columns, we can see it was not uncommon for him to provide an original moral framing of issues we’ve now come to debate in society in a serious way.
As a teacher, author, and public speaker, as well as a columnist, he addressed causes and issues before they became popular or mainstream, and in that way, he exhibited journalism and commentary at its best. If he had been transposed to an earlier age, Colman would have written about lynching before others saw it as the organized campaign of terror against blacks that it was, or about slavery or women’s rights or destruction of the environment before our moral compass gave us the right bearings. He’s been a soothsayer, and an elegant one at that.
"At Rest with the Animals" showcases the extraordinary breadth of Colman’s coverage of animal questions, as he ranges from the Arizona red squirrel to the Tennessee snail darter, from the distorted dietary guidelines of the federal government to the agricultural mindset of modern wildlife managers, from the depravity of a Pennsylvania pigeon shoot to the comical hunting forays of several American presidents. During his many decades of writing, Colman has defended the interests of downtrodden carriage horses and downed cows, circus animals and drugged racehorses, factory-farmed turkeys and threatened polar bears—bringing public attention to the grim realities of their plight. His original thinking, his sense of moral disgust, and his arch sense of humor are the stitched patterns discerning readers will identify throughout his columns.
As this work demonstrates, however, there is a happier, beautiful dimension to his writings, a dimension evident in the way that Colman simply celebrates animals—beavers, cats, cows, crows, dolphins, eagles, pigs, whales, and others. His love for animals comes through, making it clear that his concern for their well-being did not rely only on appeals to justice or fair treatment, but also to the majesty of animals each as original works of nature.
Even in the mid-1980s, when I first got involved in animal protection, it was rare to see a major columnist for any newspaper, let alone The Washington Post, writing about our issues. Colman was an inspiration to those of us who hoped to see a day when the news coverage of our concerns would go beyond the sensational or the superficial. He still is.
I’m proud that Colman agreed to let Humane Society Press, The HSUS’s publishing division, share his rich legacy of animal-friendly journalism with a new generation of readers. And I hope you’ll be one of them.