One century ago in the 1915 trenches of World War I, a young engineer named Hugh Lofting was moved by the sufferings of innocent horses and mules drafted into the horrifying vortex of human destruction. Needing something to say in letters home to his small children, he invented a certain doctor to minister to the beasts. This remarkable man could, Lofting explained to his children, talk with animals. He would name his doctor “Dolittle” and place him in Victorian England amidst all that period’s rich discoveries of the living world.
The last century has been the worst in history for relations among humans and between humans and non-human animals. Perhaps we might look ourselves in the mirror and ask whether we should still aspire to talk to the animals—who doesn’t share Lofting’s dream?—or whether we should aspire instead to turn down our chatter and do a better job of listening to what animals need us to hear.