Book review: My Life as an Animal

My life as an animal: A Memoir – Adventures, Music, Animal Rights by Andrew Tyler; Loop Books, 2017, £7-99 (available from Animal Aid: https://www.animalaidshop.org.uk/books-dvds/animal-rights-books/my-life-as-animal-by-andrew-tyler)

Andrew Tyler was widely known as the former director of Animal Aid, a post he held for 19 years. However, his memoir contains many surprises. It charts his difficult early years, including an eight-year stint in a Jewish orphanage, travels around North America in the late 1960s, and a series of interesting encounters arising from his work as a music journalist.

The structure of the book is unusual. It starts with Andrew’s decision to contact Dignitas and make arrangements for his assisted suicide in Zurich. Andrew had been suffering from Parkinson’s disease and a severe degenerative disease in his back, and was reluctant to shrink into “pain, infirmity and indignity” or to “eke out more years without purpose”. He died in April 2017, having devoted many years to improving the lot of both human beings and animals through his work as an investigative journalist and as an animal rights activist.

The book ends with reflections on his time at Animal Aid, delivered in a question and answer format, descriptions of 19 rescue dogs that lived with Andrew and his family over a 33-year period, and a moving postscript by Andrew’s wife, Sara Starkey. An 8,000-word article and a speech delivered at a conference in Virginia round off an inspiring book that, thanks to Andrew’s journalistic skills, is well written with a strong narrative.

Andrew was drawn to animal rights following a chance encounter with a small bird that flew repeatedly at a glass panel trying to escape from an office block. There must have been something about her plight and her persistent efforts to break free that inspired Andrew to devote so much of his life to raising awareness of the plight of the billions of animals who are sacrificed for food, science or sport. His phlegmatic approach to euthanasia might make some readers feel uncomfortable, despite being applied equally to his own situation and that of his ailing dogs, but there is no doubt that he lived a life of purpose in which all lives were valued.

Anne Orgée

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