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Animals and Society

Dr. Vincent Wincelowicz

 

Goats graze on a rocky plainHave you ever wondered what children ask Santa Claus? I have had the opportunity to find out over the past few years, and besides assuring Santa they have been good and telling him what they would like for Christmas, they ask about the reindeer. Their concept is framed by media depictions of reindeer, where they have experienced reindeer on television, movies, and books. What would a child think if Santa suggested that he and his Elves sit down for a hot meal consisting of reindeer steak or stew? In Scandinavia and Canada, reindeer hunting is still practiced and some groups of people depend on the meat from reindeer to survive.

Regis University’s new course, Animal Exploitation: International Law and Ethics, focuses on cultural, sociological, and criminological beliefs and theories about animals. The field of Human-Animal Studies (HAS) has been around for a number of years, and represents a cross-discipline of a variety of fields, including art history, anthropology, biology, film studies, geography and many more.

Examining HAS through a variety of perspectives, we will attempt to seek an understanding of human-animal relations, both in the past and now. Can we understand animals as beings in themselves, separate of our learned knowledge of them? Because the field of HAS is still developing, we have some freedom to define criteria about what issues may structure this field.

Over the years, the media has helped to shape our opinions of animals. Looking at how we anthropomorphize animals, how can we avoid bias in our observations of these creatures? Do animals have rights? I am sure by now you are pondering some questions you have not considered. For instance, tonight I plan to have dinner and will probably order a beef prime rib. That’s right, I am eating a cow! We have moved away from naming our food, such as, yesterday, I ate pig, not pork. It seems like a minor mental revision, but in reality, do we really know where our food comes from? In 1967, Ralph Nader wrote about meat processing plants in an essay entitled Watch that Hamburger. The following year (1968), he wrote Something Fishy.  I have provided both of these articles to my classes on ethics without providing the year or author. The discussions are always spirited and interesting. Many cannot believe we have conditions that exist in both the fish and meat industries. Then I reveal the author and year; they are shocked to believe that conditions have not changed. I must say so am I!

So, how did we evolve into the beliefs that we are superior to animals? Most of us cannot outrun some of them; most of us could not survive every day without shelter or other conveniences.  So why do we divide them into “companion” and “non-companion” creatures? I have a dog. Do animals have emotion? I recommend viewing Animal Emotion: Why Dogs Smile and Chimpanzees Cry (See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u5l_Mh2QAqg).

Years ago, during a difficult time in a relationship, a friend advised, “If you want love, get a dog. They will always love you, be happy to see you, and excited to be with you.” I would like to believe I have been able to use this wisdom in my personal life, but in many ways, he was right! When I get home in the evening my dog is excited to see me, no matter what my mood. He seems happy whether or not I play with him, and every day is a new day for him, which seems like the cup is always half full.

I also have llamas. They never seem interested in me unless I am carrying some treats they like. They are great companions on hikes, able to carry all my gear, and we have an understanding - I feed them, they “work” for me. I know that they are companions and would never consider eating them or using their hides for gloves, but if I was living in Peru, llamas are the consumables; every part is used, different story. I once asked a Llama breeder why llamas were so docile and willing to be “beasts of burden”, and he responded that the ones that are not that way are eaten. We’ll examine the theory that animals are here for our use in our course.

Other sites you may want to explore:

http://www.animalrightshistory.org/
http://www.deakin.edu.au/law

In closing, I am in the early stages of putting together a discussion about Animals and Society and different ways that students at Regis can get involved. If you are interested in participating please email me at vwincelowicz@regis.edu.

For more information about the criminology program at Regis University, contact an admissions advisor at 877-820-0581.