I slept my way through the majority of my first term at university. After years of fantasising about being a vet student and all the glamour of slicing and dicing up dogs and horses and getting elbow-deep in surgeries; saving lives and lounging around in scrubs, it was a bit of a shock to find myself stuck in a darkened lecture theatre with a hundred other dozing, hungover students trying to memorise complicated biochemical reactions and protein transport mechanisms. Our first two years were taught from proteins up. It took a whole two years before we graduated into considering the animal as a whole, and that was after a lot of lectures, exams and hours spent in the library studying cells, genes, proteins and even molecules. It was a revelation to discover I had to have a working knowledge of neurones, nerve bundles and then the entire physiology of the nervous system before I was even allowed to contemplate the definition of ‘pain’...Read More
I stumbled across this website whilst doing some research for a forthcoming post and felt compelled to share it! Animal Ethics Dilemma is a really interesting interactive resource created by a group of senior veterinary lecturers from various European institutions. The programme is primarily aimed at veterinary students but is free and accessible to anyone.
Animal Ethics Dilemma lets you learn about your own standpoint on animal ethics, by providing a computerised role-play game involving a number of case studies which you answer questions on. It also explains the tenets of several different ethical viewpoints: contractarian, utilitarian, relational, animal rights, and respect for nature, which are expertly explained.
I’d love to see more case studies added to the six currently listed, but so far its a really interesting resource to explore and use to reflect on your personal standpoint.
Several days ago outrage broke out over twitter regarding the legal sexual use of animals in Denmark and other European countries (although “rape” or sex that incurs any harm/injury is prohibited in these countries). The discussion led me to think about an essay by Peter Singer entitled Heavy Petting which essentially argues in favour of beastiality in cases where the animal involved in the act is not harmed. Intrigued as to how other people would feel about this utilitarian pro-beastiality outlook, I posted my view on the essay on the discussion forum in the aforementioned online animal welfare course, only to garner a handful of uncomfortable responses which were unsurprisingly unanimously against beastiality. Nonetheless, I think Singer raises an interesting argument which initially I struggled to refute.
Personally, despite being a huge fan of Singer’s work and preference utilitarian approach to animal welfare, I can’t help feeling entirely uncomfortable with the concept of beastiality. Having considered his points, I have two main issues with his argument:
- In my view, non-consensual sex regardless of species or circumstance is always rape. In cases of human rape, even where no physical damage is incurred, there is certain psychological trauma. How can we be certain that animals do not suffer psychological trauma from such an experience? Animal sexual behaviour is a different beast (no pun intended) to human sex, and without getting into the minefield that is whether/how many and how much other species engage in sex purely for pleasure, its pretty established that for some (female) animals, sex is always a traumatic and unpleasant experience. Even in (I imagine rare) situations where the animal shows signs of being interested in having intercourse with a human, such as Singers’ anecdote about Galdikas being sexually approached by a large male oranguatan, sexual boundaries cannot be established in the same way that it can between two consenting human adults.
- Secondly, I feel uncomfortable about using animals in any way which benefits humans but does not provide any abject benefit for the animal. This would appear to be such a situation, even if you could be absolutely certain that the animal underwent no harm- physically or mentally.
I implore anybody with even the teeniest smidge of enthusiasm for animal welfare to sign up for this informative, fabulous, FREE online course on Animal Behaviour and Welfare. I'm honestly not on commission for this site, but I can't claim complete impartiality as the tutors who have created this fantastic resource also happen to be my university lecturers. Nonetheless, sign up this summer whilst the course is still ongoing, learn about many different aspects of welfare science and engage in some lively, stimulating discussion with no less than 27,000 other students around the globe!
Education is at its best when its as internationally accessible, interactive and diverse as this.
A paper which is getting frequently linked to across social media platforms lately has been this study which argues that alongside humans (and human infants) dogs are capable of feeling jealousy.
In my small circle of aquaintances, the overwhelming response of those with a pooch is one of "well duh...". Initially, I felt myself agreeing with them, before I took a step back and tried to cleanse myself of the urge to anthropomorphise. Although it would be lovely to think that dogs were capable of the same complex emotional ability as we are, upon further contemplation I feel a little uncertain about the conclusions drawn in it.
I would argue the aggression stems from insecurity at feeling demoted in a pack situation because the pack leader (owner) is giving attention to and thereby promoting another individual/object. That is a far more primitive instinct and is different from feeling jealousy i.e. envious resentment. The dogs don't feel envious of the object receiving attention, they feel threatened by it. I’d argue that’s backed up by the fact that in most cases the dogs reacted aggressively or dominantly (to assert their position in the pack), whereas the emotional jealousy familiar to us doesn’t need to be (and often isn’t) acted upon.
I'm not sure whether the distinction is purely semantics, but my instinct is that human jealousy is a far more complex cognitive emotion than what is at the root of the behaviours shown in this study. Is it possible that we're guilty of anthropomorphising our pets, to save the dent to our egos if we knew that they don't love us in the same way that we love them?