The trivialization of anthrozoology and welfare in companion animals, my view

This article includes references to most statements. Those that do not have it are merely an opinion developed by the author, based on his empirical knowledge and independent research in the area. At no time does this article refer to people, but to facts. Opinions are debatable, facts not.

As expected, I can see an increase in using “anthrozoology” by individuals without proper education and a complete misunderstanding of this field. It is being used only for social, political, economic and other personal human interests. Why do we do it? Because we can.

I’m afraid that anthrozoology is losing its scientific line and following a commercial line. It would be a dangerous path that we humans are building.

Below, I’ll share my general view on the subject.

Anthrozoology

Anthrozoology is the study of the relationship and interaction between human and non-human species, involving different areas of the natural and social sciences. It’s not about the benefits of non-humans to humans.

Also known as Human-Animal Studies (HAS), this area explores the space that animals occupy in the cultural and social world of humans, and their interactions (de Mello, 2012). In an alternative, albeit similar, definition, HAS incorporated a sustained interest in understanding and analyzing how we humans relate to other species (Birke & Hockenhull, 2012).

Although anthrozoology and HAS are used synonymously, these two terms show a degree of difference. Anthrozoology is commonly used in the natural sciences and HAS in the humanities, thus anthrozoology is more restricted in its area.

There are also three widely used terms that, even with vaguely definitions, they are used to describe phenomena at the macro (population, group, species or society level) and micro-level (individual animals and people: human-animal interactions (HAIs), human-animal bond (HABs) and human-animal relationship (HARs). 

My field in anthrozoology, since 2008 (I am a “solitary knight” in this specific field so far),  is the behavior modification (popular labeled as “training”) in companion animals. I study and research, mostly in-person, the interactions with humans (trainers and owners) and them. Then, I create statistics, models and update the earlier ones in order to have a precise approach to specific situations. I complement my studies with other fields and researches.

Domestication—an introduction

  • Current zooarchaeological studies show that the dog was directly the first animal domesticated by humans (15,000-30,000 years ago) for hunting, followed by sheep, pigs, and cows for wool or skin, meat and milk. The horses (5,000 years ago) played an important role in the humans. Initially, they were used for feeding afterward like animals of transport and sport.
  • The next domesticated animals would be cats, chickens, llamas, alpacas, and camels, followed by smaller animals such as rabbits (less than 2,000 years ago). Other animals were not suitable for domestication because of their ferocity, slow growth, habits of territoriality and tendency to panic.
  • Domestication is the process whereby populations of animals change genetically and phenotypically in response to the selection pressure associated with life under human supervision. 
  • Domestication is an evolutionary process acting through three different pathways, in addition to natural selection (which continues also in captivity): (1) Relaxation of specific natural selection pressures (such as predation and starvation), (2) an intensified human selection for preferred traits (e.g. growth, appearance, and reproduction), (3) a development of traits which are correlated to the ones selected (e.g. increased relative gut length in fast-growing broilers).
  • Variation, heritability, and selection remain in the same driving forces during domestication as they are in the wild.  
  • Domestication changes the intensity of behavioral response. 
  • There is no evidence that domestication eradicated the natural behavior of the species.
  • Innate behavior is the behavior present at birth, or immediately after, which develops without obvious environmental influence.
  • Inherited behavior is genetically conditioned behavior that passes from parents to offsprings.

Welfare (or its farewell?) in companion animals

Animal welfare is a science with objective research approaches to understand the needs of animals. It uses measures such as longevity, disease, immunosuppression, behavior, physiology, and reproduction.

There is no specific definition for the term “welfare”, and it differs from the use that the nonhuman animals are used for human purposes.

Livestock animals are a good example of the complexity of defining welfare.

The use of animals in the varied areas created by humans forced the need to establish rules of welfare, a result of the evolution of the scientific study of animal behavior and its adaptation to the human complex environment and  domain.

Nonhuman species have to adapt to the human environment. It involves a behavioral and endocrine (quick) adaptation.

The welfare of the animals that live in human societies is governed by the imitation of their natural environments by building artificial environments.

Five freedoms (UK FAWC, 1979 / Webster, 2005)

  1. Freedom From Hunger and Thirst by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigor. 
  2. Freedom From Discomfort by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area. 
  3. Freedom From Pain, Injury or Disease by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment. 
  4. Freedom To Express Normal Behaviour by providing sufficient space, proper facilities, and a company of the animal’s own kind. 
  5. Freedom From Fear and Distress by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering. 

It is argued that the Five Freedoms model is simplistic and provides a sense that it may be possible for animals to live without certain negative stimuli.

The full elimination of hunger and thirst, for example, is not realistic, because at certain times of day animals will experience hunger or thirst and such experience will motivate them to eat or drink. Rather, the five freedoms are used to guide the husbandry practices that address various freedoms. Thus freedom from thirst drives a need to provide adequate drinking water.

The five freedoms are a combination of factors that will plausibly deliver a life with good welfare. Understanding that welfare is an internal state, there is no guarantee fulfillment in an environment that meets the five freedoms, since it is pragmatically just not possible to consider every chicken in a chicken farm as an individual.

This brings us questions about all the general laws and “welfare” standards for companion animals. Is welfare an antonym of being well?

Theories of well-being

There are three main theories about how to give a good life for nonhuman animals:

  1. Hedonism: a good life is one in which there is a sufficient quantity of positive experiences and sufficiently few negative experiences. 
  2. Perfectionism: a precondition of a good life is to be able to realize significant species-specific potentials. 
  3. Preference theory: to have a good life it is necessary to achieve what one wants or strives for—that is, to have one’s preferences satisfied.
My welfare vs well-being Paradox. According to some welfare views, dogs should sleep in a big bed. Is the welfare of this dog compromised, or the respect for the individual’s well-being self-choice should prevail?

Ethics-an introduction

  • Ethics is a moral principle or set of moral values held by an individual or group.
  • Morality is the principle that concerns the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behavior.
  • An argument is a set of assumptions or justifications that lead to a conclusion. This process can be good or bad, but never true or false. Arguments can be explicit (when assumptions leading to the conclusion are all stated) or implicit (when assumptions leading to the conclusion are under-understood). The latter is widely used at the advertising level. They can also be classified as valid or invalid, strong or weak, convincing or not.
  • A premise is a declarative sentence that serves as the basis for a reason, which will lead to a conclusion.
  • An opinion is an expression of a subjective belief or a position on a particular subject, not always based on true premises, and most of the time based on emotional motives or social pressures.
  • Rhetoric is the art of speaking and convincing others without regard to the truth of the premises.

In the Western world, there is currently an increase in the discussion of animal rights, in its other variants. In the ethical and moral component, there are currently six theoretical positions on the use of animals: Contractarianism, utilitarianism, the view of animal rights, the view of the relationship, the view of respect for nature and the hybrid view.

Contractarianism

  • A moral theory that claims that only individuals who can understand and choose to participate in an agreement or “social contract” may have moral rights.
  • People do not have the obligation to treat animals morally or give them rights. Contractarianism had strong support over the centuries and is still an influential reason why many people are antithetical in conferring rights over animals.
  • Another term for contractarianism is “social contract theory”.

Utilitarianism

  • A philosophical current that has as its principal actions that produce the greatest benefit and utility for all, and is used to describe any ethical position that judges whether an action is right or wrong in considering whether the consequences of an action are good or bad.
  • Far from a utopian vision, utilitarianism focuses on consequences rather than on intentions.
  • Calculating the positive or negative consequences of actions allows us to have a more developed and own critical reasoning, evading ethical systems based on rules of right x wrong. 
  • The simplicity of utilitarianism avoids many of the problems arising from ethical approaches that compel it to follow rules or principles.
  • On the other hand, this flexibility gives rise to enormous individual responsibility because often the conclusions may be at odds with conventional moral beliefs.

Animal Rights

  • A model that defends animals individually and their needs.
  • Ethical theory present in deontological visions.
  • The interests of all affected beings count, but other things are to be considered as well.
  • What matters is respectful treatment, including respect for life.
  • Rights should be respected and one should not allow interests to overrule rights.
  • Comparing animal rights view with utilitarianism can be helpful in some situations.

Relational view

  • The nature of the human-animal relation and strength of the specific human-animal bond are the focus.
  • A useful view for professionals that deal directly with humans and nonhumans.
  • The relational view will build on, and try to sustain, animals in their various roles as companions, hobby animals, farm animals, pests and wild animals.
  • According to the relational view, our duties still concern individual animals.

Respect for nature

  • Focus the protection of species, genetic integrity, ecosystems, and other collective entities matter.
  • It does not as such take sides regarding how to deal with value conflicts.

Hybrid view

  • In a hybrid view, one holds a view that is distinct from each of the original views but combines elements from at least two of them.
  • The most common combination is to join elements from utilitarianism and the animal rights view.

Companion animal studies

I will always defend that all subjects and studies should be impartial and serious, whether or not the results are reliable for humans. Future research should not focus on the benefits from A to B (or vice versa), but the short, medium, and long-term consequences of these activities for both A and B respecting the scientific model integrally.

This view is due to the almost inexistence of studies on the harmful effects for non-human animals of their use for social, therapeutic and sporting activities. The few studies that exist at the moment are mostly with inconclusive results that “require further research.” Coincidentally (or not), some studies follow the popular market, the social trends and, with a quick search, we found that third parties involved in these areas sponsor them.

It seems that some studies are also made to prove the scientist’s convictions, not the reality, and to follow some trends.

Some principles about the scientific method

  • Science is the systematic knowledge of the physical or material world acquired through observation and experimentation. Science is a process, not a conclusion.
  • Science does not answer moral questions. What benefits (if any) that result from any kind of experiment (human or animal) do not in themselves show that some experiment is morally justified.
  • The scientific methods are principles and procedures for the systematic pursuit of knowledge involving the recognition and formulation of a problem, the collection of data through observation and experiment, and the formulation and testing of hypothesis.
  • The scientific method is a series of steps followed by scientific investigators to answer specific questions about the natural world. It involves making observations, formulating a hypothesis, and conducting scientific experiments. Scientific inquiry starts with an observation followed by the formulation of a question about what has been observed.
  • A hypothesis is a suggested solution for an unexplained occurrence that does not fit into current accepted scientific theory. The basic idea of a hypothesis is that there is no pre-determined outcome. For a hypothesis to be termed a scientific hypothesis, it has to be something that can be supported or refuted through carefully crafted experimentation or observation. That’s why a hypothesis should always have clear definitions and avoid anthropomorphism (in the case of nonhuman animals).
A basic model of the scientifc method for a study/paper.
  • A theory is an explanation extensively confirmed and consistent with the scientific method.
  • Causation is the relationship between an event A and a second event B, provided that the second event is a consequence of the first.
  • Correlation is the linear relationship between two random variables. In general statistical use, correlation or co-relationship refers to the measurement of the relationship between two variables, although correlation does not imply causality.
Correlation vs Causation

Some examples of trendy studies.

A recent study that found that dogs could lower your risk of schizophrenia was promoted, like many others, as evidence and absolute truth about the benefits of having dogs. However, a specialist quickly posted a critical analysis showing how wrong the study was made. Click here.

Assistance animals, Animal-assisted therapies, activities, interventions, and the new trendy emotional support dog boom as a way to replace the assistance dogs services and circumvent the possible weak laws in a country, also have trendy studies. A quick search shows all the benefits of nonhumans to humans. About the opposite, only a few shy studies not very conclusive. The most recent study at the date of this update refers to the inconsistency of providing good welfare standards on dogs in the therapy industry in US. I invite you to search more for it.

Dr. Hal Herzog is an authority in the HAS field, one of the few that stand-up about this subject. In the following link, there is a long list of his articles showing how some trendy studies aren’t so factual as they are widely spread and used by experts to promote their areas. Click here.

Pseudoscience

  • Pseudoscience is all material that makes sciencelike claims but provides no evidence for them. 
  • Pseudoscience is characterized by a casual approach to evidence (weak evidence is accepted as readily as strong evidence), sometimes using popular terms or theories without solid definitions or evidence.
  • Indicators of pseudoscience include irrefutable hypotheses and a continuing reluctance to revise beliefs even when confronted with relevant criticism.
  • The terms science and scientific are often used to increase the credibility of a claim although no evidence is provided to support it. 
  • The misuse of appeals to science to sell products or to encourage certain beliefs is a form of propaganda. They are often identified by phrases such as “In my experience . . .” and “I’ve found that…” Sometimes anecdotal evidence takes on the character of common wisdom: “They say that…”; “It’s common knowledge that…”; and “Everybody knows that….”

Can we say that some studies are pseudoscience?

That one I invite you to think about. You have some tools in this article to analyze it, and you must search for much more, always with critical thinking. Don’t believe in one single article (this included), study or only because of an expert or someone you admire mention or wrote about it. Don’t just believe what comforts you, regardless of the possible factuality to the contrary. There are thousands of studies, so maybe some try to be more striking than others. Be skeptical, critical and question everything.

Critical Animal Studies

Critical animal studies (CAS) is an interdisciplinary scientific field and theory-to-activism global community, which originated at the beginning of the 21st century. The core interest of CAS is an ethical reflection on relations between people and other animals, firmly grounded in intersectionality and anarchism. Its aim is to integrate academic research with political engagement and activism. As it overlaps with a number of other disciplines, CAS includes scholars from a diverse range of fields, as well as animal rights activists. (Wikipedia)

You can read more about CAS here.

Is CAS a threat to anthrozoology? 

I don’t think. CAS is one more approach/view on this “adolescent” field in our human societies.

Like everything in our life, balance is needed. I would say that these areas shouldn’t be elitist, nor extremists. We need reflection, discussion, and proper argumentation.

If CAS has questions that “the other side” cannot explain or argues with, it means that there is no knowledge yet, and vice versa. So, all discussion must be a bridge to learn and evolve together. Our goal (I believe) is the same.

The future of non-human animals in our societies depends on our actions and decisions.

The obsession with defending something cannot misrepresent scientific reality, nor should science be an instrument for such.

The right choice? I believe we are still very far from knowing. Thus, less clash and more constructive debate are important.

My view

  • Anthrozoology exists to study and at the same time to question and research the use of animals in different societies and cultures to discuss all controversial subjects with skepticism and to show all the present facts and possible future consequences of our current actions.
  • Is domestication good or bad? Why should an animal be trained? Is selective breeding really necessary? What about animals used in sports, social therapy/assistance/support, zoos, and other activities/purposes created by humans for humans?
  • Which right do we have to invade their brains, manipulate them and study them? Can we really call animal welfare in an artificial environment like ours or in captivity? Why should we continue to domesticate and keeping animals? Is it time to let them go? There are challenging questions that should be discussed in a pragmatic (not emotional) view. I believe that future studies will finally show how the human hand is destroying the species that we use for our own wish only.
  • This great distinctive view it is all about culture and social morality, which allows the use of nonhuman animals as a family, as a tool or a food product, each one of them with specific ethical laws, rules, and procedures, especially with economic proposals and social manipulation around the “welfare” word.
  • It is my belief that animal welfare has become a product. There is no conclusive definition of welfare and they differ according to the usefulness the non-human species has for the human. There is an adaptation of the general concept.
  • But the hard truth is that it is the use of animals in our society that determine their success of survival.
  • We live in a society where some we love, some we ignore, some we use, some we eat and some we hate.
  • We, humans, created other species zoos inside of our human zoo. We created laws that protect the other species that are in our society, serving our purposes, under the premises of an undefined concept of “welfare.” We use biased studies (some merely to prove personal convictions) and a manipulative social brainwash through several channels, creating the illusion that captivity, mutilation, and their use for human purposes is actually “love for them.”
  • We, humans, created laws that forbidden specific groups or breeds, creating (and promoting) an illusion that their instincts are evil. We develop concepts of wrong and right to the other species in a romantic anthropomorphic way, so we have the total control over them and decide their utilities for us, following all kinds of social, economic, and politic agendas. We judge everything for them, including their own life.
  • We need to reflect on human limits and on our own ethical issues. For example, Some dogs are harnessed for their safety, others for ours. Some subjects like vegan food, euthanasia, neutering, adoption and rescue, breeding, experiments, social and sport use, cloning, the guess from experts that some actions will make the dogs “happy,” to put them in machines to search inside their brains or manipulate the environment to make them useful for us. What is the line that separates our decisions in the name of security from romantic anthropocentrism?
  • From primitive hunters, we became not only sophisticated dictators for the companion animals but a very predictable social species.
  • It is a rather weak and worrying approach to use experts and extensive publicity (in the form of “knowledge”) of the benefits of animals to humans as a way of creating empathy and concern about the subject. An archaic bargaining chip.
  • I defend that we need honestly discuss this issue with skeptical questions and a truly open and critical mind, not with conditioned social responses, “right or wrong” hate speech or political decisions that are only beneficial to one side. We have already seen that does not work. It’s time (1) to leave the offices and see the real world and/or (2) to give an opportunity to the practical technicians on the field.
  • Scientists should have the audacity to evolve their methods and not based on the methods used for human evaluation. If other species really matter, they need a specific model for them. Until we reach that point, we must be very careful with the points we want to prove and avoid both anthropomorphism and anthropodimorphism.
  • As a person educated in the area that daily study, research, and create scientific/empiric models to inform the society adequately, I will not follow the current “one-side” benefits. Science should not have a price.
  • It is my opinion that, in the companion animals subject, knowledge is being replaced by design, marketing strategies are creating utopian visions of how we will be “a better person and more animal-friendly” if we buy product A or B.
  • Please, be critical on this subject, always ask that people for their education and experience in the area, read the studies and articles carefully (including the sponsorships and related references), and think out of the crowd.
  • Until then, I’ll try to do my best for them. I will not be their voice. I will try to have them heard.

I recommend you to read all the references if you want to go deep into these subjects. All references have detailed information about the general topics I mentioned in this article.

Updated on March, 8th, 2020.

References

Abrantes. R. 2015. Animal Training My Way—Merging Ethology and Behaviorism. Wakan Tanka Publishers.

Alves, R., Albuquerque, U. (2018). Ethnozoology, Animals in Our Lives. Elsevier. 

Bekoff, M. (2010). Encyclopedia of animal rights and animal welfare / edited by Marc Bekoff ; foreword by Jane Goodall.—2nd ed. ABC-Clio, LLC.

Blank, R. & Hines, S. (2001). Biology and Political Science. New York: Routledge.

Buss, D. (2001). Human nature and culture: An evolutionary psychological perspective. Journal of Personality, 69,955-978.

DAMÁSIO, A. (2018). The strange order of things.  Pantheon Books, New York. 

DeMello, M. (2012). Animals and Society: An introduction to human-animal studies. Columbia University Press.

Donalson, S. and Kymlicka, W. (2011). Zoopolis—A Political Theory of Animal Rights. Oxford University Press.

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Fraser, D. (2008). Understanding Animal Welfare, The Society in its Cultural Context. Wiley-Blackwell.

Greene, J. (2013). Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and Them. New York: Penguin books.

Herzog, H. (2010). Some we love, some we hate, some we eat. HarperCollins Publishers. 

Hickman, Cleveland P. (2008). Integrated Principles of Zoology, 14 Edition. McGraw-Hill.

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Horowitz, Alexandra. (2014). Domestic Dog, cognition and Behavior—The Scientific Study of Canis familiaris. Springer.

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Based on a translation of Vergleichende Verhaltensforschung, with revisions. Springer Science+Business Media New York.

Joyce, R. (2006). The Evolution of Morality. MIT Press books.

Krimsky, S. (2019). Conflicts of Interest in Science. Hot Books.

Martin, P., Bateson, P. (2007). Measuring Behavior, An introductory guide. Cambridge University Press.

Moorehead, D. (2016). Animals in Human Society, Amazing Creatures Who Share Our Planet. University Press of America.

Morris D. (1967). The Naked Ape: A Zoologist’s Study of the Human Animal. Delta(1999).

Morris, D. (1969). The Human Zoo. Kodansha America, Inc.

Nayar, P. (2014). Posthumanism. Polity Press.

Pinto-Poulton, A. (2014). Animal Welfare. Wakan Tanka Publishers. 

Sandøe, P., Christiansen, S. (2008). Ethics of Animal Use. Blackwell Publishing.

Sandøe, P., CORR, S. & PALMER, C. (2016). Companion Animal Ethics. Wiley Blackwell.

Scanes, C., Toukhsati, S. (2018). Animals and Human Society. Elsevier.

Taylor, N. (2013). Human, Animals and Society, An Introduction to Human-Animal Studies. Lantern Books. 

Watson, J.C., Arp, Robert. (2015). Critical Thinking—an introduction to reasoning well. Bloomsbury Academic

Whitehead, H. (2008). Analysing Animal Societies, Quantitative Methods for Vertebrate Social Analysis. The University of Chicago Press. 

Yeates, James (2019). Companion Animal Care and Welfare- The UFAW Companion Animal Handbook. Wiley Blackwell