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Animals and Society: An Introduction to Human-Animal Studies

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1 Animals and Society: An Introduction to Human-Animal Studies
Chapter 11: Working with Animals Copyright Margo DeMello and Columbia University Press, 2012

2 Working with Animals Since the first wolves began partnering with humans, at least 15,000 years ago, humans have worked with non-human animals.

3 Ethnographic Fieldwork
What we know of the relationships people who work with animals have with animals comes primarily from sociology, and particularly, from the work of sociologists who have used the ethnographic approach, working in countless settings in which humans and animals intersect, such as veterinary clinics, research laboratories, medical schools, animal shelters, circuses, dog training schools, and pet stores.

4 Ethnographic Fieldwork
Sociologists clean cages, help with surgeries, participated in medical experiments on animal subjects, and even euthanized animals, all to gain perspective on the conflicting attitudes of the people who work in these industries as well as the coping mechanisms they use to carry out their day-to-day work. Doing ethnography involves trying to understand the “native’s point of view.” In this case, that means the people who work with animals. How do they feel about what they do? What do animals mean to them? Observing the interactions between human and animal is one way to understand how people feel about and relate to animals. This type of observation may show, for example, that informants may say one thing, but their interaction with (or lack thereof) with animals often indicates an entirely different sentiment.

5 Ethnographic Fieldwork
Engaging in ethnographic research in environments that are generally closed to the public—slaughterhouses or animal research labs, say—is often difficult to do. The people who work in these facilities are often suspicious of outsiders, because the work they do is either not well understood by the public, or it is heavily stigmatized. In addition, these facilities are often targets of undercover operations by animal rights activists, and are sometimes subject to activists who break in, document activities, and often vandalize the facilities or free animals

6 People who work with animals
There are some obvious points that we can make about people who work with animals. People who work with animals develop different relationships with them, and have different understandings of them, than those who live with companion animals. People who work with animals, for example, often feel that they know animals better than those who do not; for example, ranchers and farmers are heavily critical of animal lovers who oppose their husbandry practices—for instance, the branding or tail docking of animals. Dog trainers, too, feel that their specialized knowledge separates them from people who lack this training.

7 People who work with animals
People who work with animals also see animals differently than those who do not. Because our relationship with and understanding of animals is shaped by what they mean to us and what their value is to us, animals will mean something very different for different people. For example, the social construction of a pet dog and a racing dog are very different, and these differences derive from the conditions in which the animals live, and what the animal’s function is.

8 People who work with animals
A person who lives with a companion greyhound sees this dog as a loving companion, with a history and interests and desires. A person who breeds or trains racing greyhounds, however, see these dogs as having an economic value that results from their ability to win races; they are not part of a family, have no real history (outside of the track), and their interests do not matter. Because of the different ways that these dogs are socially constructed, they are treated differently—one lives in the house and sleeps on the bed with his people, while the other lives in a kennel, races other dogs, and is killed or given away when he can no longer perform—and, obviously, interacted with differently. Racing dogs are rarely pet, for example, kissed, or cuddled; they are handled only when necessary and are rarely even looked at. Instead, the racing track worker refers to the dogs by number (rather than by name), and doesn’t talk to or about them except in the context of work.

9 People who work with animals
These interactions and relationships do not occur accidentally, or incidentally. They are the product of a very specific working environment in which animals are seen, often, as products or machines or units of value. People working in animal shelters or research laboratories construct boundaries between themselves and animals in order to protect themselves from the emotional connections that otherwise may emerge between themselves and the animals with which they work. For some, like shelter workers or veterinarians, they must both care for and about the animals, but must also be able to detach themselves from them. Others, like slaughterhouse workers, must learn immediately to detach themselves from the work that they do, and the animals that they do it to.

10 People who work with animals
Clinton Sanders calls much of the work that people do with animals “dirty work,” in that it often involves dealing with disgusting substances—blood, pus, feces, urine—and can be degrading to one’s identity. In addition, it is emotionally dirty work—it often invokes messy emotions, like grief, anger and depression. On the other hand, for some workers, like animal rescue workers and some others, they often embrace this kind of dirty work as a badge of honor, bragging about how easy it is for them to open up and clean abscesses, for example.

11 People who work with animals
Many people who work with animals do so because they say they love animals. Others do so because it is a job. Others do so because animals provide a profit, or are a useful tool. And for many people, the reasons overlap in complicated ways. For instance, pet breeders often say they do what they do because they love animals. But many make a profit off of them. In addition, while they say that they love, say, dogs, and this is why they breed them, their very activity—dog breeding—directly and indirectly results in the death of dogs, via culling (in which they directly kill unwanted or imperfect babies) and euthanasia from overpopulation. In addition, as is the case with dog fighters and cockfighters, many of these men say that they “love” their dogs or their cocks. Yet again, this love is full of contradictions, because when the dog or cock performs poorly, they must be killed, and even when the animal performs well, he will most likely die during one of his fights.

12 K9 Officers and their Dogs
In this setting, as in so many others, nonhuman animals are defined and treated as objects, on the one hand, and sentient individuals on the other. As coworkers, the dogs are both occupational resources and weapons. They are trained to track people and find certain objects and are used to threaten or apprehend unruly citizens. In these roles they are required to be disciplined, attentive, and occasionally violent. At the same time patrol dogs are also part of the officer’s household and are frequently taken to public situations like schools and town fairs where they are expected to be docile, nonthreatening, and reliably obedient. These dual and conflicting expectations often result in a significant level of tension in the officer’s relationship with his animal partner.

13 Animal Rescue Volunteers
Animal rescue volunteers who work on the front lines rescuing abandoned and unwanted animals collectively spend millions of dollars per year on everything from spaying/neutering and other medical costs, food and other animal maintenance costs, and the other expenses involved in rescuing animals. Not surprisingly, rescuers see themselves fighting to save animals against a never-ending tide of breeders who breed too many animals, pet stores that sell animals to the public with no screening or education, and the general public that abandons animals. For these volunteers, sometimes the fatigue of knowing how many animals continue to be abandoned and euthanized feels overwhelming. Known as “compassion fatigue,” animal rescuers are at risk for being overwhelmed and traumatized by the constant animal suffering, and the knowledge that what they do is never enough. Many rescuers are depressed, and deal with that depression in unhealthy ways. Many, for example, use food or alcohol or drugs to self-medicate.

14 Animal Rescue Volunteers
Another difficulty faced by animal rescue volunteers is that they often have an antagonistic relationship with the workers at the animal shelters that they assist. Rescue volunteers often feel that they care more about animals than shelter workers, that they are more knowledgeable about the particular breed or species of animal that they rescue, and they sometimes look critically at shelter workers whose jobs require that they must euthanize animals. In return, shelter workers often see rescue volunteers as untrained, unprofessional, and unaware of the realities of working in a shelter and the hard realities of, and need for, euthanasia.

15 Shelter Workers and Veterinarians
A number of recent studies have examined the stress experienced by workers who have to kill animals as part of their jobs, including shelter employees and veterinarians. These studies show that significant numbers of workers experience “perpetration-induced traumatic stress,” related to the killing of animals in their care. We call this the “caring-killing paradox” in which many people who are drawn to work involving animals do so because of an attachment toward them, which paradoxically results in their participation in the animals’ deaths. As with animal rescue volunteers, depression, substance abuse and high blood pressure are a few of the health issues that these workers suffer.

16 Veterinarians For veterinarians, their job is to help animals, and they do, which is tremendously satisfying. On the other hand, veterinarians (and veterinary technicians and other veterinary staff) must also deal with pet owners who are often irresponsible and whose actions can sometimes cause animals to suffer. They must deal with a great deal of ambiguity; for instance, how do they respond when clients ask them to perform procedures on their animals that they may disagree with, such as declawing cats or removing the tails, or cutting the vocal chords, from dogs? Worse, veterinarians must regularly deal with the inevitable deaths of their animal patients, and the suffering of their human clients. Veterinary schools, in fact, now routinely offer courses which deal with “end of life” issues, demonstrating how important this subject is to veterinarians.

17 Shelter Workers For shelter workers, many are attracted to the job because of wanting to help animals, but for others, the job is just a job. For those who do love animals, it can be tremendously satisfying because they are able to save lives. But like veterinarians, they are also faced every day with irresponsible owners who abandon their animals, and some workers must themselves be tasked with the job of killing animals who were brought to their shelters. For this reason, shelter workers, like animal rescue volunteers, score very high on compassion fatigue surveys.

18 Surrendering Animals The top three reasons why people give up their companion animals to shelters: moving, allergies, and behavior problems. Sociologists have found that many owners were ignorant of basic facts about companion animals, and this lack of knowledge was another contributing factor in their decision to abandon their animals. This is especially unfortunate given the amount of resources that shelters often offer to adopters—from behavior training classes to literature to help lines and consultants who are willing to help new adopters make successful adoptions. The fact that so many people who surrender their animals are ignorant of these resources may well illustrate their lack of interest in trying to solve the problem that brought them to the shelter.

19 Surrendering Animals Research shows that many people who surrender their animals to a shelter feel guilt and shame for what they did. Those who had pets as companions, rather than for utilitarian reasons, feel more guilt when they surrender an animal than do people with guard dogs. These animal owners must find ways of coping with their guilt. They often do so by displacing the blame onto others, such as their landlord or partner who made them give up their pet. Many owners also pretend as if no other alternatives existed other than bringing an animal to the shelter; that way they can’t accept the blame for their animal being killed. Many blame society for the situation that they are in (saying, for example, that “nobody wants dogs”), all to keep themselves from accepting the responsibility of abandoning their dog or cat. Many people will blame the animal themselves, assuming that there is something wrong with the animal which made him or her so difficult to care for. Finally, many owners blame the shelter workers or other rescue workers themselves for not finding a home for their pet.

20 Surrendering Animals Some owners will describe the animal that they are abandoning in glowing terms, so that if they are euthanized, obviously it is the fault of the shelter for not trying harder to find them a home. Also, by talking up the good points of the animal, the owner can feel better about the animal’s chance at adoption, so they can feel less guilt and can talk themselves into thinking the animal will get a good home. Owners also pick shelters that have a better chance, at least they think, of adopting rather than euthanizing the animal. Other coping strategies include directly blaming the animal for their surrender (because they are chewers, biters, or just not friendly enough), and some justify their actions by saying that the animal would be better off dead than in another situation.

21 Shelter Workers How do the shelters cope with seeing animals abandoned at their facility daily, with the guilt that is often directed at them by owners, and with the fact that they actually have to interact with the perpetrators of animal suffering? Shelter workers feel stress combined with guilt due to their role in euthanasing animals. These feelings come from the obvious conflict between caring for and killing animals—both are the contradictory, but necessary, halves of a job which demands that people—often animal lovers—must kill animals because other people have failed them. To make matters worse, in recent years, the no kill movement has emerged within the animal humane movement. This movement aims at ending the euthanasia of healthy animals in shelters in the United States, and often pits so-called “no kill shelters,” often private, against public, open-door facilities that still euthanize animals.

22 Shelter Workers One way that shelter workers deal with this is by displacing their feelings onto others, just as the pet owners do. Many workers blame shelter management, while most blame the person surrendering the animal. They not only blame the owners, but want the owners to accept responsibility for their actions. Many shelter workers also blame society in general, and also pet breeders for breeding too many animals. Another coping mechanism employed by shelter workers is to take the moral high ground, seeing themselves as morally superior to everyone else in society. While society has created this problem, it is only a select group of people who have the fortitude to help solve it. Workers in open-door facilities also blame no-kill shelters, which often pick and choose which animals they take in, and thus end up with more adoptable animals than those in the open-door, “kill shelters.”

23 Shelter Workers Animal shelter workers often borrow coping mechanisms from owners too, maintaining that euthanasia is often the “best alternative” for an animal, rather than getting one’s hopes up for an animal to be adopted. In general, many coping strategies employed by shelter workers involve emotional distancing—while new employees often get emotionally attached to individual animals, and do all that they can do to prevent an animal from being euthanised, more experienced staff know to keep one’s distance in order to maintain one’s emotional health. For example, many shelter staff know to evaluate animals based on their adoptability or marketability, in terms of making the decision about who lives and who dies, rather than on any emotional connection they may have with an animal. Others don’t talk about the work that they do when at home, in order to create an emotional separation between the stress of work and the sanctity of home.

24 Ranchers Cattle ranchers enact very complicated relationships with animals. On the one hand, the animals that they work with are raised for one ultimate purpose—to produce milk or to produce beef . They are ultimately a product with a clear economic value. On the other hand, scholars working with ranchers have shown that ranchers recognize cattle as beings with minds, and that many even have affection towards them. This creates a complex set of interactions between human and cow, and, as with animal shelter workers, a number of coping strategies. Many ranchers do form emotional attachments to their cattle, with women, who are generally relegated the tasks of bottle raising babies, being more open about their feelings. Some ranchers feel conflicted when bringing their cattle to slaughter, for example, even when doing so brings profit to the rancher. Most ranchers also report that they take a lot of pleasure in calving season, when ranchers often sleep with or near the cattle who are close to giving birth, assisting in their labor. They often have affectionate relationships with young cows or those that are deemed “special,” but as these animals get older, these relationships often shift. Like shelter workers, who must distance themselves from animals who are going to die, many ranchers will utilize distancing strategies; for instance, by minimizing the discomfort that they feel when a cow dies.

25 Ranchers Sociologists have written about the ways in which children must be socialized to learn utilitarian attitudes towards animals. Children who become ranchers learn, through programs like 4H and FFA, to develop new attitudes towards animals, and for many, this is an emotionally trying process, as children who started out as animal lovers must learn to say goodbye to the animals they’ve raised—animals who will be slaughtered for food. These kids must learn to manage their emotions and especially learn not to get attached to their animals. One strategy that older kids learn, for example, is no longer naming their animals; when they have a name, it’s too easy to get attached to them.

26 Laboratory Workers The men and women who work in medical research laboratories that use animals also have conflicted and contradictory relationships with the animals under their care. This includes the trained scientists whose research protocols are being followed, and the animal care workers who spend much more time with the animals than the scientists do.

27 Laboratory Workers Sociologist Arnold Arluke found that while many laboratory technicians ended up in their occupations simply to make money or as a stepping-stone to another job, many others were attracted to the work because of their love of animals. Not surprisingly, those who saw their work as just a job also saw animals as just part of their work, and in many cases, they viewed animals quite negatively. These workers, for example, hated the way that the monkeys displayed their antipathy toward their treatment and conditions—by screaming, pulling, grabbing, fighting, and biting. It shouldn’t surprise us to find out that these workers were unmoved by the death or suffering of the animals, and they did little to improve the well-being of their animals. Workers who took their jobs because of their affinity for animals, on the other hand, developed relationships with animals, spent their free time with them, advocated on behalf of them, and, because of their strong attachments to them, suffered greatly when they suffered or were killed. Many researchers and workers cope with the unsettling aspects of their work by compartmentalizing, or separating their scientific and commonsense responses to animals, which allows them to go home to their dog without feeling bad about what they just did to the dogs at the lab.

28 Laboratory Workers How do those who experiment on animals justify what they do? One way is by denying animals the capacity to feel pain. Some laboratory workers and researchers use terms like “discomfort” rather than “pain” to describe what the animals are feeling. Today, scientists can inflict pain on animals without giving pain medication when the researcher says that it is “scientifically necessary.” In addition, because mice and rats are not classified under the AWA as animals, they are exempt from even this regulation. Pain killers after surgery are almost never given in laboratory research, either because the researchers never even think about it, or because it would introduce another variable into the data.

29 Laboratory Workers Scientists “de-animalize” the animal when engaging in scientific writing. These methods—using the passive voice, emphasizing graphs and charts, using terms like “sacrifice” rather than “kill”—also serve to distance the researcher from the animal, and from what the researcher is doing to the animal. We call this “objective detachment,” which involves acquiring the skills “of appearing not to be affected by emotions. It’s easier for men to learn this than for women, because of the way that women have been socialized to feel empathy in our culture.

30 Laboratory Workers Some researchers and research technicians definitely feel something for the animals used in research. In 1993, the University of Guelph in Canada held a unique memorial service to commemorate and honor the animals used in research, and the school has held similar events in subsequent years. There is no doubt that these types of tributes provide some satisfaction and an alleviation of some complex feelings for the workers who participate in them.

31 Slaughterhouse Workers
Working in a slaughterhouse is among the most dangerous and low paid jobs in the country; the median annual earnings of a slaughterhouse employee in 2004 was $21,440, and the median annual salary of a meat trimmer was only $18,660. Slaughterhouse workers spend long days doing repetitive work at rapid speeds using dangerous equipment and sharp tools. They are hurt in a number of ways: they slip and fall in the blood, feces, and other fluids that cover the floors; they are kicked and cut by animals struggling for their lives; they are cut by knives that disembowel and disassemble animals; and they endure painful and chronic repetitive motion injuries. The industry’s ever-increasing line speeds increase the risk of being cut, bruised, burned, stabbed, blinded, dismembered, disfigured, and worse.

32 Slaughterhouse Workers
Slaughterhouse line speeds are constantly accelerating; for example, in chicken slaughterhouses, as many as fifty birds per minute can roll past workers. This means that employees must shackle, kill, or cut apart multiple animals every minute, for eight hours or more every day—often without breaks to check equipment, sharpen their knives, or rest for a few minutes. The noise level is high, and temperatures can soar to 120 degrees on the killing floor or drop below subzero temperatures in the refrigeration units. Since all birds and many pigs and cows are conscious as the workers shackle them, they are terrified—thrashing, kicking or flapping as they try to escape.

33 Slaughterhouse Workers
Slaughterhouse work has always been stigmatized. In many cultures, the work of slaughtering animals was done by slaves, while in other cultures it is performed by the underclasses. Slaughterhouses themselves are typically located on the outskirts of town, so that normal citizens do not have to hear the screams of the animals and the smell of blood. While society craves meat, it has no desire to either see animals being transformed into meat, nor to invite the slaughterhouse worker to dinner. How do these workers cope with a job that is stressful, hard, dangerous and involves killing animals?

34 Slaughterhouse Workers
It should not surprise us to learn that animals are treated as machines in this environment, and the workers learn to shut out any connection to suffering. Workers suffer not only from the physical problems from the hard work and unsanitary conditions, but many suffer psychological trauma as well. One recent study shows that prolonged work on a kill floor exposes workers to the risk of psychological damage, including post-traumatic stress disorder.

35 Slaughterhouse Workers
Sociologist Amy Fitzgerald has documented a spill-over effect from the violent work of the slaughterhouse into the surrounding community. This research shows that American counties that have slaughterhouses consistently have higher rates of violent crime than demographically similar counties that don’t. A number of studies now document the negative effects—primarily higher crime—of slaughterhouses moving into rural areas in the United States. Some scholars have suggested that the increases in crime can be traced to the demographic characteristics of the workers, the social disorganization in the largely-immigrant communities, and increased unemployment rates. Another suggestion is that the link between the increased crime rates and the violent work conducted in slaughterhouses can be explained by the loss of empathy experienced by the workers. As workers become desensitized to suffering, they can more easily cause suffering in humans as well.

36 Slaughterhouse Workers
One researcher interviewed slaughterhouse workers who told her that they have participated in extreme types of violence, even for a slaughterhouse. Many reported that they have, due to the line speeds and quotas that the workers must meet, beaten, strangled, boiled, and dismembered animals alive . These workers told about the effects this violence has had on their lives; the results included self-medicating with alcohol or drugs and domestic abuse.

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