“Animals and people cannot survive without each other”

The following is a Facebook post from Cindy Buckmaster, director at the Baylor College of Medicine. She studied neurology and behavior at SUNY and is one of the leading lights in the fight to preserve our right to own animals. It is reprinted with her permission.

I have been traveling, speaking and working on several projects to open communication across animal interests and philosophies, so we can move from a place of angry arguments about fiction, that threaten to separate animals and people in unprecedented ways, to one of loving solutions based in reality that will keep us together. Animals and people cannot survive without each other. That’s a natural fact. (snip)

I’ve thought about this a lot over the years and it seems to me that one of the central difference between animal welfarists and AR folks is that AR folks perceive animal needs from a human POV. Welfarists consider the animals’ POV, based on what we know about their ethological needs and what we ‘feel’ from them in our interactions with them. The irony here is that many AR folks don’t interact enough with the animals they are concerned about to know either…and that’s where most of the arguments stem from. I’ve scanned your discussions from the past few weeks and have chosen a few representative examples for further consideration from a welfarist perspective, as defined above.

Nearly all AR conclusions rest on animals being “free” in the open spaces of Nature. The impact that domestication has had on the animals’ needs and what they require/prefer now (animal POV) is only considered superficially in these AR persepectives because, for the most part, these folks have not had strong working relationships with the animals in question. So they speak from a place of ignorance. Many folks who identify as AR are really welfarists at heart and want what is best for animals, but they’ve been brainwashed with fiction for decades. We need to educate them.

Here are a few examples for consideration:

1) Carriage Horses
Draft horses have a strong psychological need to work. It is fundamental to their health and well-being, an intensely strong drive…much like border collies in the dog world. They don’t thrive without some form of work and it would, actually, be cruel (animals’ POV) to allow them to languish in fields with nothing to do. Many of the horses pulling carriages in cities across the country worked in fields when they were younger. That work is too hard for them now. Pulling carriages with a few people on them is light duty and it allows them to fulfill their intensely strong need to work, while engaging their social nature with strong bonds with their owners and others in their new family groups (horses and people).

They have never been “free” in Nature, and have thrived in their domesticated partnerships with their owners. AR claims against carriage horses are, generally, based on concerns of exploitation and safety. So, let’s be clear here. These animals MUST work for their physical and psychological well-being. The folks who care for them have to have jobs in order to feed them, house them and keep them healthy. These people choose to work WITH the animals they love to accomplish that objective. We should all be so lucky:) Claims about animal health and safety have been repeatedly refuted. There have been a small number of accidents and some of the horses have been hurt, but this is also true of people walking across streets, playing sports, and driving cars. Accidents are unavoidable, yet none of us choose to stay in our homes all day and night. Life is for living. And these horses deserve the same.

2) Animals in Sea World
Many of the same arguments regarding animal POV apply here. These animals are also domesticated and thriving. Cetaceans are smart and curious. They enjoy challenges and are social by nature. Those needs (animal POV) are satisfied in their domesticated arrangement with their trainers and caregivers at Sea World. The folks at Sea World are masters in positive reinforcement training and use this technique to keep their animals in perfect health and excellent body condition. And, through this work, they develop strong, loving bonds with these animals.

In all of our relationships with domesticated animals, we should continue to strive to do better by them. And as we learn more about them, we do. I know that this particular aquarium group is pouring millions of dollars into creating larger tanks for their large mammals. This sounds good to me, though they are also doing well in their current arrangement (animal POV).

The AR folks would like these animals to be “free”. Again, this doesn’t account for what is actually best for these domesticated animals because it centers on a human POV. They are not experiencing this scenario from the animals’ perspective. If freed, they would lose their domesticated family group and their enriched lives and be doomed to a life in a strange, threatening and expansive sea filled with dangers they’ve never learned to recognize or avoid and food they’ve never had to hunt. I fail to see how these animals would thrive as well in this environment as their current one. In fact, when Keiko was released years ago (when aquaria were not as well designed for these animals as they are currently), he died in less than two years. As I recall, he had pneumonia and starved to death. There were also reports of him interacting with people on boats over that time. The thought was that he may have been looking for food.

More recent discussions center around sending these animals to “sea pens”, but this also seems like a cruel move to me. These smart and social mammals will, again, lose their domesticated family groups and the enriched way of life they enjoy with their caregivers and trainers. Space isn’t the be all and end all for these animals (animal POV).

3) Circus animals
I don’t know as much about this topic, but it’s clear from the conversations I’ve seen on some of the FB pages, that these domesticated animals are also bonded with their trainers and caregivers who use positive reinforcement training to maintain their health and psychological well-being.

The main focus of AR groups regarding circuses has to do with elephants. Again, they insist that these domesticated animals should be “free” and their arguments don’t include an animal POV on how that experience would play out for them. They also push for these animals to be removed from their current family groups and sent to sanctuaries.
In my work, we are hearing the same about chimps.

Here are the potential problems with that, from the animals’ POV: a) Animals will be separated from their family groups and both of these species rely strongly on their social connections with their family. For domesticated animals, people are among their “family” too. b) Their current caregivers are trained and skilled at providing for their physical and psychological well-being. They are well versed on their individual needs (They are not all the same!) and they work together with their animal partners, as entertainers, to have the financial resources needed to ensure that these animals are cared for properly.

Sanctuaries rely on public funding which can be unpredictable. These animals are very expensive to maintain and I don’t think placing them in this sort of uncertainty is responsible or humane (animals’ POV). In addition, if most of the experts are working with these animals currently, who will be caring for them in the sanctuaries? Most ‘outsiders’ don’t have near the level of training or expertise as the folks who have been working directly and intimately with these animals for decades. Based on this fact, alone, I am concerned about the level of physical and psychological support these animals would receive in sanctuaries.

As a side note, there has also been some discussion on the use of ‘guides’ with elephants. Again, I don’t know much about how these tools are used to shape and direct behavior, though I would love for someone to explain it clearly and simply, so we can have a factual discussion about it. I was upset by one of the posts I read wherein it was referred to, reflexively, as a “weapon”. This kind of inflammatory language is not objective or helpful in our discussions. Whether or not something is considered a “weapon” is based entirely on how it is used. For example, even water can be used as a “weapon” if one so chooses. Responsible trainers do not harm their animals when working with them and we should ask questions and learn, rather than insult and attack folks when we don’t really have all of the information we need to have an informed opinion on the matter.

The bottom line on all of this is simple. If our domestic animals are thriving with us, there’s nothing to change. If we need to do more for them to optimize those arrangements, while they are with us, we should…and most of us are always working to do so. Most of the arguments between AR folks and welfarists have more to do with human vs animal POVs. And it’s the animal POV that matters most, when it comes to animal well-being. Enjoy your day, All!

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