Monday, December 30, 2013

Dog Guards Dead Friend

As if we didn't have enough examples of the loyalty of dogs, this latest video, taken in China, shows a dog who spent a full day and night guarding the body of his dead companion who had been killed by a car in the middle of a busy road.

This loyal friend only moved out of the road after someone finally moved the body of the dead dog from the highway and buried him or her in a park.

It was just two months ago that scientists at Emory University completed a study in which dogs were trained to enter an MRI scanner so that the scientists could measure their brain responses to a variety of actions. Gregory Berns, one of the neuroscientists conducting the study, wrote in the New York Times:

"In dogs, we found that activity in the caudate increased in response to hand signals indicating food. The caudate also activated to the smells of familiar humans. And in preliminary tests, it activated to the return of an owner who had momentarily stepped out of view...Many of the same things that activate the human caudate, which are associated with positive emotions, also activate the dog caudate. Neuroscientists call this a functional homology, and it may be an indication of canine emotions.  The ability to experience positive emotions, like love and attachment, would mean that dogs have a level of sentience comparable to that of a human child."
Berns' work is important because it gives scientific validity to those who need it. But videos like the one taken in China show us, in the simplest of terms, how clearly dogs feel emotions.
The question is: what are we going to do with that knowledge?

Friday, September 20, 2013

Popeye the Sailor: "Be Kind to Animals"

Originally aired in 1935, this Popeye cartoon offers a glimpse into anti-cruelty efforts of the early 20th century.  The episode begins with Popeye and Olive Oyl bonding as they feed birds in the park.  From their bench, they see Bluto atop his heavily packed cart, refusing water to his horse who was struggling to pull the load and whipping him mercilessly.  Popeye and Olive Oyl intervene, at which point Bluto insults Olive Oyl and throws things at her.   Popeye stands in for the horse's whipping, and eventually finds spinach on the cart.  Upon eating it, he is able to overpower Bluto, who had begun punching the horse in the face.  As Popeye fights Bluto, the horse frees himself and joins in to help.  The cartoon ends with Bluto pulling the cart as the horse has taken the driver's seat, whipping Bluto.

Aside from the obvious message to children that we should be "kind to animals," this cartoon has a few other interesting themes.

First, we see that interacting positively with other animals can be a bonding experience for partners.  Rather than framing empathy for other animals as an especially feminine interest, both men and women are depicted as concerned as a team.

Second, we see that violence against women and violence against other animals are linked.  Bluto is not only hitting an insulting the horse, but he is quick to do the same to Olive Oyl.

Third, we see that eating vegetables is a source of power for Popeye.  Rather than emasculating him, eating spinach gives him the ability to enact his "maleness."  A powerful counter-image to the notion that masculinity and meat-eating are inseparable.

Finally, Nonhuman Animals are not depicted as powerless victims completely at our mercy.  While the horse needed a human ally to help fight off his oppressor, we see that the horse actually liberates himself and fights back.

Thanks to Kim Stallwood for sharing this video on Twitter.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Google Earth Helps Save Stray Dog

Animal advocates have long been using the technology of the day to help communicate their message about animals to the public. Television, radio, Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube are all useful devices to gain attention to animals in need.

But this video shows something else; how Google Earth was used to bring awareness to the plight of a stray dog, later named Sonya, who had been living on the streets for close to a decade. Thanks to that technology, and the work of the rescuer featured in the video below and the group Hope For Paws, Sonya got off the streets and was given a chance at a safe, loving second life.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Explorers Race to the Poles, Animals Lose

Race to the Poles is an American documentary produced for Discovery Channel in 2000.  The film follows the international competition between America, Britain, Norway, and other countries keen on being the first to plant their flag.  Typical of many historical stories told from a Western perspective, the experiences of white males take precedence, while vulnerable populations are often relegated to the sidelines or ignored altogether.

Arctic exploration involved a great deal of heroism as men scrambled for fame and glory.  Much of their successes (and near successes--it took countless attempts before the poles were finally reached) were heavily dependent upon the native population that assisted them.  It is doubtful as to whether the European and American explorers were welcome in the first place, as Inuits, their land, and their waters have been heavily exploited by outsiders over the centuries.  Explorers often adopted a paternalistic attitude toward them.  It is known that Commander Peary, American explorer in the North Pole, took a 14 year old Inuit girl as a "mistress" (or what some might call a sex slave).  Many other polar explorers also sexually exploited native women and abandoned the resulting children.

Image from Peary's Nearest the Pole
Akatingwah, mistress of Perry's partner Matthew Henson

The exploitation of Nonhuman Animals was also central to the explorations.  Hundreds of dogs were transported by ship and pushed across hundreds of miles of ice in sub-zero weather.  Peary commented:  "Other dogs may work as well or travel as fast and far when fully fed; but there is no dog in the world that can work so long in the lowest temperatures on practically nothing to eat."  Many were run to death.  Others might be set free to "fend for themselves" (i.e. die) in the icy abyss.  Weak dogs were sometimes killed to be cannibalized by their languishing companions.

From Peary's The North Pole

Ponies, too, were pulled into the race.  British explorer Captain Robert Scott brought several Nordic ponies who were not able to withstand the temperatures and had difficulty walking in the snow.  Some starved to death, but Scott reports shooting the rest.

Image from University of Cambridge Polar Museum

Free-living animals like muskox, seals, narwhals, deer, and walruses also met gruesome ends as adventurers attempted the poles again and again and ran low on food supplies.  Still more were killed as the adventurers waited in boats for months for optimal traveling times.  An explorer describes a walrus hunt:
Mac had a Winchester automatic rifle, and he got off five shots so fast that before the first one left the muzzle the other four were chasing it. He dropped a large bull, which gave a convulsive flop and rolled into the water with a splash. I hit a couple, and with hoarse grunts of pain and fury they all wriggled off the ice and dived out of sight. The boat was hurried to within five yards of Mac's bull, and an Eskimo hurled a harpoon, hit the large bull, and threw overboard the sealskin float. At this stage of the game about forty other walruses, that had been feeding below, came up to the surface to see what the noise was about, spitting the clam shells out of their mouths and snorting. The water was alive with the brutes, and many of them were so close to us that we could hit them with the oars. A harpoon was driven into another by a corking throw [ . . . ]
- The North Pole

Photo from Bowdoin College Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum

Indeed, the entire expedition was thoroughly dependent upon the life and death of other animals.  The hair and skin of Nonhuman Animals often comprised their clothing.  Countless Nonhuman Animals were killed and rendered, potted, and otherwise preserved for the supplies picked up in nearby ports or donated by advertisers sponsoring the expeditions.

Image from The Ohio State University Archives
Frederick A. Cook Society Collection

Nonhuman Animal flesh stored in Scott's South Pole post
Image from Terra Nova

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

When Children Choose Vegetarianism

This video went viral last week and for good reason. In it, a young Brazilian boy named Luiz Antonio, when faced with a plate of octopus, questions why we eat animals who then have to die for us. He says, "I don't like that they die; I like that they stay standing up."  His mother has no adequate response for him, when faced with his many concerns. Ultimately she tells him that he doesn't have to eat the octopus and that "we're not going to eat it anymore."

Children often choose not to eat meat, and must be taught, or forced, to eat it. In fact, a quick perusal of parenting books and websites makes it clear that one of the most common food-related issues that parents have is the problem of making their children eat meat. Parenting "experts" treat this "problem" as one of children being picky or going through a phase, and parents are encouraged to model "proper" behavior or to disguise the meat in other kinds of foods in order to get their kids to learn to enjoy it. The question, then, is how many children are making a moral choice to abstain from eating meat?

For the most part, scholars have questioned whether children as young as Luiz even have the cognitive skills to make a moral statement like Luiz makes in the video: "When we eat animals, they die!...I don't like that they die."  But a 2009 study by Karen M. Hussar and Paul L. Harris (Children Who Choose Not to Eat Meat: A Study of Early Moral Decision-making)  showed that very young children like Luiz do in fact stop eating meat for moral reasons. In other words, it's not that they are picky or going through a phase. They, or at least some of them, have made a conscious choice on moral grounds.

One has to wonder how many children, if they had parents who did not cajole, manipulate, or force them into eating meat, would end up as vegetarians?

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Interspecies Love and Grief

There are countless videos and images on the Internet that can be used in the classroom that demonstrate that non-human animals not only have the capacity for love but can share that love with animals of other species. But does that love continue after their friend or beloved has died?

Clearly it does. Ethologists have long demonstrated the capacity of non-human animals to grieve, and countless examples exist of animals who mourn their young, their friends, and other animals with whom they have bonded, including of course their human friends.

In this heartbreaking video from 2012, Bella the dog mourns the death of Beavis, her beaver friend, who died just that morning. It is such a simple demonstration of love and loss that it's difficult to imagine a counterargument that posits any other explanation for Bella's behavior.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Monkey Rides the Metro

Scholars working in the field of animal geography have long studied the phenomenon of urban animals--wild and not-so-wild animals who find themselves sharing urban and suburban space with humans--and documenting many of the conflicts that emerge from that situation.

Many such urban animals have emerged in recent years, thanks to urbanization and suburbanization, as humans have increasingly encroached upon wild animals' homes. But in other cases, human and non-human animal have shared space for hundreds or thousands of years.

In India, for example, humans and monkeys have long co-existed. Because monkeys represent the god Hanuman in Hinduism, Hindus are expected to feed monkeys--mostly rhesus--on Tuesdays and Saturdays, and as this video shows, monkeys populate virtually every public space in India--even the Metro, where most commuters ignore this little traveler.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Grumpy Cat at SXSW

I saw this video the other day and was so intrigued by it I had to post it. Grumpy Cat, whose real name is Tardar Sauce and is one of the most famous cats on the Internet, has been at South by Southwest, the music, film, and technology festival which is held in Austin every year.

Thanks to Grumpy Cat's fame, she's one of the more popular "attractions" at the festival this year, as this video demonstrates. What makes this cat so popular that hundreds of people would wait in line to catch a glimpse of her? The video also brings up, as a number of Internet commentators have already noted, the question of whether Tardar Sauce is being exploited by her guardians. How much is too much for a simple cat who doesn't even really understand the nature of fame, much less the notion of what an Internet meme is?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Brazilian Dog Walks Two Miles to Feed Her Friends

Every once in a while you hear a story about the selflessness of a non-human animal that just takes your breath away. This is one of those stories. This video, narrated in Portuguese, tells the story of a dog named Lillica who lives in a junkyard in São Carlos, Brazil, and who walks two miles every night to meet with a kindly woman who rescues animals. The woman, Lucia Helena de Souza, makes a bag of food, and gives it to Lillica, who eats some of it. When she's done, Lucia ties up the bag, and Lillica carries it all the way back to the junkyard where she then gives it to the other animals--a dog, a cat, chickens, and a mule--who live with her at the junkyard.  The selflessness and honor she shows is truly a lesson for us all. As Lucia says to Lillica, who has been navigating a dangerous road every night for three years to feed her friends, Vá com Deus (go with God).

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Bacon as "Unanimous Food"

A new Oscar Mayer commercial depicts an unhip father trying to fit in with his son and his friends (one of whom is a boy of color) to finagle a piece of "bacon."  The first thing that strikes me as potentially problematic is Oscar Mayer utilizing a white male to make light of nonwhite culture.  Equally problematic, however, is the assumption that flesh consumption is "unanimous":  "When it comes to common language  we all speak bacon."  This slogan not only hints at a racial divide, but also works to normalize Nonhuman Animal consumption.  "Bacon" is not a unanimous food; it is a food of the privileged and a product of immense suffering and injustice.  It may not be accidental that all of the actors are male (as women are more likely to be vegan or vegetarian).  This could be normalizing male consumption patterns as universal to everyone, thus devaluing "feminine" concerns with Nonhuman Animal exploitation.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Horses Help Computer Addicts in Korea

Animal-assisted therapy--in which specially trained animals provide assistance and comfort to people with disabilities or traumas--has been around for years, and a relatively new form of AAT is called equine-assisted therapy, in which caring for and riding horses is used to help those with emotional and psychological problems, as well as to help those with physical disabilities.

In South Korea, one of the world's most wired societies, hundreds of thousands of people are addicted to life on the Internet. While most of these are teenagers, many are adults as well, including some whose addiction to online role-playing games has resulted in suicide or death, as in the case of a couple who neglected their three month old daughter to the point where she died of malnutrition.

One new response to the problem is the rise of horse therapy centers specifically aimed at treating internet addicted children and teens; it is thought that by encouraging young people to form bonds with horses, they will lose their need to go online and seek emotional solace in online fantasy worlds. According to proponents, the program is so successful, and the need is so great, that the Korean Riding Association plans to open an additional 30 centers in the next ten years.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Dolphins Help Seal Find His/Her Way Home

Lately there have been a number of stories in the media about dolphins; there was the injured dolphin who found his way into the Gowanus Canal and later died amidst the filth there; there was the dolphin with fishing line wrapped around his fin who appealed to some divers for help; and there was the disabled dolphin who was adopted by a pod of sperm whales.

These stories appeal to us because humans love dolphins--they are among the most charismatic of all the animals; intelligent, friendly, and compassionate.

In today's story, a family of bottlenose dolphins help a young seal pup who has been stranded, and has become too exhausted to swim. With the help of the dolphins, the seal regains his strength and begins to swim again, and while we don't know what his fate is, he looks to be strong enough to be on his own again.

Dolphins are known to engage in this kind of altruistic behavior--not just to their own kind, but to members of other species, including humans. That is certainly one reason why we love them so much.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Elderly Animals

A short video clip of Isa Leshko's photography project "Elderly Animals," a Walley Films production.  The artist discusses how our human experiences of aging and mortality intersects with that of other animals.  Many of the featured Nonhuman Animals are rescues.  Living on sanctuaries or as companions, they are free to experience a graceful, long life that so many others of their species are denied.

Elderly Animals: Photographs by Isa Leshko from Mark & Angela Walley on Vimeo.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Thinking about "Poultry"

While it's easy to get students, and the general public, to pay attention to the charismatic animals--pandas, polar bears, and the like--it's far harder to get anyone to pay attention to the lives of animals deemed by society as worthless, or worth nothing but a meal. That's the fate of chickens and turkeys, two animals who are raised, slaughtered, and consumed in the billions each year, and whose lives most people spend little to no time at all considering.

Showing films or film clips in a human-animal studies class that show the lives, intelligence, and emotions of chickens and turkeys is one way to open students' eyes to the idea that these animals do have inner lives, and do have needs, interests and wants, and that they can be just as interesting and deserving of our attention as pandas or koalas.

The Natural History of Chickens is a 2000 film which gives a variety of perspectives on chickens. It's often tongue in cheek and is not a "pro-chicken" film, but it does show chickens as far more than, to paraphrase Karen Davis "more than a meal."

Another fascinating film, this time on turkeys, is the 2011 film My Life as a Turkey. After a local farmer left a bowl of eggs on naturalist Joe Hutto’s front porch, he decided to incubate the eggs and raise the chicks as if they were his own children.  You can watch the entire film on the PBS website here.

Finally, another way to demonstrate the interesting personalities and inner lives of animals like chickens and turkeys is to show films made by animal sanctuaries or animal rights groups. Sandra Higgins of Matilda's Promise made a 2012 film on turkeys, filmed at Eden Farm Animal Sanctuary, called You Haven't Lived Until You've Hugged a Turkey. The film challenges the viewer to think of turkeys in a different way--from "food" to dignity, affection, and intelligence.

These films are a great way to demonstrate the social construction of animals, as well as to show the range of behaviors of animals who are little considered in our society.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Video shows dolphin reaching out to humans for help

This amazing video shows a dolphin whose fin has been entangled in fishing line, and is stuck with a hook, approaching a team of divers who are leading a team of snorklers and filming some manta rays in the waters off of the coast of Kona, Hawaii. It is incredible to see the trust of the wild dolphin who seems to know that the humans will help him or her; one of the divers, Keller Laros, works for eight minutes (while the dolphin periodically goes to the surface for air, and then returns for more help) to free the dolphin from the fishing line, after first hearing his or her cry, and then seeing the dolphin approach and even nudge the human for help.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Apes with iPads

Twelve zoos in the United States are now participating in a program called "Apps for Apes," in which orangutans are given iPads to play with. The orangutans choose the apps that they want to use; some like musical apps while others prefer drawing or painting apps. The zookeekeepers and orangutan advocates hope that the devices will not only enrich the animals' lives by allowing them to express their creativity, but that by showing zoo visitors how similar humans and apes are, it might encourage  people to want to help save them. In addition, advocates hope to use the iPads to better communicate with the captive orangutan s, and to allow orangutan s to communicate with other orangutan s around the world, via apps like FaceTime.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Can animals have pets?

Can animals keep other animals as pets? And if so, what does that mean? Many scholars claim that pet keeping among pets only happens in captivity and would never happen in the wild, while others are not so sure. When it does happen that an animal adopts another animal as a pet or surrogate child, there's no doubt that there is a level of affection and care there that seems awfully familiar to us as pet keepers ourselves. In this video from 2008, a monkey in Bali appears to have adopted a kitten as a pet. The kitten, at least in the video, seems not quite so sure about his new circumstances!

The Internet is made of Cats

Joel Veitch, creator of the website, created this video celebrating the popularity of cats on the Internet. This blog is full of cats on the Internet, and in fact, I can't go a day without watching at least one video of a cat online. Veitch suggests that without cats like Maru and Keyboard Cat, the Internet would collapse. A good project for your students would be to try to thoughtfully explain exactly why cats, along with pornography, are so central to the Internet.

The existential cat

Humans have been speaking through animals likely for as long as humans have been speaking. We use animals to express our fears, anxieties, joys, and sadnesses. Cats, because of their often independent, serious, and aloof qualities, perfectly represent a set of emotions that dogs can rarely express.

Henri, a French cat* who holds humans, holidays, dogs, and even other cats in contempt (he calls one of the cats with whom he lives "L'imbecile Blanc" or "the white imbecile") shares his angst in short videos which have attracted millions of fans. Henri's most watched video, "Henri 2: Paw de Deux," won the grand prize at the Internet Cat Video Film Festival in 2012. 

Henri's videos provide a nice opening to discuss why certain animals are used to represent certain emotions, personalities, and even social conditions.

*his name is actually Henry and he lives in Seattle.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Police officer stops traffic for family of ducks

How much should we go out of our way to help other animals? For this Lakewood, Washington police officer, he literally stopped the traffic on the freeway to let a family of ducks cross safely. This video is not just a nice feel good moment, but it can also be a way to open up a discussion about what it means to be compassionate. And since the do-gooder in this case was a man, and a law enforcement officer at that, you can also discuss with your students different understandings behind the notion of masculinity.

Dog teaches puppy how to use the stairs

This video is good for an "awww'" but it's also good for more than that. Can dogs learn? Of course they can! But can they teach? Many people would not grant them that ability. But in this cute video, the adult dog is clearly demonstrating to the puppy how to use the stairs. Not only is there nothing instinctive or natural about stairs, so each dog has to learn how to use them, but the adult dog knows how to demonstrate the proper technique, and when that doesn't work, resorts to applying a little bit of physical pressure.

Skyping dogs

In this video, two dogs appear to be skyping with each other, while one of their guardians looks on. There's no context or explanation as to whether the dogs know each other or are strangers, but it certainly appears as if they are having a somewhat mournful conversation with long lost loved ones. The video can serve as a good entry point for a discussion about whether, first, dogs can recognize each other through the medium of a computer, and second, whether and how they can communicate through it.

Kido plays the shell game

It's always fun to show students videos of other animals demonstrating their intelligence or emotional complexity, as a way of showing that animals are much more complex than most humans give them credit for. Many of those videos feature great apes, dolphins, parrots, or crows, and when we look at domesticated animals, dogs tend to be the animal most commonly seen.

But this video of a cat named Kido playing a shell game, which moves too quickly for most humans (including this one!) to get, is truly astounding.

Welcome to HAS Cinema!

Welcome to the newest project of the Animals and Society Institute, HASCinema!

HASCinema is inspired by a blog I visit frequently for my sociological teaching called The Sociological Cinema, created by sociologists Valerie Chepp, Paul Dean and Lester Andrist. The Sociological Cinema hosts Youtube videos, and shorts from other videos, which can be used to teach sociological concepts in the classroom. The videos are tagged by theme, making it easy for instructors to pick videos that are appropriate for lectures on subjects like race, gender, or class, for example.

I love using videos in my sociology and anthropology classes as well, but there's nothing I love more than using videos in my animals and society courses. The Internet is simply brimming with videos of animals--animals doing funny things, animals doing amazing things, animals and humans interacting in moving and important ways, and of course animals being exploited in horrific and mind-numbing ways.

I wanted to create my own version of the Sociological Cinema to provide human-animal studies professors with one place to visit to find videos to use in their own courses, along with a little bit of information about the video, and about some of the ways in which you might use it.

Please contact me at if you find this site useful, if you have a video that you'd like to contribute or alert me to, or if you'd like to write for the site yourself. I'd love to have your help!

What better way to introduce the new site than with Maru, one of the most popular cats on the internet. Maru's popularity stems from his love of, and skill with, jumping into boxes. Each of Maru's videos are watched by an average of a million people, and his Youtube channel is the eighth most popular channel in all of Japan. Maru's videos can be used in class as way to get students to discuss the differences between dogs and cats in terms of motivation. Some questions you might ask:

Why does Maru likes to jump in boxes so much? He hasn't been trained to do so, and gets no rewards for his behavior. Do animals derive pleasure from activities from which they don't derive any concrete benefit?

At the very least, I guarantee that YOU will derive some benefit by watching Maru jump into and out of a variety of boxes. I know I get happy when I watch him.