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.