Animals and Society: An Introduction to Human

Chapter 11: Working with Animals
C o py r i g h t M a r g o D e M e l l o a n d C o l um b i a U n i v e r s i t y P r e s s , 2 01 2
Since the first wolves began partnering with
humans, at least 15,000 years ago, humans
have worked with non-human animals.
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
 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 dif ferent sentiment.
Engaging in ethnographic research in environments that
are generally closed to the public—slaughterhouses or
animal research labs, say—is often dif ficult 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
 There are some obvious points that we can make about
people who work with animals. People who work with
animals develop dif ferent relationships with them, and
have dif ferent 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.
 People who work with animals also see animals
dif ferently 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
dif ferent for dif ferent people. For example, the social
construction of a pet dog and a racing dog are very
dif ferent, and these dif ferences derive from the
conditions in which the animals live, and what the
animal’s function is.
 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
 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.
 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
 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.
 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
 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.
 In this setting, as in so many other s, nonhuman animals are
defined and treated as objects, on the one hand, and sentient
individuals on the other.
 As coworker s, the dogs are both occupational resources and
weapons. They are trained to track people and find cer tain
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 par t of the of ficer’s
household and are frequently taken to public situations like
schools and town fair s where they are expected to be docile,
nonthreatening, and reliably obedient.
 These dual and conflicting expectations of ten result in a
significant level of tension in the of ficer’s relationship with his
animal par tner.
 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
 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.
Another dif ficulty 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.
 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 suf fer.
 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 staf f) must also deal with pet owners who
are often irresponsible and whose actions can sometimes
cause animals to suf fer.
 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 suf fering of their
human clients.
 Veterinary schools, in fact, now routinely of fer courses which
deal with “end of life” issues, demonstrating how important
this subject is to veterinarians.
 For shelter worker s, many are attracted to the job because of
wanting to help animals, but for other s, 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 ever y day with
irresponsible owners who abandon their animals, and some
worker s must themselves be tasked with the job of killing
animals who were brought to their shelters.
 For this reason, shelter workers, like animal rescue
volunteer s, score ver y high on compassion fatigue sur veys.
 The top three reasons why people give up their companion animals to
shelter s: moving, allergies, and behavior problems.
 Sociologi sts have found that many owner s 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 unfor tunate given the amount of resources that shelter s
of ten of fer to adopter s —from behavior training classes to literature to
help lines and consultants who are willing to help new adopter s 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 tr ying to solve the problem that brought them to the shelter.
 Re s e arc h s h ow s t h a t m a ny pe o pl e w h o s urre n de r t h e i r a n i mals to a
s h e lter fe e l g ui l t a n d s h a me fo r w h a t t h ey di d. Th o s e w h o h a d pet s a s
c o m pa nions, ra t h e r t h a n fo r ut i l it a rian re a s ons, fe e l m o re g ui l t w h e n t h ey
s urre n de r a n a n i mal t h a n do pe o pl e w i t h g ua rd do g s .
 Th e s e a n i mal ow n e r s m us t fi n d way s o f c o pi n g w i t h t h e i r g ui l t.
 Th ey o f te n do s o by di s pl ac ing t h e bl a m e o n to ot h e r s, s uc h a s t h e i r
l a n dlord o r pa r t n e r w h o m a de t h e m g i ve up t h e i r pet .
 M a ny ow n e r s a l so prete n d a s i f n o ot h e r a l te rn at ives ex i s ted ot h e r t h a n
bri n g ing a n a n i mal to t h e s h e lter; t h a t way t h ey c a n ’ t a c c e pt t h e bl a m e
fo r t h e i r a n i mal be i n g k i lled.
 M a ny bl a m e s o c i et y fo r t h e s i t ua tio n t h a t t h ey a re i n ( s ay ing, fo r
exa m ple, t h a t “ n o bo dy wa n t s do g s ”), a l l to ke e p t h e m selves fro m
a c c e pt i ng t h e re s po n sibilit y o f a ba n do nin g t h e i r do g o r c a t .
 M a ny pe o pl e w i l l bl a m e t h e a n i mal t h e m selves, a s s umin g t h a t t h e re i s
s o m et hing w ro n g w i t h t h e a n i mal w h i c h m a de h i m o r h e r s o di f fi c ul t to
ca re fo r.
 Fi n a lly, m a ny ow n e r s bl a m e t h e s h e lte r wo rke r s o r ot h e r re s c ue wo rke r s
t h e m selves fo r n ot fi n di ng a h o m e fo r t h e i r pet .
 Some owner s will describe the animal that they are abandoning in
glowing terms, so that if they are euthanized, obviousl y it is the
fault of the shelter for not tr ying 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.
 Owner s also pick shelter s 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 chewer s, biter s, or just not friendly enough), and
some justify their actions by saying that the animal would be better
of f dead than in another situation.
 How do the shelter s cope with seeing animals abandoned at their facility
daily, with the guilt that is of ten directed at them by owner s, and with the
fact that they actually have to interact with the perpetrator s of animal
suf fering?
 Shelter worker s 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 contradictor y, but
necessar y, halves of a job which demands that people —of ten animal
lover s—must kill animals because other people have failed them.
 To make matter s wor se, in recent year s, the no kill movement has
emerged within the animal humane movement. This movement aims at
ending the euthanasia of healthy animals in shelter s in the United States,
and of ten pits so -called “no kill shelter s,” of ten private, against public,
open-door facilities that still euthanize animals.
 On e way t h a t s h elte r wo rke r s de a l w i t h t h i s i s by di s pl acin g t h e i r fe e lings o n to
ot h e r s, j us t a s t h e pet ow n e r s do .
 M a ny wo rke r s bl a m e s h e lter m a n ageme nt , w h i l e m o s t bl a m e t h e pe r s o n
s urre n de ring t h e a n i mal.
 Th ey n ot o n l y bl a m e th e ow n e r s, but wa n t t h e ow n e r s to a cce pt re s po nsibility
fo r t h e i r a c t i o ns.
 M a ny s h e lter wo rke r s a l s o bl a m e s o c i et y i n g e n e ral, a n d a l so pet bre e de r s fo r
bre e di n g to o m a ny a n i mals.
 An ot h e r c o pi n g m e c hanism e m ployed by s h elte r wo rke r s i s to t a ke t h e m o ra l
h i g h g ro un d, s e ein g th e m selves a s m o ra lly s upe ri o r to eve r yo ne e l se i n s o ciety.
Wh i l e s o c i et y h a s c re a te d t h i s pro bl e m , i t i s o n l y a s e l ec t g ro up o f pe o pl e w h o
h ave t h e fo r t i t ude to h e l p s o lve i t .
 Wo rke r s i n o pe n - doo r fa c i l it ies a l s o bl a m e n o - kill s h elte r s, w h i c h o f te n pi c k a n d
c h o o se w h i c h a n i mals t h ey t a ke i n , a n d t h us e n d up w i t h m o re a do pt a bl e
a n i mals t h a n t h o s e i n t h e o pe n - do or, “ k i ll s h e lter s. ”
 An i mal s h e lter wo rke r s o f te n bo rrow c o pi n g m e c h anisms fro m ow n e r s to o ,
m a i nt aining t h a t e ut h a n asia i s o f te n t h e “ be s t a l te rn at ive” fo r a n a n i mal,
ra t h e r t h a n g et t i n g o n e ’ s h o pe s up fo r a n a n i mal to be a do pte d.
 In g e n eral, m a ny c o pi n g s t ra te g ies e m pl oyed by s h e lte r wo rke r s i nvolve
e m ot ion al di s t a n cing — w hile n ew e m ploye es o f te n g et e m ot ionally a t t a c h e d
to i n dividual a n i mals, a n d do a l l t h a t t h ey c a n do to preve n t a n a n i mal
fro m be i n g e ut h a n ised , m o re ex pe ri enc ed s t a f f k n ow to ke e p o n e ’ s
di s t a nc e i n o rde r to m a i nt ain o n e ’ s e m ot ional h e a lt h. Fo r exa m pl e, m a ny
s h e lter s ta f f k n ow to eva l uate a n i mals ba s e d o n t h e i r a do pta bi lity o r
m a rket a bilit y, i n te rm s o f m a kin g t h e de c i sion a bo ut w h o l i ves a n d w h o
di e s , ra t h e r t h a n o n a ny e m ot i onal c o n n ec t ion t h ey m ay h ave w i t h a n
a n i mal. Ot h e r s do n ’ t t a l k a bo ut t h e wo rk t h a t t h ey do w h e n a t h o m e, i n
o rde r to c re a te a n e m ot ion al s e pa ra t ion bet we e n t h e s t re s s o f wo rk a n d
t h e s a n c t it y o f h o m e.
 Cattle rancher s enact ver y 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, scholar s working with rancher s have shown that
rancher s recognize cattle as beings with minds, and that many even have
af fection towards them. This creates a complex set of interactions
between human and cow, and, as with animal shelter worker s, a number
of coping strategies.
 Many rancher s 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 rancher s feel conflicted when bringing their cattle to slaughter, for
example, even when doing so brings profit to the rancher.
 Most rancher s also repor t that they take a lot of pleasure in calving
season, when rancher s of ten sleep with or near the cattle who are close
to giving bir th, assisting in their labor. They of ten have af fectionate
relationships with young cows or those that are deemed “special,” but as
these animals get older, these relationships of ten shif t.
 Like shelter worker s, who must distance themselves from animals who
are going to die, many rancher s will utilize distancing strategies; for
instance, by minimizing the discomfor t that they feel when a cow dies.
 Sociologists have written about the ways in which children
must be socialized to learn utilitarian attitudes towards
 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.
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.
 Sociologi st Arnold Arluke found that while many laborator y technicians
ended up in their occupati ons simply to make money or as a stepping stone to another job, many other s 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 par t of their work , and in many cases, they viewed animals quite
negatively. These worker s, 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 worker s were unmoved by the death or suf fering of
the animals, and they did little to improve the well -being of their animals.
 Worker s who took their jobs because of their af finity 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, suf fered greatly when they suf fered or were killed.
 Many researcher s and worker s cope with the unsettling aspects of their
work by compar tmentalizing, 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
 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.
 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 af fected by
 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
 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.
 Working in a slaughterhouse is among the most dangerous and low
paid jobs in the countr y; the median annual earnings of a
slaughterhouse employee in 2004 was $21 ,440, and the median
annual salar y of a meat trimmer was only $1 8,660.
 Slaughterhouse workers spend long days doing repetitive work at
rapid speeds using dangerous equipment and sharp tools. They are
hur t in a number of ways: they slip and fall in the blood, feces, and
other fluids that cover the floor s; 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 industr y’s ever -increasing line speeds increase
the risk of being cut, bruised, burned, stabbed, blinded,
dismembered, disfigured, and wor se.
 Slaughterhouse line speeds are constantly accelerating; for example,
in chicken slaughterhouses, as many as fif ty birds per minute can
roll past worker s. This means that employees must shackle, kill, or
cut apar t multiple animals ever y minute, for eight hours or more
ever y day—of ten without breaks to check equipment, sharpen their
knives, or rest for a few minutes. The noise level is high, and
temperatures can soar to 1 20 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 tr y to
 Slaughterhouse work has always been stigmatized. In many
cultures, the work of slaughtering animals was done by slaves,
while in other cultures it is per formed by the underclasses.
 Slaughterhouses themselves are typically located on the
outskir ts 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 worker s cope with a job that is stressful, hard,
dangerous and involves killing animals?
 It should not surprise us to learn that animals are treated as
machines in this environment, and the worker s learn to shut out
any connecti on to suf fering.
 Worker s suf fer not only from the physical problems from the hard
work and unsanitar y conditions, but many suf fer psychological
trauma as well. One recent study shows that prolonged work on a
kill floor exposes worker s to the risk of psychological damage,
including post -traumatic stress disorder.
 Sociologi st Amy Fitzgerald has documented a spill -over ef fect 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 demographicall y
similar counties that don’t. A number of studies now document the negative
ef fects—primarily higher crime —of slaughterhouses moving into rural areas
in the United States. Some scholar s have suggested that the increases in
crime can be traced to the demographic characteristics of the worker s, the
social disorganizati on 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 worker s. As
worker s become desensitized to suf fering, they can more easily cause
suf fering in humans as well.
 One researcher inter viewed slaughterhouse worker s who told her
that they have par ticipated in extreme types of violence, even for a
slaughterhouse. Many repor ted that they have, due to the line
speeds and quotas that the worker s must meet, beaten, strangled,
boiled, and dismembered animals alive . These worker s told about
the ef fects this violence has had on their lives; the results
included self -medicating with alcohol or drugs and domestic

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