Taking Animals Seriously

Kathie Jenni / University of Redlands Course Description: A four week long internship at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah that is grounded in study of the history, issues, philosophies, and strategies of the animal welfare movement. One and one half days per week are devoted to class time; the remaining three and one half days each week are devoted to full time work in all aspects of the Sanctuary: cleaning, feeding and watering, socializing with and exercising animals, veterinary care, adoption services, humane education, and community outreach. Students may specialize in one facet of animal care during their final two weeks. Prerequisite: instructor permission and acceptance by the Best Friends Internship Director. Course Objectives:

  • To introduce students to philosophical thought about animal human ethics;
  • To train students in the philosophical skills of identifying and questioning assumptions, critically evaluating alternative arguments, making conceptual distinctions, and arriving at well reasoned judgments;
  • To train students in the care of abandoned and abused animals; and
  • To integrate philosophical thought about animals with practical experience helping them.

Weekly Topics: Week 1: Fundamentals: History and principles of the Humane Movement, anthropomorphism and animal feelings, dualism and evolutionary biology, individuals and species, compassion vs. respect, cruelty vs. thoughtlessness, images vs. realities (of animals, practices, and activists), various forms of activism. Week 2: Animal Rights Philosophy and its Opponents: Alternative criteria for moral standing, resources/property vs. rights bearers, anthropocentrism and speciesism, competing theories of animal rights (Peter Singer, Tom Regan, and others), objections to animal rights (R.G. Frey, Carl Cohen, and others). Week 3: Specific Moral Issues and Debates: Applications of theories to selected issues: use of animals as food and factory farming, pet overpopulation and euthanasia, spaying/neutering of companion animals, hunting and fishing, vivisection. Week 4: Connections between Animal Treatment and other Social Issues: Child and animal abuse; environmentalism, feminism, and animal rights; animals as healers and animal therapy. Assignments and Evaluation: This course is offered on a Credit No Credit / Narrative Evaluation Basis only. The following elements will be considered in your evaluation.

  • Weekly Reflective Writing Assignments: each week, you will be given one or two short (1 2 page) writing assignments that will ask you to consider course ideas throughout your week of Sanctuary work. You'll be asked to discuss these reflections at the end of each week, and they will be collected on Fridays. (Please see sample reflective writing assignments on next page.) 
  • Academic Journal: you should keep a journal of your reflections on class sessions, readings, and Sanctuary work. While the weekly writing assignments provide one model of appropriate journal entries, you are encouraged to record your thoughts about whatever aspects of your experience seem most compelling to you. As a guideline, you should write a substantial entry (1-3 pages) every other day at a minimum. Journals will be collected at the end of the course and returned to you after grading is completed. 
  • Final Reflection Paper: you'll be asked to write a 3 4 page final reflection on your experience as a whole and the evolution in your thought about animal human relationships throughout the month. Please identify the most important things you have learned about animals, people, philosophy, culture, or yourself. Bring your final reflection with you on the last day of class.
  • Class Participation and Overall Effort: you're expected to come to each class prepared to discuss all reading assignments. Your efforts in class discussions and Sanctuary work will be important to your overall course evaluation.

Course Texts and Readings: Please purchase the following two books before we go to Utah. Readings will be selected from these texts throughout the term; weekly assignments will be made in class. Torn Regan and Peter Singer, eds., Animal Rights and Human Obligations, 2nd ed. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: 1989). Carl Cohen and Tom Regan, The Animal Rights Debate (Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 2001).

Taking Animals Seriously: Sample Reflective Writing Assignments In your own reactions and those of staff to animals this week, can you distinguish instances of anthropomorphism or sentimentality from accurate assessments of feelings? How so? Provide examples. How do stereotypes of animals affect this society's treatment of them, and how do those stereotypes diverge from reality? Consider this question especially as you work with pigs, birds, and cats. Consider the lines Americans draw between animals we treasure as companions, and animals we use for food and other products. Why do those particular lines exist? Are there good reasons for them? Why do other cultures (e.g., those that consider dogs to be a food source and cats to be vermin) draw the lines in different ways? Which lines make sense or seem justified to you, and why? Which abuses of animals that you have worked with were due to cruelty or maliciousness, and which to thoughtlessness or inattention? Which, if any, are worse and in what ways? What kinds of preventive or corrective efforts does each call for? What evidence of sensitivity to pain and pleasure, intelligence, self-consciousness, and emotional responsiveness have you encountered in your work with animals this week? Are there uses of animals that are not exploitative? If so, what is it that makes them unobjectionable? More generally, can you say what makes some practices involving animals exploitative and wrong, and others unobjectionable or even laudable? What ideas for resolving conflicts of rights have you developed from your encounters with "destructive dogs" (dogs condemned to Sanctuary confinement or death because of chasing or biting behavior)? Do your ideas diverge from traditional thinking about conflicts between humans and nonhumans? How so? What would Peter Singer, Tom Regan, R.G. Frey, and Carl Cohen think of the Sanctuary's "no kill" policy (and why)? Its policy of spaying/neutering all animals in residence and all adopted out? Its serving only vegetarian and vegan lunches? Have your lunchtime experiences at the Sanctuary affected your thinking about the ethics of using animals for food? Did your work with pigs affect it? If so, how? If not, why not? Do you think that the Sanctuary should request or require of workers and volunteers (which it does not at present) that they eat a vegetarian or vegan diet? Why or why not? Based on your observations at adoption clinics and other interactions of Sanctuary staff with the public, discuss what varieties of activism and education seem to be most effective, and why. Could those types of education/activism work in other contexts e.g., efforts to reform intensive farming or to end vivisection? Why or why not?