Tag Archives: animal geography

Collaring domestication: human relationships with pets and pests

By Kate Whiston, University of Nottingham

4 apr

Source: Author’s own photography

Pet-keeping in Britain is at an all-time high, so it hasn’t come as much of a surprise that The Secret Life of Pets, the latest animated film from the makers of Despicable Me, has proved so popular with the British public. Animal geographers often turn to domestication in order to understand human-animal relationships, the term, itself contested, serving to both separate and bind nature and culture, human and animal. From the turn of the twenty-first century, research in geography began to demonstrate the limitations of human control – in part due to animal agency – challenging the extent to which humans have control over domesticated animals. Whilst by no means a socio-cultural commentary on modern pet-keeping, The Secret Life of Pets reveals some of the key themes that challenge animal geographers today, most notably the idea of animal agency vs human control.

That age-old mystery of what our pets do when left alone in the house sparks excitement and imagination, in true Schrödinger’s Cat style. The Secret Life of Pets provides a rather comical answer to the puzzle; pets enjoying the freedom of the house getting up to all sorts of antics. The film shows pets watching TV, raiding the fridge, throwing house parties, and em-bark-ing on an even bigger adventure. Whilst these scenes are thought up for entertainment, many pet-owners can testify to having found the evidence of their pets’ mischiefs when left alone. Others have strapped GoPros to their animals in the hope of uncovering ground-breaking footage of their furry friends. Our apparently innocent intrigue, some argue, is underpinned by a desire for control, to be able to regulate our pets’ lives. An interesting piece in The Guardian has recently argued that being left alone often makes pets anxious or depressed, and, thus, the resultant (mis)behaviour is, in fact, caused by us, their owners (Pierce, 2016 [online]). Nevertheless, pet-owners, particularly dog-owners, often work hard at disciplining their pets, teaching them ‘good’ behaviour.

From a geographical point of view, Power’s (2012) study of pet dogs provides a framework for theorising this relationship. She states that pet dogs are created as ‘domestic’ bodies, disciplined to behave in ways deemed appropriate for the home. House training is a ritual for all new dog owners; dogs are taught to “modify their bodily rhythms”, such as toileting and sleeping, enabling them to be “integrated into household rhythms” (Power, 2012:376). Dogs, therefore, Power (2012) claims, are malleable and help their owners perform ideals of domesticity. However, our four-legged friends, of course, rarely fit with such an ideal. This leads dog-owners to make changes – conscious and unconscious – to their lives; they change their routines, they make decisions about house-layout, and they give special care to their companions’ individual peculiarities. Some cunning canines don’t even try to be subtle, manipulating us to give them treats or let them sit on the sofa! Whether consciously or not, people with pets allow themselves to be moulded by their cuddly companions, re-imagining and re-making their lives, their homes, and their relationships with their pets. Dogs, therefore, Power (2012) postulates, have agency to shape and control our everyday lives. In this way, through domestication, humans and animals are both (re)shaped. Domestication, therefore, is collaborative, humans working with their dogs, learning to understand each other.

This relationship can, of course, be juxtaposed with animals that do not conform to our expectations, such as feral animals, pests, or some wild animals. Such animals become marginalised by human society as their behaviour is deemed ‘out of place’ in the spaces that they share with us. Our reaction is to try to control them, either removing them entirely or limiting their spatial range. Whilst examples such as the grey squirrel, the feral pigeon, and the urban fox have been well-documented and hotly-contested, Ginn’s (2014) study of garden slugs proves that there is a huge range of animals that are not quite as lucky as our domestic companions. Living in close proximity with humans, their innocent slimy trails and taste for garden plants are behaviours with which we cannot live, ranking them highly in that imaginative category of ‘pest’, a category produced by humans to label – and simultaneously legitimise the exploitation of – any non-human whose behaviour does not fit with our own.

Whilst the title, The Secret Life of Pets, promises, and delivers, a film about domestic companions, the contrast with pests is pertinent. The stars of the film, pampered pets of all varieties, come face-to-face with a gang of abandoned pets, living in the sewers, going by the name of ‘Flushed Pets’. This vast army of human-hating, Pest Control-dodging animals includes dogs, stray cats, reptiles, rats, a tattooed pig, and, their leader, Snowball the rabbit. Their bitter hatred towards humans is extended towards domesticated animals, the simple collar seen by them as a tool for human control, defining pets as property or slaves. An exaggeration, yes, but perhaps something which should not be completely disregarded in an age when animal cruelty is worryingly common.

At the risk of giving away any spoilers, I’ll stop at that! A deep analysis of multi-species cohabitation, it is not, but The Secret Life of Pets can still help us reflect on our relationships with domestic and wild animals. The more geographers study human-animal relationships, the more they break down that once-rigid division between humans and animals that has underpinned the ways in which animals have been considered. Such studies of domestication show that the superiority and control over Nature, which mankind once thought was irrefutable, is being broken down, bit by bit, by every stray cat, every garden slug, and every mischievous pet.

 

books_iconGinn, F. (2014). “Sticky lives: slugs, detachment and more-than-human ethics in the garden”, Transactions of the IBG, 39(4): 532-544.

books_iconPower, E.R. (2012). “Domestication and the dog: embodying home”, Area, 44(3):371-378.

60-world2Pierce, J. (2016). “The Secret Life of Pets? Forget the movie, here’s what it’s really like”, The Guardian Online. Available at: www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/jul/28/the-secret-life-of-pets-forget-the-movie-heres-what-its-really-like

 

“I wanna be like you”: Animal geography and ‘The Jungle Book’ (2016)

Kate Whiston, University of Nottingham

The 'man cub'; not quite man, not quite wolf Source: Wikimedia Commons

The ‘man cub’; not quite man, not quite wolf
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Last month saw the release of Disney’s live action re-make of the well-loved classic, The Jungle Book.  Directed by Jon Favreau, the much-anticipated film has enjoyed tremendous early success in both the UK and America, topping the box office charts and breaking ticket-sales records. This modern twist on Rudyard Kipling’s iconic tale, is not only thoroughly entertaining, but also demonstrates some of the main themes explored by animal geographers, as well as those that Bear (2011) (yes, his name really is that apt!) has identified as being under-developed within the discipline.

The most prominent theme that runs throughout the film is the oft-debated, long-standing human-animal binary, placing nature in opposition to culture. Physically, the humans and animals are separated, the human village being distinct from the rest of the jungle. Each have their own place, geographically defined, keeping them separate rather than in constant competition for survival. The cognitive difference between humans and animals is much more heavily emphasised throughout the film. Man’s capacity for rational thought is widely cited as the main distinguishing feature between humans and animals. Let’s start with “man’s red flower”, the phrase used by the animals to describe ‘fire’. The ‘red flower’ stands for man’s superior intelligence and more civilised state; only humans know the secret of how to make it, and its devastating effects are feared by the animals, reinforcing human control over the jungle. Even King Louie, King of the Apes and “jungle V.I.P.”, is aware of the power this ability gives man. As he sings “I wanna be like you”, we are reminded, yet again, of the abyss that remains between man and beast, not only because he “desires man’s red fire”, but also because he wants to “walk like” and “talk like” humans too.

Mowgli’s character also serves to remind us of human-animal difference. His presence in the jungle, a boy living with the wolf pack, turns heads amongst the animals; he is, as geographers would put it, ‘out of place’. Even the wolves who raised Mowgli, and his trusty panther friend Bagheera, scorn some of his innately human ways of problem-solving, which they call ‘tricks’. Mowgli’s presence where he does not ‘belong’ is the reason that he becomes hunted by Shere Khan, and driven out of the jungle by the tiger. On his journey to the man village, Mowgli meets arguably the most loved animal in this story, Baloo the bear, who, after rescuing him from death by python (Kaa, to be precise), soon develops a close bond with him. Mowgli’s distinctly ‘human’ traits are further emphasised, Baloo exploiting his ‘tricks’ in order to help him harvest honey using a complex system of pulleys that only a man could make.

Mowgli and Baloo at Orlando Disney World Source: Wikimedia Commons

Mowgli and Baloo at Orlando Disney World
Source: Wikimedia Commons

After learning that Shere Khan was responsible for his father’s death, and that the tiger has also killed Akela, the leader of the wolf pack, taking charge of the jungle, Mowgli returns to confront Shere Kahn. Taking a burning branch with him from the man village, Mowgli pursues Shere Khan in order to save his wolf family and the rest of the jungle animals from his tyrannous reign. However, his act only further reinforces man’s superiority, as he inadvertently sets fire to the jungle, the fear in the animals’ eyes being a very poignant reminder that Mowgli is, despite his upbringing, a human. Even though, by slaying Shere Khan he helps the other animals, the film still emphasises that man – in this case, Mowgli – and animals are habitually in conflict, a conflict that is often resolved through hunting, slaughter, and the expression of human superiority.

Whilst Mowgli’s character creates a clear division between humans and animals, he also serves to blur the distinction, something which animal geographers argue is becoming more and more common. Being raised by wolves, Mowgli grows up to be one of the pack. He develops wolf-like behavioural traits and, as animal geographers would call it, undergoes a process of ‘becoming wolf’ through close cohabitation. This Deleuzian notion of ‘becoming’ is one which animal geographers have explored in order to explain close human-animal relationships that transcend the boundaries of ‘man’ and ‘beast’. Even the language used by the animals to describe Mowgli – ‘man cub’ – shows the ambiguous nature of his character, not quite man, but not quite wolf. Through living with the animals Mowgli learns to be sensitive to their needs, and develops a close understanding that animal geographers, such as Bear (2011), argue is so difficult to achieve.

Finally, The Jungle Book, also provides an insight into, what animal geographers argue, is an under-developed theme in animal geography, the individuality of animals. Bear (2011) stresses that most animal geography studies focus on groups of animals or whole species, rather than the individual. In his study of Angelica the octopus and her affective relationships with visitors to her aquarium, he poses that more can be learnt about human-animal relationships by studying individual animals, studies of groups of animals homogenising and concealing the individual. In The Jungle Book, whilst we still have groups of animals – such as the pack of wolves and the almost mythical herd of elephants – there are many characters who tell their own individual stories. Baloo the bear, Bagheera the panther, Shere Khan the tiger, and King Louie the gigantopithecus, each express their individuality and have different relationships with Mowgli and the other animals. This, in turn, affects the audience’s response to them; Baloo appears comical yet kind, Bagheera is brave and loyal, Shere Khan is cruel yet vulnerable, and King Louie is powerful and greedy. Interpret them as you will, but, whilst fictional and highly anthropomorphised, it is through these individual stories that the audience form an understanding of the human-animal relationships at play in the film.

Both as a thrilling piece of cinema, and as a demonstration of animal geography’s wider relevance, The Jungle Book is well-worth a watch!

 

books_iconBear, C. (2011) “Being Angelica? Exploring individual animal geographies”, Area, 43(3):297-304.

60-world2The Jungle Book 2016 IMDB listing http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3040964/

Whatever takes your fancy: pigeon shows as geographical inquiry

Kate Whiston, University of Nottingham

The British Homing World Show of the Year, 2015 Source: own photo

The main hall of pigeons at the British Homing World Show of the Year, 2015
Source: Own photo

The British Homing World Show of the Year; not heard of it? I’ll forgive you. This little-known affair is, for pigeon fanciers across the country, the event of the year. Taking place over the second weekend of January in Blackpool’s Winter Gardens, it is the largest annual gathering of pigeon fanciers in the UK; on average, around 20,000 people flock from all over the world – as far away as China – to exhibit, buy, sell, and admire pigeons. The Show, which recently celebrated its 40th anniversary (BBC News, 2012a [online]), is also becoming increasingly popular with the media, making the BBC News in past years and Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch just yesterday morning. Last year, it even made the news in America (NY Post, 2015 [online])! The weekend of the Show, during the bleak English winter, sees thousands of visitors descend upon Blackpool, contributing an estimated £10 million to Blackpool’s economy (BBC News, 2012b [online]).

‘But where’s the geography?’, I hear you say. Pigeon racing, with its careful calculations of distance, and vigilant observation of weather conditions may seem to lend itself more explicitly to the discipline. However, as an animal geographer, I want to bring to light a paper that, whilst over a decade old, is key in revealing how animal showing is inherently geographical. Having visited this and other pigeon shows – not as a fancier but as a researcher – I aim to highlight some of the striking similarities between the British Homing World Show and Anderson’s (2003) paper on Sydney’s Royal Agricultural Show.

More than 3,000 domestic pigeons will be on display at the British Homing World Show this coming weekend, which has been described as the ‘Crufts of the pigeon world’. The main attraction is the exhibition of racing pigeons. To the untrained eye they all look the same – well-groomed city-centre pigeons – but it is the subtleties of this hobby that make it so fascinating. The birds are judged on their aesthetic qualities denoting their ability to win races. The whole of the bird is scrutinised, from its wing feathers to its eye colouring. Also on display will be the perhaps lesser-known fancy pigeons. Whilst racing pigeons are athletes bred for functional reasons, fancy pigeons are bred for their aesthetics, many unable to fly long distances. These wonderful birds are all the same species, differing in appearance due to selective breeding and reinforcement of mutations (similar to different pedigree dog breeds). There are over 350 breeds of fancy pigeons, varying in characteristics such as beak, feathering, tail, and body. Is it any wonder that Charles Darwin chose this incredibly diverse bird to aid him in his study of inheritance and variation in The Origin of Species? Like animals on display at a zoo, or specimens in a museum, pigeons are displayed in rows of cages to be objectified, admired, and judged. Some are even removed from their cages, poked and prodded, or made to walk about in their cages, like models in a feathered catwalk.

A fancy pigeon Source: own photo

A successful fancy pigeon at last year’s Show
Source: own photo

In Anderson’s (2003) historical study of Sydney’s Royal Agricultural Show, she argues that the animals on display reflected human ingenuity and control over nature. The Show – which was deeply underpinned by colonialist thinking – was a celebration of human superiority and performance of civilisation and domestication, which reinforced the nature-culture and human-animal binaries. The same could be said of pigeon shows; the pigeons on display are products of careful selective breeding by fanciers. They emphasise the distinction between man and nature, but, they simultaneously blur it. Animal exhibits – in this case pigeons – become hybrids of human skill, scientific knowledge and ‘nature’. Such displays, Anderson (2003) argues, should be read as texts, in which a subject-object relationship is developed through an anthropocentric gaze. They also, she argues, can be seen as embodied performances. The pigeons on display at this weekend’s British Homing World Show will be both text and performance. The birds are cultural constructions, products of human intervention, but develop into much more than mere objects. Successful pigeon fanciers at this prestigious show win not only a rosettes, trophies, and money, but also prestige. For fanciers, their birds are a ticket to a better social standing among their peers, a reputation dependent on the aesthetic performances of their feathered co-workers.

A fancy pigeon Source: own photo

A successful fancy pigeon at last year’s Show
Source: Own photo

Of course, exhibitions and sales of machinery are also prominent features at agricultural shows. Anderson (2003) argues that those at the Sydney Agricultural Show reflected strong notions of modernity and advancement, further stressing human mastery over nature. The British Homing World Show of the Year also features exhibitions of pigeon appliances and trade stands. There are stands selling everything from £20,000 pigeon lofts and high-tech race timing technology, to nest boxes, food, and vitamin supplements. Birds are also on sale, transported rather indignantly in cardboard boxes marked ‘LIVE BIRDS’. Whilst there are stands selling birds at ‘affordable’ prices (maybe as much as £40 per bird), at the auction birds are sold for thousands of pounds! Both academic and activist would have a field day with the ethical and moral issues raised by such judgements of animal value.

Stalls at the British Homing World Show, 2015 Source: own photo

Stalls at the British Homing World Show, 2015
Source: Own photo

So that’s the British Homing World Show of the Year and a snapshot into the subculture of pigeon fancying. Yet more proof that geography is lurking in everything. If only more people knew about this fascinating pastime, it would surely go a long way towards alleviating that tiresome ‘rats with wings’ metaphor that burdens the domestic pigeon’s feral cousins.

 

books_iconAnderson, K. (2003). “White Natures: Sydney’s Royal Agricultural Show in Post-Humanist Perspective” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 28(4): 422-441.

60-world2BBC News (2012a) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-lancashire-16665137

60-world2BBC News (2012b) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-lancashire-16751398

60-world2NY Post (2015) http://nypost.com/2015/01/21/pigeon-enthusiasts-flock-to-england-for-international-homing-show/

60-world2http://www.rpra.org/bhw-show-of-the-year-2016/

Dinosaur displays, talking teddy bears, and plotting pets: what the movies (don’t) teach us about human-animal relationships

Kate Whiston, University of Nottingham

As an animal geographer, the heading ‘Becoming Human’ in The Guardian’s g2 film supplement immediately caught my eye. The title rang true of Deleuze and Guatarri’s notion of becoming, a transformative process of identity formation, which has influenced so many who study animals, including Donna Haraway. The article by Steve Rose (2015), the Guardian’s film critic, is also available online, and pays homage to shifting attitudes towards animals in Hollywood. As anyone studying animals will tell you, animals help shed light on what it means to be human. The reinforcement of their ‘otherness’ through the human-animal binary highlights human superiority and helps to redefine the category of ‘human’ as opposed to ‘animal’.

Taking the new blockbuster, Jurassic World, as his starting point, Rose (2015) considers the radical new ways in which more recent films with animals in their starring roles are re-framing what it means to be human. The dinosaurs in Jurassic World are highly problematic; genetically-modified ‘creations’, they are ‘attractions’ for a human audience and live unnatural lives in captivity. However, this monster movie turns the argument around, leaving us instead pondering the animality of the human owners of the dino-resort; it is the humans who are presented as the real monsters. As fetishized cultural products, however, the dinosaurs in Jurassic World raise questions about animal rights, human-animal relationships, and the ontological differences between ‘human’ and ‘animal’. There are similarities that can be drawn with Holloway et al’s (2009) paper, which applies Foucauldian biopower to genetic technologies used in livestock breeding. Here, the use of new genetic technologies to (re)create and (re)define farm animals’ bodies serves to control and regulate animal bodies and behaviour. Intervention in these animal lives – similar to the human intervention into the lives of the dinosaurs in Jurassic World – produces particular truths and subsequently affects human-animal relationships.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Rose (2015), then, draws comparisons with another new film, Ted 2; a highly anthropomorphized story of a walking, talking teddy bear. This film presents an extreme illustration of changes in attitudes towards animal rights, tracing Ted’s battle to legally be recognised as a ‘person’ in order to adopt a child with his human partner.  Rose (2015) compares this rather surreal situation to changing animal rights attitudes. Citing examples in New York, the article suggests that animals are increasingly being given human legal rights. Animal rights activists, for example, are arguing that chimpanzees be given legal personhood, a decision that would redefine their imprisonment as illegal. Such examples of increasing animal rights refute the human-animal divide, blurring the boundary between ‘human’ and ‘animal’, and redefining animal subjectivity. Animals, it seems, have transgressed the species boundary; they are becoming human.

The re-definition of animal rights and subjectivity in films is by no means a new phenomenon. Take any Disney film with animals as its focus, and there are hidden geographical stories about animal rights, their daily struggles, and their identities. Bambi’s heart-breaking bereavement at the hands of a hunter; the objectification of Dumbo as a ‘performer’; the canine battle against a cruel, fur-crazed woman in 101 Dalmations; these are just a few of many examples in which Walt Disney has challenged us to re-think our treatment of, interactions with, and relationship to animals. Yes, any film written about animals is loaded with anthropomorphism, an approach to understanding animals that is heavily criticised in academia, but can such a device, in fact, help stress the importance of treating animals as our equals rather than an inferior ‘other’? Bear’s (2011) study of Angelica the octopus, after all, promotes the idea of ‘responsible anthropomorphism’ as a useful tool for understanding individual animals and increasing sensitivity towards their rights and subjectivities.

The recent release of the trailer for The Secret Life of Pets (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i-80SGWfEjM), an animated film by Illuminated Entertainment, poses another extreme in animal-centric films. The film, due for release next June, challenges us to reconsider our views of pets, giving an insight into what they get up to while we’re out. Whilst obviously fiction (I’m not suggesting that our pets are forming rival gangs in the battle for human companionship!), the film will ask us to consider the extent to which our pets are, in fact, active agents with complex subjectivities and the ability for conscious, rational thought. This is a stark contrast in the light of recent controversy over dog meat in China. The annual Yulin Dog Meat Festival, in which 10,000 dogs are slaughtered for their meat, took place at the end of last month, and reminds us that we are still far from achieving equal rights for animals (BBC, 2015 [online]).

The films mentioned above may be little more than light-hearted distraction. The reality may be, as harsh as it seems, that any hint of our changing relationship with animals and their rights is, in fact, as real as Hollywood’s dinosaur displays, talking teddy bears, and plotting pets.

books_iconBear, C. (2011). “Being Angelica? Exploring individual animal geographies”, Area, 43(3):297-304.

books_iconHolloway, L., Morris, C., Gilna, B., and Gibbs, D. (2009). “Biopower, genetics and livestock breeding: (re)constituting animal populations and heterogeneous biosocial collectivities”, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 34: 394-407.

60-world2BBC, (2015). “China Yulin dog meat festival under way despite outrage”, BBC News online, June 22nd 2015. Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-china-33220235.

60-world2Rose, S. (2015). “Becoming Human”, The Guardian, g2. June, 2015. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/film/2015/jun/18/jurassic-world-ted-2-evolutionary-leap-animal-rights.

 

 

Silence of the Lambs? Farm animal subjectivity in welfare research

Kate Whiston, University of Nottingham

Lambs: a typical Spring scene Source: Wikimedia Commons

Lambs: a typical Spring scene
Source: Wikimedia Commons

It’s that time of year; fields are bursting with prancing lambs, cows graze on the lush Spring grass, and cute chicks are as abundant in incubators as they are on Easter cards. What better time than to remind ourselves of the ongoing debates surrounding farm animal welfare that proliferate scientific, political, and public realms, and – more importantly to the geographers amongst us – the relevance of geography to these debates.

Johnston’s (2013) article in Geography Compass identifies two areas of geography that contribute theoretically to animal welfare research. Firstly, the geography of science, part of the broader field of Science and Technology Studies (STS), views scientific knowledge production as spatially, culturally, and historically grounded. That’s to say, research in animal welfare is constituted by spatial, cultural, and historical factors. Secondly, animal geography views animals as active political agents, and engages with animal subjectivity, the spaces they live in, and their moral rights.

This consideration of subjective well-being is a relatively new addition to the previously physiologically-orientated assessment of farm animal welfare. Animal subjectivity is not directly measurable, although it may be indirectly measured through an animal’s cognitive capacities. Animal scientists believe cognitive capacity to be linked to animals’ ability to suffer emotionally and to be consciously aware of their experiences. Needless to say, farm animals are cleverer than we think, not quite to the extent that George Orwell portrays in Animal Farm, but they still have mental and emotional capacities far greater than is accredited to them.

A recent article on Dairy Herd Management’s website discusses the practicalities of implementing this idea of farm animal subjectivity. According to the article, there are three main measures for evaluating dairy cow welfare; ‘biological functioning’ (animal health and productivity), ‘affective state’ (emotions), and ‘natural living’ (ability to behave naturally). Farmers strive to optimise the biological function of their dairy cows, whilst trying to avoid compromising their subjective welfare. A further farming article, this time on Farming UK’s website, has illustrated the subjective welfare of free range chickens. Farmers with chickens emphasise the welfare benefits of letting them roam free outdoors. ‘Natural living’ – interacting with other chickens and their environment – farmers argue, allows chickens to live happier, more ethical lives.

Productivity v subjectivity: dairy farming is not without its moral issues Source: Wikimedia Commons

Productivity v subjectivity: dairy farming is not without its moral issues
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Further emphasising geography’s relevance, Johnston also identifies and investigates three ‘spaces’ of knowledge production in farm animal welfare research. The first is geopolitical ‘space’; animal welfare is often part of the public agenda and parliamentary reform, meaning that farm animals are enrolled in human political systems. All farm animals are political subjects; in true Animal Farm style, they actively shape farm infrastructure, research agendas, and policies. The second ‘space’ is the research environment itself. Making use of Actor Network Theory (ANT), geographers have suggested that the production of knowledge in farm animal welfare research is tied up in networks of people, animals, and institutions. The third and final ‘space’ of knowledge production is the most complex; animals’ spaces, or the ‘location’ of their subjective experience. These spaces are two fold; animals’ bodies (in their nervous system) and animals’ environments (the spaces that they inhabit). Thus, farm animal subjectivity is relational, produced through their interactions with their environments. The production of knowledge in animal welfare research is, therefore, complexly linked to politics, science, and the animals themselves.

So next time you see farm animals blissfully frolicking in a farmer’s fields, remember that all is not as it seems in this typical Spring scene. The animals may seem passive and content, but they are, in fact, active political subjects with cognitive capacities strong enough to feel emotional and physical suffering, and to be consciously aware of their experiences. Along with scientists and activists, farm animals themselves are fighting an inherently geographical battle to improve farm animal welfare.

Cute and cuddly (and politically active!) Source: Wikimedia Commons

Cute and cuddly (and politically active!)
Source: Wikimedia Commons

books_icon Johnston, C.L. (2013). “Geography, Science, and Subjectivity: Farm Animal Welfare in the United States and Europe”, Geography Compass, 7(2):139-148.

60-world2  http://www.dairyherd.com/news/successful-animal-welfare-planning-your-farm

60-world2  http://www.farminguk.com/News/Egg-producers-promote-a-million-reasons-to-choose-free-range-_30965.html

Man’s best friend?

Kate Whiston, University of Nottingham

In an article recently published in Area, Remus Creţan’s (2015) study of dog culling in Romania provides a splendid example of a practical application of animal geography to a situation that will be familiar to academics and non-academics alike.

An aggressive dog Source: Wikimedia Commons

An aggressive dog
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Creţan (2015) takes a more-than-human approach – that is, considering the ways in which humans and animals interact and  co-habit in particular spaces – to the relatively recent debate surrounding the culling of stray dogs in Romania in 2013. In September that year, a 4-year old child was mauled to death in Bucharest by a stray dog. The ensuing government proposal for a dog culling policy was met with vigorous protest from both the public and animal rights activists, on ethical grounds. Stray dogs were abundant on the streets of Bucharest, and overcrowding led to poor conditions in dog shelters, so it became necessary for some form of action to be taken. Following considerable debate, the puppy dog eyes of anti-culling protesters prevailed; euthanasia of stray dogs is, for the moment, banned in Bucharest.

Dogs are valuable military team members Source: Wikimedia Commons

Dogs are valuable military team members
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Human-dog relationships span across the spectrum, from pampered pets and trusted work colleagues, to pesky pests and feared beasts. A lot of work in animal geography is based around the notion that humans create imaginative and physical spatial categories in which animals are deemed ‘in place’. Any resistance against these spatial placings, or transgression from them, and animals are considered ‘out of place’. This is when they may become ‘pests’, threats to human order.This explains, for example, why your beloved family pet or the endangered giant pandas at Edinburgh Zoo are loved and treasured, whilst animals such as urban foxes or feral pigeons can provoke World War 3.

The issue of stray dogs, thus, becomes inherently geographical; dogs in western society belong in the home, and those that live on the street, therefore, become a risk to human society. There is also a moral argument underpinning this problem; do humans have the right to cull animals? Animals are, after all, sentient beings, making the line between euthanasia and murder increasingly blurred. The culling of animals has been against EU legislation on animal welfare since the Amsterdam Treaty of 1997. However, there have been occasions in the not so distant past when the British government has had to consider the culling of various animals; the foot and mouth crisis in 2001, for example, or the more recent debates about badgers.

The Dangerous Dogs Act was enacted by the British government in 1991, and outlines certain particularly troublesome breeds that it is illegal to breed or sell. Whilst dangerous dogs are not as prevalent in this country as they are in Romania, there are still more cases of dogs mauling humans than there should be. The difference in Britain is, however, that most of these are caused by pet dogs, often uncharacteristically, but also, sadly, sometimes by dogs that have been mistreated and misled by their owners. This raises a further ethical question that must be considered when the lives of dogs are being as freely tossed about and fought over as their chew toys. Whilst many look to blame dogs, should we not, in fact, be penalising the people who lead them astray? Surely aggression is something a dog learns, not a trait it is born with? Far from foe, dogs are, after all, ‘man’s best friend’.

The author's own pampered pet pooches, Mitch (left) and Monty (right)

The author’s own pampered pet pooches, Mitch (left) and Monty (right)

books_iconCreţan, R. (2015). “Mapping protests against dog culling in post-communist Romania”, Area, doi: 10.1111/area.12155.

60-world2Clej P 2013 Bucharest dog cull plan divides Romanians  BBC

60-world2Wensley S 2013 Viewpoints: What can be don about dangerous dogs? BBC

 

Content Alert: New Articles (13th April 2012)

The following Early View articles are now available on Wiley Online Library.

Original Articles

Body capital and the geography of aging
Maurizio Antoninetti and Mario Garrett
Article first published online: 4 APR 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4762.2012.01089.x

Commentary

Combining sustainable agricultural production with economic and environmental benefits
Amir Kassam and Hugh Brammer
Article first published online: 10 APR 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4959.2012.00465.x

Original Articles

Spatialising the refugee camp
Adam Ramadan
Article first published online: 10 APR 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00509.x

The geographies of community-oriented unionism: scales, targets, sites and domains of union renewal in South Africa and beyond
David Jordhus-Lier
Article first published online: 10 APR 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00504.x

Corpses, dead body politics and agency in human geography: following the corpse of Dr Petru Groza
Craig Young and Duncan Light
Article first published online: 10 APR 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00502.x

Towards geographies of speech: proverbial utterances of home in contemporary Vietnam
Katherine Brickell
Article first published online: 10 APR 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00503.x

The biopolitics of animal being and welfare: dog control and care in the UK and India
Krithika Srinivasan
Article first published online: 4 APR 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00501.x

‘An instruction in good citizenship’: scouting and the historical geographies of citizenship education
Sarah Mills
Article first published online: 4 APR 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00500.x

Boundary Crossings

Geography, film and exploration: women and amateur filmmaking in the Himalayas
Katherine Brickell and Bradley L Garrett
Article first published online: 10 APR 2012 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00505.x