Joined: 17 Jan 2010
Location: Boston, Massachusetts
|Posted: Sun Jan 17, 2010 10:45 am Post subject: Is dog training ever an ethically-defensible career choice?
|On Sun, Jan 17, 2010 at 11:21 AM, Tammy wrote:
We got an email from a teen asking for advice about a career. While he isn't local, he doesn't have a community in his own area so he reached out to ours. I asked him to post to the forum, so that those interested in supporting a young ethical vegan could dialogue with him there.
"I am writing to the people of this forum to ask for everyone's advice. I live on a small island and there is no one here who can help me make this decision. I would be grateful for any suggestions you might have.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read about my dilemma, which is, "Can I as a vegan who doesn’t believe in the factory farming of animals legitimately pursue a career working with dogs?"
If you would please read this essay I wrote for University first as it explains things quite nicely. I was sixteen when I wrote this and I am now eighteen years old, and I still have pretty much the same position."
Here is the link to the forum and his post (same userid as used for the Ultimate Guide reviews)
Dear Colin (lover of border collies on an island in Canada):
I see that you live on an island in Canada, though Haiti is an island in the Caribbean. I see that you love border collies, though the Haitians who were buried in last Tuesday’s earthquake are being rescued by animal rescue teams.
They are, at this time, dependent on the efficacy of trained dog rescue teams, and I’ve worked at Harvard Medical School with researchers who also led dog rescue teams when mountain skiers and hikers were lost in snow banks or the woods. You ask, though, whether it’s ever ethical to become a dog trainer, and you list a number of ethical questions you want to consider.
When we train animals to do things that elevate them above dependency, where (with us) they work for a living (as in canine search and rescue teams), their social status is enhanced and they are socially valued by both us AND by those around us, who either admire or directly benefit from their efforts (whether it's rescue, companionship, etc.).
Many abolitionists do not like animal training because it socially reconstructs the animals' place in nature from one of relative independence of humans to one of co-dependence with humans (and we have misgivings about 'co-dependent' relationships.
There's much here to study if one wishes to become an ethical philosopher and engage in the very real and serious debates about the potential for economically productive (though hopefully non-exploitative_ relationships with nonhumans (at this point, probably not cats, but surely with SOME but not all dogs, and with SOME but not all other species). The alternative for those who 'don't make the cut' is a gratuitous relationship of dependence upon human largess (often as 'companion animals').
Most nonhuman animals are not so 'fortunate' as to find an 'optimally' comfortable, safe, and health-supporting niche in the ecosystem. Dogs and cats who are 'unwanted' are often euthanized, sometimes not very well. Strays don't often have a good life; many are rounded up for labs. And those animals are WHO effectively trained to become productive become examples (as your border collie is) to other humans who can admire their intelligence through the outcomes of human intervention in training. Similar things can be said for good education for human beings, which enhances the good learner's social potential, social value, quality of life, and personal satisfaction in living.
Rather than your merely making music (like a folk song, like that about Herbie, “He’s a dog, but that's all right with me”) about a brilliant border collie, you ask serious ethical questions. That appeals to me because I’m currently working with professional philosophers at Harvard in bioethics, and we ask ethical and other philosophical questions.
I thought my answer would have been forwarded to you, but since it’s not, I’m pasting here my answer so you can read what I had written indirectly to you (in the ‘third person’). I hope that, in some measure, it will be helpful. Do communicate with me at both e-mail addresses.
Late this morning, I received a request from the Bay Area Vegetarian group on behalf of a young vegan student asking in a long and involved way whether he, as an ethical vegan, could responsibly pursue a career in dog training (he had been impress with how smart the family dog is). See the website for that story and also his ruminations on the ethical complexity with which he's currently struggling.
Trained dogs are very much in the news these days because animal (dog) search and rescue teams are aggressively helping to locate living humans in the rubble of last Tuesday's earthquake in Port-au-Prince. You'll note that Colin lives in an island in Canada; I don't know how much that island is like Haiti in the Caribbean, which is very much in today's news.
Here's my basic response to BAV and this young man:
Our vegetarian (vegan) movement needs a well-established function (service with high visibility) to address these questions, which continue throughout college and after graduation through the first decade or so of a young veggie's working life.
The EXPLICIT question is:
“Can I as a vegan who doesn’t believe in the factory farming of animals legitimately pursue a career working with dogs?”
The EXPLICIT (though simplified) answer is:
Yes, you CAN. However, not all careers make sense for you, nor would every nonvegetarian's career development work for you (or the animals).
Study usually helps us find the kinds of answers we are seeking, and the answers we are able to find are broader than our immediate needs, which helps us answer questions for others (note that the questioner is asking for advice, so he should prepare to help others find such answers, which requires broad reading, study, exposure, experience.
How much vocational slack does he have? Are parents funding college education for 2-4 years or more?
He can list the questions and problems he has now, prioritize them, and begin working through them and finding answers, deepening understanding, and prepare brief talks or essays on each one, since teaching is one of the best ways of learning.
He has questions about allergies, food sensitivities, dog training, religious faith, moral obligations and duties, stewardship of life and fidelity to God, animal intelligence (and working with it), comparative psychology (animal intelligence), animals and public policy (Tufts Vet School in Grafton MA has a program), ethics, animal rights and claims to decent and fair treatment, co-existence and animal social relationships with humans (getting beverages out of frig for his dad), vegan dogs (and cats), human duties to animals, and more.
Surely he should read Dogs and Cats Go Vegetarian and Little Tyke (both available from American Vegan Society). Little Tyke is about a wonderful lacto-vegetarian lioness who refused to eat meat of any kind (but would drink milk), but she was exploited through animal training and overstressed by being put on TV (and eventually died from overwork). Themes of ethics in animal training are involved, but not really spelled out. This whole area could be systematized further. I'm interested in that set of topics. [http://www.HSPH.Harvard.edu/bioethics/] Dogs and Cats Go Vegetarian was written by the Pedens (Jim and Barbara) before their divorce, then after their divorce, Barbara (who had done much of the food research, I'm told) shifted to a singing career (and we've lost touch with her), but Jim kept the book and the veggiefood business and has developed and grown and improved it. "Themes of how our 'social subcultures' overlap with issues of caring for animals would be seen by anyone exploring a career in veterinary medicine (the broad field of humans caring for nonhumans, not merely in clinical ways). And social policy areas must be explored, also, such as better ways to insure 'companion animals' for their increasing veterinary healthcare needs as they live longer within sheltered caring situations. And, of course, as we see in Haiti today, there's a growing need for search and rescue animal teams, but justice would require that we learn how (as abolitionists) to do all this without trading off the rights of some animals (food animals) for the needs of others (pet food). so if ALL animal agriculture is abolished (looking far down this historical tunnels of possibility), we need ways to FEED animals that don't involve killing OTHER animals for food,.
Networking with others who work in each of those areas helps him understand the issues - complex issues, not simple issues - better so he can teach others at some point in the future.
It's good that he sees problems because recognizing problems motivates a person to study and learn. Best wishes. I hope to hear more about this young man's career development.
To some extent, many of us are trailblazers, and in building vegan culture globally, we ALL are trailblazers to some extent.
Maynard S. Clark
Maynard S. Clark