Animals at Work: Compassion vs. Cruelty
By KRISTEN STERNBERG
NIE EDUCATIONAL CONSULTANT
Animals are indispensable to us-some we keep as pets that we love and that, in return, love us. Animals also provide us with milk and other dairy products (cheese and butter, for instance), along with eggs, honey and meat. From creatures we get leather or skins for footwear and clothing. Certain medicines (like antibiotics, at times) are also made using animal products.
Janet gets a lot of help and companionship from Spirit. (Photo: News-Journal/Peter Bauer)
All around the world, we have put animals to work in a variety of ways. Desert nomads use camels to move themselves and their belongings from place to place. Other large beasts of burden-oxen, yaks, mules, elephants and others-are domesticated (tamed) for our use in farming, building and other large, heavy jobs. Dogs are put to work hunting and retrieving game foods. Many dogs (and a pig named "Babe," in a recent film) have been trained to herd sheep and other animals. Some pigs are even trained to locate foods considered delicacies by humans, like certain mushrooms, using their sense of smell.
Service animals hold important jobs, too. Service dogs, cats and other small animals have helped soldiers during time of war as well as used in police work, where they are trained to sniff out explosives and drugs, for instance.
An expanding use of service animals is in helping disabled people. Guide dogs can be eyes and ears, for example, to afford blind and deaf people greater independence. Specially trained dogs, ponies and even monkeys help the disabled by performing small tasks to help them live more independently. Check out the special relationship between one woman and her service dogs by following the link. Be sure to read, also, about some dogs that are trained to assist seizure victims.
Sometimes we make opportunities to display animals we're proud of, for their skills or their looks. Circuses, rodeos and cat or dog shows are examples of how we enjoy showing off our animals' attributes. For example, take a look at this newspaper article about some well-treated, performing cats that recently traveled with a local circus. Check out, also, how rabbits are making show news.
Zoos and aquariums are often behavioral and reproductive research institutions as well as fun places for people to visit. Research on animals at these institutions might include social observation, training, communication and reproduction. Most zoos and aquariums work diligently to make sure their animals are in top condition, both physically and emotionally.
Another area in which animals are put to work is medical research. Although many people protest this use of animals, many breakthroughs such as vaccines and cures for diseases have been made possible through animal medical research. Breakthroughs in areas from learning how language develops, researching gene therapy and performing organ transplants has occurred through such research. While some animal rights groups have been influential in improving the living conditions of creatures used in experiments, many are still concerned about how research animals are treated. The potential for abuse exists, but laws and strong animal rights activists are helping to fight that abuse.
Russian-born Svetlana Shamshecva, flanked by two of her 12 Persian cats. (Photo: News-Journal/Kelly Jordan)
In the Republic of Ireland and other countries, jobs such as farm work and hauling heavy loads, once carried out mostly by equines (animals in the horse family), are performed nowadays by tractors and trucks. For example, donkeys were widely used in Ireland to carry the peat people needed for fuel, while burros once carried provisions for gold miners in the American West. Both of these cousins of the horse suffered when motorized transport became commonplace. In the United States, descendants of burros that were abandoned along with the gold mines now run wild. Unable to forage enough food, many starve to death every winter. Some donkeys in Ireland also suffer from neglect or abandonment, because they are no longer considered useful to their owners. One example of that neglect is routinely seen in the donkeys' hooves. The hooves grow quickly, and if left untrimmed will curl around like a ram's great, spiral horn. Continued neglect has left many donkeys unable to walk. Animal welfare agencies try to find homes for creatures like the donkeys and burros. Some that can't be adopted end up in sanctuaries, which are like foster homes. You'll have an opportunity to visit a special Donkey Sanctuary in Ireland.
Greyhounds, dogs sometimes used in racing, are another example of the potential for abuse. Raced only while they are young, many are abandoned when they aren't considered useful any longer. Some have ended up neglected and starved, or taken to local animal shelters where they are usually put to death if no one adopts them. These animals may be particularly hard to find homes for because most have not been "socialized," or conditioned to be friendly and outgoing among people and other animals. One local greyhound facility is addressing this problem in a positive way-read the newspaper article to find out all about it.
The questionable-and illegal--practices of dog fighting and cock fighting are still popular in some areas of the world, including the United States, even though the animals used may hurt, cripple or even kill each other in their fighting.
In general, though, we recognize our dependence on working animals. We appreciate, for example, that a well-fed and well-treated cow will usually produce more milk than a neglected one. A healthy and happy sled dog will have more stamina than one that is underfed. A working pet or a service animal that trusts and likes its owner will probably be more trustworthy and likable in return. Because we understand that the healthier and more contented we keep our creatures, the better the results, most people treat their animals humanely.
You can probably think of lots more animals that we humans have put to work for us. Before you go on to the activities below, examine your feelings about the issue of "Animals at Work: Compassion vs. Cruelty." What kinds of working animals do you think are well-treated? Are there any groups of animals that, when taken as a whole, you feel are abused? Have you ever seen someone abuse an animal? How did you feel when it happened? What can you do promote good "working" conditions for all animals?
The newly erected monument behind the Sheriff’s Office Operations Center on Justice Lane in Bunnell lists the name of each Flagler County Sheriff’s Office K-9 deputy that has died. (Photo: News-Journal/Heather Scofield)
All deputy dogs go to heaven
Help sought for K-9 cemetery
It's hard to lose a partner that's always got your back and has become a member of the family. Harder yet is not being able to properly honor him. Lt. Steve Birdsong and his family said goodbye last year to the work partner that became a family member. A drug-sniffing German Shepherd named Zor died in February, a year after he retired.
Try these interesting activities using the News-Journal
- First, select and read several Employment ads in your newspaper's Classified section. Next, imagine you have a service animal that needs a job as companion to a human. Write a classified ad for a Position Wanted, listing your animal's special qualifications! (Sunshine State Standards: LA.A.2.2.5, LA.B.2.2.1, LA.B.2.2.3, SC.F.1.2.3, SC.G.1.2.1)
Daytona Beach Police officer Steve Eisen runs his K-9 partner, Vodan. (Photo: News-Journal/Jim Tiller)
- Look at your newspaper's listing of pets available for adoption. On a sheet of paper, list each new one you find (such as cat, dog, ferret and so on). Then, think of at least one way each animal might be put to work--without putting any person's or creature's well-being in danger, of course. (Sunshine State Standards: LA.A.2.2.5, SC.G.1.2.1, SC.G.2.2.3)
- Make an animal mural by writing the letters A-N-I-M-A-L-S down the left side of a sheet of paper. Then, use your newspaper to find words and pictures about animals whose names begin with one of the letters in that word. Try to find at least one example for each letter on your paper. (Sunshine State Standards: LA.A.2.2.5, LA.B.2.2.2, LA.B.2.2.6)
- Check your newspaper periodically for stories about service animals. Create and maintain a list of the routine tasks with which animals assist people who are disabled. (Sunshine State Standards: SC.G.1.2.1, SC.H.1.2.2, SC.H.3.2.1, SS.B.2.2.2)
- Search your newspaper's Entertainment section for news about upcoming events involving working animals. Local county fairs, rodeos, cat or dog shows and other demonstrations occur frequently. Try to attend one or more of them. (Sunshine State Standards: SS.B.1.2.5)
A copy of Florida's Sunshine State Standards can be found at intech2000.miamisci.org.
Check out these links to learn more
This sanctuary for neglected and abused donkeys, located in the Republic of Ireland, has a web site with great stories and photos of these lovable creatures. (www.thedonkeysanctuary.org.uk)
Donkeys also have a long history as working animals. Now, a new breed of miniature donkeys holds some important jobs. Learn what a miniature donkey might do for you! (www.mesaridgeranch.com)
You may also want to take a look at a site run by the FBI to educate people about some uses of dogs in law enforcement. Then, see how dogs are used to detect forbidden products, such as meat and fruit, by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. (www.aphis.usda.gov)
Llamas, once known only in their native south America, have served people for thousands of years. Find out the many ways these fascinating beasts are put to work! (www.mesaridgeranch.com)
For a look at a variety of animal-human relationships, visit this site. You may be delighted by the stories about sheep, rabbits, cats, guinea pigs, elephants and much more. (www.natureofanimals.com)
The Newspaper Association of America's web site contains links to many newspapers in the U.S. and around the world. Visit the site and check some of them out, to see if they have recently published any articles about working animals. To access the newspapers at the site, select a state, or click on the "Internationals" button to view selections from other countries.
Published July 16, 2001
Updated January, 2008