Can animals of different species be friends?

The human-animal relationship

Humans and animals have always had an intensive relationship with one another, which has developed into two extremes, especially over the past few decades. On the one hand there is the love of animals and the affection for "man's best friend", often in the form of pets such as cats, dogs, parrots or turtles. On the other hand, there are farm animals such as cows and pigs, some of which live under conditions that animal rights activists describe as cruel and not worth living in. But where and how is the difference between farm animals and pets actually made and can this great contradiction still be ethically represented today?

1. Human Animal Studies

Human Animal Studies (HAS) are still a relatively young field of interdisciplinary research and deal with the cultural, social and societal significance of non-human animals. The focus is also on their relationship to humans and vice versa, and the social human-animal relationships in general. The HAS arose from the criticism of the inadequate relationship between humans and animals and, above all, the lack of discussion of the topic. We are talking about the human-animal dualism, i.e. the fact that on the one hand the animal is viewed as a pure product and means to an end, but on the other hand it is also equally humanized and treated like a family member - as a rule, a fundamental distinction is made between made of different animal species that justifies the behavior. DIE HAS question this attitude, want to open up new perspectives and enable the reader to critically examine the topic. In most cases, the research work of the HAS can be assigned to the humanities and social sciences, although of course relevant questions arise and are dealt with again and again within the natural sciences. The HAS web portal can be accessed here for more information.

a. Interest increases

In Germany, interest in HAS has increased significantly over the past few years, and this trend is similar around the world. In the Anglophone world - i.e. mainly English-speaking countries - the studies are currently much more represented and more established. For example, there are already journals, professorships, research institutions and networks tailored to the topic, which are currently only emerging in Germany.

b. Current state of research

In the meantime, some dominant research focuses have already emerged in Germany and a significant number of scientific researches have been carried out and also published. However, it is hardly surprising that the young discipline still has a number of research gaps in this country. According to the Federal Agency for Civic Education, there is still a lack of empirical research with the help of which the theoretical approaches could be checked. Nevertheless, there are some disciplines that are currently developing strongly and offer new research approaches:

"Animals in Social Interactions"

The coexistence of humans and animals, the basis of mutual recognition and social communication and interaction processes are analyzed. The research here mostly relates to the classic "family animals", for example dogs and cats.

"Social Construction of the Animal"

Opposites like eating-eating, spirit-instinct or culture-nature are contrasted in this area. Furthermore, it is analyzed how supposedly homogeneous subgroups such as "domestic animals", "farm animals", "zoo animals" or "laboratory animals" are classified and which treatments are considered socially legitimate for them. Above all, it is about the question of why animals are on the one hand personalized and humanized, but on the other hand the massive imprisonment, instrumentalization, exploitation and killing of animals can be reconciled with it.

"The human-animal relationship as a relationship of domination and violence"

Animals are sentient subjects and accordingly, like humans, they can be victims of violence and acts of power. This research area sheds light on the mechanisms that modern times have brought with it and what exactly contributes to the institutionalization of acts of power and violence.

"Change in human-animal relationships"

It examines the human-animal relationship and how it has changed over time. One focus is, for example, the creation of animal welfare movements and animal rights / liberation movements. The goals, i.e. the reduction of animal suffering through the reform of animal-using practices and industries as well as their complete abolition, are also the subject of research.

2. Pet vs. farm animal

What actually makes the difference between farm animals and pets? This cannot always be clearly defined, but in general it can be said that, roughly speaking, livestock should only serve a specific purpose, for example meat production. They were domesticated because humans expected a benefit from keeping them - accordingly, animals from agriculture in particular are considered to be livestock. In this context, the economy of an animal also plays a major role. For example, a dairy cow that does not give enough milk is often brought to the slaughterhouse after just a few years. The pet, on the other hand, has a significantly higher priority, is viewed as part of the family and is usually kept in a species-appropriate manner. On the one hand, this may be due to the fact that many pets have earned their good reputation over the years (cat - catches mice, protects supplies; dog - guards the house, yard and family), but on the other hand, the "child pattern" often applies: big head , big eyes, shorter limbs, etc. Added to this are the fluffy fur and the characteristic behavior of some animal species.

A look at other countries, however, also shows that the distinction between livestock and domestic animals is quite arbitrary. While dogs and cats are considered best friends of man in this country, they are eaten without hesitation in other regions. It is similar with the cow: for many Hindus it is sacred and therefore inviolable, in Germany and many other countries, however, it is slaughtered by the thousands every year.

a. Historically

In the course of evolution, humans have always evolved with other living beings. At first animals were probably only seen as a threat, but later they were a sought-after source of food. Ultimately, some species were successfully domesticated. In the meantime it has been proven that humans actually feel the inner need to be in contact with other forms of life, this applies to both animals and plants. The animal was idolized at times and influenced numerous religious, philosophical and scientific ideas, but it was also feared. The story of the bad wolf, for example, is still present today, although its reputation does the shy and social wild animal injustice.

i. Anthropocentrism as the basis

Basically, it can be said that Western societies in particular are shaped by anthropocentrism. With this worldview, the focus is on people, while nature and animals are means to an end. This way of thinking is still recognized today, but it is also increasingly being questioned. Farm animals such as pigs, cows or chickens are a particularly obvious example of anthropocentrism. As a rule, they are kept in confined spaces and have to spend their short lives under often cruel conditions. There is economic calculation behind this attitude - for personal gain, humans accept that the suffering of animals is overlooked by viewing them as a "thing".

ii. Models of the human-animal relationship

There are different degrees of empathy between animals and humans. This is different depending on the relationship to the animal - in research there are various classifications in this regard, the most far-reaching one comes from KELLERT (1978) and is listed below:

The distinction between domestic and farm animals enables humans to have fewer moral concerns when it comes to the production of their food or other animal products. In addition to this distinction, the human-animal relationship is also disturbed by another fact: the division into "friendly" and "bad" animal species.

Man evaluates the world and arranges it according to his ideal ideas, in doing so he automatically judges the species that surround him. The house cat is usually perceived as friendly and pleasant and is named with the attribute "sweet". On the other hand, there are a number of animal species that cause disgust, fear or restlessness, especially poisonous animals such as snakes, spiders or scolopers. In fact, however, it is in the nature of man to judge his environment and to evaluate circumstances that affect him. Fear and disgust therefore arise primarily from primeval behaviors and instincts that are deeply anchored in the subconscious and represent a form of protection.

Disgust serves as a protective reaction to humans and therefore has its justification from an evolutionary point of view. It mainly protects the body from infection by other people, contaminated objects or animals. Insects and arachnids are also associated with contamination, which ultimately leads to disgust. Fear and disgust are therefore innate, although the question also arises to what extent these feelings are partly learned and trained. You can read more about this in the following essay on Human Animal Studies at the University of Innsbruck: The "fearful" human being and the "dangerous" poisonous animal - a human-animal relationship of a different kind.

On the other hand, there are typical favorites such as dogs, cats, hamsters or horses. For example, there is hardly a young girl who did not want a horse or pony in her childhood, because after all, the gentle herbivores are not only majestic and exciting to look at, but also like to be fed, petted and - the biggest plus point - can be ridden. The fascination is not by chance, however, because the horse has always been established as a reliable farm animal, is considered intelligent, powerful and loyal. This article explains which mechanisms are behind the fact that girls in particular are so enthusiastic about horses.

b. The pet as a friend

Around 55% of Germans share their home with an animal companion. For their owners, they often mean a higher level of life satisfaction, due to the feeling of being used, the stress reduction through animal contact and observation. They are also a tried and tested playmate for children; they also suffer from only half as many allergies or asthma, are better at school, are able to work in a team, are communicative and responsible, provided they grow up with an animal.

i. Humanization of pets

People tend to humanize their beloved animals, so they attribute typical human intentions, expressions and behaviors to them. This is often the case with children in particular, as they are not yet able to differentiate accordingly in their perception. However, according to a dissertation from the Free University of Berlin, only animals that have no economic significance are anthropomorphized - in countries where the dog is an economic factor, for example, it is treated much more distantly.

ii. Therapeutic use

The fact that pets have a close bond with humans can also be seen from the fact that they can serve a therapeutic purpose. Children who are marginalized at school can, for example, rebuild self-confidence with a dog or other pet, but older people are also happy about the affection and love they receive from a pet.

iii. Zoo and circus in transition

Lifelong behind bars, this is still the everyday life of many animals today. There are around 300 municipal and private institutions in Germany alone where wild animals and domestic animals are on display. Under unsuitable and often catastrophic conditions, they serve to amuse the population, but often become ill, depressed and behavioral in the process. The fact is that the zoo and especially the circus model is no longer justified and has meanwhile also received a lot of criticism from the population - for the first time, an initial change is noticeable due to the protest, because many circuses are now even doing without animal actors or are trying to do something about it a more species-appropriate attitude.

c. Livestock as a resource and source of food

Never before have humans kept so many farm animals in their long history of development as they do today. At the same time, this attitude is highly controversial in society and raises more and more questions today. How can a farm animal be seen as a resource and at the same time be understood as a sentient creature? Or are people now slowly but surely losing touch with their consumer behavior and living it out at the expense of animals?

i. Factory farming

In Germany alone, more than 830 million animals die each year as a result of factory farming, and most animals are forcibly adapted to their forms of husbandry. Beaks, tails, horns and even teeth are shortened or severed, often even without anesthesia, essential basic needs are simply ignored and freedom of movement is severely restricted. In the meantime, it is also inevitable that antibiotics must be given so that the animals can still perform well despite being kept unreasonably. The Albert Schweizer Foundation shows what factory farming looks like for individual animal species.

ii. Killing animals

The slaughter of animals is seen as a kind of grown tradition and is accordingly understood as a matter of course, which also withstands legal aspects. In the meantime, however, the type of killing and, above all, the handling of the animals themselves has changed a lot, and not necessarily for the better. Every year around 500,000 animals die of stress and fear of death during transport to the slaughterhouse alone, as reported by the Association for Animal and Nature Conservation Ostwestfalen e.V. Many of the animals hear the screams of their conspecifics or even witness their death.

All animals for slaughter die by having their carotid artery cut through and thus bleeding to death. In advance, they are anesthetized using various methods such as a bolt shot, electricity or gas. According to this, the sensation of pain is switched off before killing, but investigations at slaughterhouses have shown that the anesthesia are often not strong enough or are performed incorrectly - some animals experience partially with full consciousness how their carotid artery is severed or are even scalded alive and cut up .

iii. Humans occupy the animal habitat

Animals are not only used as a resource without any moral concerns, their original habitat is also increasingly being taken over by humans. The main reason for the worldwide extinction of species is primarily the destruction of natural habitats caused by humans. By slash and burn man destroys the rainforests and their ecosystem, he overfishes the oceans and makes excessive use of nature's resources. All of this is mainly for your own benefit, be it for more arable land, living space or the simple ignorance of nature directly on site.

3. Animal abuse - what's behind it?

Strangling a cat in a wire loop, poisoning the neighboring dog with bait or hanging songbirds on trees in the forest - cruelty to animals can have many faces and all too often people look the other way. Every animal owner is legally obliged to care for and feed his animal in a species-appropriate manner, to provide it with appropriate accommodation and to cause it neither pain nor suffering. But although the penalties for cruelty to animals are now much more severe, animal abuse is and remains widespread. It is not only the desire to torture that makes people attack animals, the perpetrator often pursues a very specific motive.

a. The five types of offenders from a psychological point of view

b. When children torture animals - parents are in demand

Not only adults, but also children torment animals. Here, however, the question arises whether these animals deliberately treat them badly and whether there is intent behind it. The fact is that toddlers are not yet able to distinguish between living beings and toys properly, so they usually act without malicious intent if they pull the family dog ​​too hard by the ear. The reasons for this can be varied: often it is simply overzealous, but sometimes it is also too intense expressions of love. Younger children in particular are also driven by curiosity and a willingness to experiment and therefore often react too roughly. Here it is crucial that the parents intervene in good time, preferably with a resolute "no".At the same time, they should also explain to their offspring that animals feel pain just like themselves and should therefore not be treated so carelessly.

On the other hand, it can be more problematic when children hurt animals because they need an outlet for their aggression. If the pet has just been caressed, but is kicked in the next moment, parents are not allowed to watch. Ideally, people do not scold loudly at first, but ask carefully, because the aggression is often based on problems at school, with friends or in family.

i. Early animal abusers rarely just leave it at that (psychological problems in adult life and the like)

The importance of the parents' reaction to animal abuse by their offspring is evident not least in later adult life. Research in psychology and criminology has already confirmed several times that a number of criminals committed crimes against animals at a young age before they committed crimes against their fellow human beings in their adult lives. A study by the animal welfare organization SPCA in Massachusetts and Northeastern University shows that people who torture animals are five times more likely to act violently against others. Accordingly, animal abuse should not only be interpreted as a minor personality defect, but rather as a synonym for a profound mental disorder. Some cases of criminals who fall into that same pattern can be found here.

c. The penalties for animal abuse are much tougher

Animal abuse and cruelty have long ceased to be seen as mere damage to property, there is now a threat of severe penalties that are sometimes still underestimated by criminals. The fact that the offenses against dogs, cats and co. Are by no means trivial is also made clear by the effort involved: Here, the city veterinary offices, the city police and even customs work hand in hand. Nevertheless, there is currently only one criminal provision in the Animal Welfare Act that applies to behavior that violates animal welfare. Unjustified animal killing and the raw and torturous mistreatment of animals are therefore punishable, but killing or torture by omission is also punished. A mere attempt at the act or a negligent act, however, are not punishable. The sentence can be composed as follows:

  • Attempted or negligent cruelty to animals can result in a fine of up to € 25,000.
  • Animal killing by omission (example: an owner deliberately starves his dog to death) can result in imprisonment of up to three years or a large fine.

Further details on the current legal situation can be found at the German Animal Welfare Association.

4. Conclusion

Ultimately, the question arises as to how the current relationship between humans and animals will develop in the future. On the one hand, clear trends towards animal welfare are visible, for example through large-scale campaigns and information from various organizations, but people themselves are increasingly choosing to consume more consciously, are in favor of a vegetarian diet or even completely avoid animal products. However, realistically speaking, it is not realistically likely that farm animals will experience a different type of husbandry and treatment in the near future - this would mean that the population around the world would have to be better educated about animal rights and appropriate treatment, and there are also a number of cultural differences that are not so easy to overcome are.

You might also be interested in