Animals & Human Society Research Paper Starter

Animals & Human Society

This article examines the complex relationships that humans have with animals including animals as sources of food, as companions, as objects of sports, as sources of entertainment, and as cultural icons. The history of human-animal relationships is reviewed along with how those relationships change as societies evolve into industrial and postindustrial societies. The issues that make defining and enforcing animal welfare policies and laws and how standards of animal welfare are decided are explored. How the relationships between humans and animals are changing in the twenty-first century is also reviewed.

Keywords: Animal Assisted Therapy; Animal Welfare; Companion Animals; Ecotourism; Factory Farms; Human-animal Relationships; Pet Ownership; Working Animals


Humans and non-human animals have had a social, cultural, and ecological relationship since they have existed. As societies evolved from hunting and gathering, to agrarian, industrial, and beyond, so has the relationship between humans and animals. The relationship is impacted by the state of evolution in a society as well as the culture, history, and economics of a society (Phillips & McCulloch, 2005). Humans have always had numerous types of relationships with animals and continue to use non-human animals in multiple ways. Animals provide some part of the food supply for humans in virtually all societies and have provided several types of animal products such as clothing, adornment, or implements for human use. Global meat consumption, for example, has more than doubled since 1960 and is expected to double again by 2050 (Bond, 2008). Americans consume twice as much meat on average than the population in the rest of the world ("Meat Consumption," 2008).

Animals have also provided humans with companionship and service as pets or working animals. Dogs and cats have served as working animals, guardians, hunters, and pets for thousands of years, dating to ancient Egypt and earlier. Working animals such as oxen, mules, horses, camels, and elephants have enabled civilizations to farm and to transport goods to market. Many animals have been used as workers depending on the animals that are found locally or that could be imported. In Asia, for example, monkeys are employed to pick coconuts ("Monkey business," 1997). Just as these animals were used in producing and moving food products they were also used to enable nations and empires to fight wars (Lamb, 2004; Rees, 2007).

Animals have been exploited for sports such as racing and fighting where they compete against each other. Dog fighting came into the spotlight in the United States when Michael Vick, a National Football League star, was under investigation for his involvement in the activity. This high-profile case helped to make the public aware of the extent of dog fighting and the cruel treatment inflicted on the dogs used in the fights (Amiel, 2007; Tuttle & Samuels, 2007). Many cultures have been attracted to competitions like rodeos and bullfighting where humans attempt to triumph over animals.

Animals are historically the objects of various human activities, including hunting and fishing. In some cases, animals have been hunted to extinction or near extinction. Such hunting can devastate animal populations especially among those animals that are slow to breed (Clarke, 2003). Notably, some species that have been hunted near extinction have been revived, such as the North American Bison, which has been thriving in small numbers in the western United States (Lulka, 2008).

In other cases the overpopulation of one type of animal can cause problems in the ecosystem. For example, the overabundance of white-tailed deer in the United States has had significant detrimental ecological, environmental, and social impacts. Here hunters might be viewed as providing a service to the community and to the deer population because they thin the herds, which, in turn, reduces stress on the environment and strengthens the breeding stock of the deer population (Ward et al., 2008). In addition, the demand and sale of wildlife products such as ivory have long fueled the hunting and killing or mistreatment of animals.

Societies have enshrined animals in their arts, literature, and media. Paintings of animals have been found in prehistoric caves and the depiction of animals in art continues into modern times. Animals such as rare birds and others considered exotic or mysterious have been romanticized by numerous artists (Rhodes, 2004). Many of these images have been considered a form of entertainment, such as sculptured giant pandas or cows displayed on the streets and in the parks of large urban areas (Broglio, 2005). Many artists who specialize in wildlife art have donated millions of dollars of the proceeds of the sales of their art to support animal-related causes (Milius, 1991).

Animals have long had roles in entertainment venues such as circus acts. As electronic communications technology evolved animals have remained a staple in entertainment and are now used in television shows and movies. Wildlife films have become very popular on television and have been a favorite of viewing audiences since they appeared in movie theaters in the 1950's and 1960's (Lovejoy, 2001). There are several television channels that offer extensive programming covering animals; these include the Nature Channel, Animal Planet, the Discovery Channel, and National Geographic television.

The Evolution of Human-animal Relationships

Since the end of World War II, human-animal relationships have changed in industrialized nations more so than in the nonindustrialized nations of the world. There has been a rapidly growing interest in animal welfare in the industrialized nations but in the nonindustrialized nations, human-animal relationships and the emphasis on animal exploitation have remained largely the same. The demographics of industrialized nations shifted more to an urban environment with a food-service industry and supply-chain system that has allowed the status of urban animals to move from food source to pet. There have also been numerous animal-welfare groups established and numerous animal-welfare laws enacted (Tuomivaara, 2005; Medina, 2008).

Animal Welfare Efforts

The concept of animal welfare has become more widespread since the middle of the twentieth century. Animal welfare initially considered the animal's physiological needs such as food, appropriate shelter, and adequate surroundings. Animal welfare efforts now also address the psychological well-being of the animals as well as their ability to thrive socially with or around other animals (Veissier & Forkman, 2008). However, there is not a universal agreement on what constitutes an appropriate measure of animal welfare, and, not surprisingly, the various affected parties, i.e., farmers and animal-product producers, veterinarians, animal-rights activists, and lawmakers have yet to come to a consensus (Fraser, 2008).



The lives and survival of humans and animals have been intertwined throughout history. As much of the world moves into an industrial or postindustrial economy the relationships between humans and animals remain as strong as ever, although the natures of the relationships have changed in several ways. Humans have had dogs and cats living with them in a domesticated manner for thousands of years as companions, hunters, and guards. Humans and their pets often form family-like bonds. In recent times animals have become replacements for children or perhaps even spouses (Albert & Bulcroft, 1988; Greenebaum, 2004).

The healing power of animal products has long been known. Animal products have been used in making medicines for thousands of years. Substances derived from processing animal organs, bones, skins, tusks and other animal parts have been used in making medicines for humans in several parts of the world and still are used in making modern pharmaceuticals (Alves & Rosa, 2005). It has also become widely accepted that animals can play a role in healthcare and healing for physical as well as psychological ailments. This has opened up new career paths for many animals (Swift & Siteman, 1997; Peterson, 1999).

The Role of Pets in Healthcare

Animals have provided considerable positive healthcare benefits for a variety of people. The use of service animals that can assist people with vision or hearing impairments has become commonplace. Although there is some skepticism, it has been found that some dogs are capable of detecting cancer in humans (Cross, 1998). There has been a considerable body of research developed on the role of pets or companion animals in modern society and much of the recent research has focused on the positive impact on the physical and mental health of pet owners (Poresky, et al, 1988; Hennings, 1999; Flynn, 2000).

Clearly, having contact with animals through animal assisted therapy programs has proved to have a positive impact on improving health in conjunction with traditional forms of therapy for conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (Lefkowitz, et al., 2005; Wells, 2009). It has also been found that some patients show improvement in mental health after spending time on farms where there are animals ("Can I," 2008). Research shows that contact with pets can have a positive impact in moderating rates of suicide among some abused women (Fitzgerald, 2007). It has also been found that prison inmates that participate in prison-based animal programs (PAPs) benefit both psychosocially and physically by being associated with animal-assisted therapy (Furst, 2007). Other research shows that there is a very complex relationship between pet ownership and how much people laugh; that dogs provide a type of friendship that increases laughter and subsequently a positive impact on health (Valeri, 2006). The use of equine-assisted experiential therapy has also positively contributed to the mental health of participants.

The Growth of Ecotourism

Over the last three decades ecotourism enterprises, both public and private, have been flourishing. A common ecotourism model involves collecting or preserving wildlife and making it accessible to tourists for viewing and photography opportunities (Buckley, 2009). The first goal of ecotourism is the conservation of wildlife combined with a system of conservation that generates enough revenue to cover at least part of the cost of conservation. There are several aspects of the economics of ecotourism beyond just paying the cost of operating a reserve. Ecotourism efforts are also ideally designed to provide a stable enough economy to support local populations and engage that population in the preservation process, in turn reducing the poaching or slaughter of animals (Slinger-Friedman, 2009). As ecotourism efforts grow, the local economy can grow, especially in the tourist services realm (Clifton & Benson, 2006).

Although there have been numerous ecotourism projects started in almost all parts of the world, the ultimate success of ecotourism as a model to preserve animal life has yet to be thoroughly tested. One of the major challenges is to assure that revenue keeps flowing into the enterprises. The success of ecotourism projects often rests on drawing travelers from far away. When travel is curtailed because of economic downturns or civil disruption in an area, revenues are most likely to decline (Powell & Ham, 2008).

Other issues concerning ecotourism pointed out by conservationists are the environmental impacts of an increased number of travelers as well as the impact that tourists may have on the welfare of the animals. These concerns often bring into question the methods of managing ecotourism sites and priority setting for long-term sustainability. In simple terms, is the priority to preserve wildlife or to serve tourists and generate revenue?; these are two goals that can often collide in ecotourism management (Dickey & Higham, 2005). This may be especially true if there is not a guiding influence to help set goals and develop management practices (Fennell, 2008).

There have been many examples in which tour operators truly failed to put the concern for animals above that of revenue generation. One such documented case was that of turtles being ridden by tourists along the Great Barrier Reef on the coast of Australia. The turtles were virtually tormented by tourists; this eventually drove the population of turtles down and pretty much ended "turtle tourism," as it was known (Pocock, 2006).

Zoo Management

Although the practice of zoo keeping has been around for about three thousand years, zoos are facing challenges similar to those that ecotourism projects are facing (Olukole & Gbdebo, 2008). The primary goal of a zoo is to display animals so that visitors may view them. The second goal of a zoo is to help preserve various species of animals. As with ecotourism, these goals can very readily clash. There have been many cases that demonstrate that zoos often have difficulty maintaining a balance between revenue and operating profits and the protecting and preserving animals held in captivity at the zoo ("What's the mission?" 1997). The way zoos are managed and how animals are treated in zoos has changed considerably over the last few decades. The ethics of zoo management have shifted considerably, moving from simple display of animals to conservation and preservation of species. Still, the majority of zoos are ill-equipped to do little more than improve the surroundings of the animals they hold (Praded, 2002). There are of course shining examples such as the Bronx Zoo which built a $43 million replica of a rain forest to house endangered species (Day, 1999).

One issue in improving zoo life for animals living in captivity is that there is a considerable difference in opinion as to what constitutes animal welfare in zoos. Research is helpful but does not necessarily always translate into changes in managing captive animals. Research shows, for example, that the more a species roams the wild the more likely they are to not fare well in captivity (Francisco, 2003). But zoos by nature are smaller than the wild and find it impossible to totally replicate conditions in the wild. In addition, zoos are often underfunded when it comes to providing proper care for all of the animals held at the zoo. Dental care, for example, has long been recognized as a major problem among zoo animals and there has been considerable effort put forth to address those issues since the 1980s (Glatt, et al, 2008).

Factory Farming

As the consumption and demand for meat products increases around the world many farming operations have turned into factory farm environments. These industry-like farms raise and slaughter thousands of animals each year in high-density facilities that have little resemblance to more agrarian farming styles that evolved over thousands of years (Nierenberg, 2003). Research supports the proposition that the nature of the human-animal relationship in farming environments impacts how animals produce milk, offspring, or meat products. Many believe that the way animals are treated in factory farms has a generally negative impact on animal health and welfare and affects the quality of the animal products (Bertenshaw & Rowlinson, 2009). Aspects of factory farming can contribute to development and spread of animal-borne diseases. About 70 percent of new human diseases originate in animals. This makes the proper care of farm animals more important and also raises concerns about the quality control of animal products that move across international borders (Karesh & Cook, 2005; Block, 2008).

The high density nature of factory farms contribute to various types of air, water, and ground pollution and governments around the world are being urged to restrict how close these operations can be located to population centers ("Factory Farms," 2007). To reduce the risks and curb the criticisms many factory farm operations are revamping their animal confinement methods in response to European Union farm-policy reforms and pressure from consumer and advocacy groups and law suits in the United States (Block, 2008).

Food safety regulators can use technology that has dramatically advanced over the last twenty years to enforce regulations and monitor quality and potential contamination (Thompson, 2001). These advances are critical in a global economy where people and products of all around the world in very short periods of time where disease spreads fast and it spreads far. The 2009 outbreak of the swine flu, for example, was found to be an influenza virus that was part swine, part human, part avian and was traced back to Mexico (Friscolanti et al., 2009).

Animal Cloning

The cloning, or genetically controlled replication of farm animals, can now be accomplished. But after only a little more than decade of cloning experience, it is difficult to determine or predict the long-range consequences of cloning animals, such as whether there are any food safety risks involved with consuming cloned animals. Elected officials, regulators, and consumers are all somewhat fearful of cloning, and as a result, cloned animals are undergoing extensive testing (Bren, 2007).

In many ways, cloning is merely an extension of selective breeding or the use of hormone-powered food supplements and veterinary drugs. Farm animals are managed, fed, and slaughtered in manners that yield the most products at the lowest cost and thus higher profits for the producers. This process is alarming to many people and criticized by animal-rights advocates and conservationists. However, one thing that all should keep in mind is that the cloning processes being developed with farm animals may someday be used to save a wide variety of endangered species (Campbell et al., 2005).



The animal-welfare debate is political, economic, social, and philosophical. The definition of appropriate welfare for animals is undergoing debate and is being defined in several different ways. Some interest groups point out that there is not a scientific consensus on what standards animal-welfare practices should be based (Sheppard, 2005). In addition, different animals have vastly different needs, and the industries that raise animals have different perspectives and different economics (Duncan, 2001).

As much as people love animals and as much as societies profess to want to protect the welfare and the rights of animals, the relationship between humans and animals is still riddled with human perceptions, beliefs, and attitudes, many of which are detrimental to animals in one form or...

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