Report on “Animals and Us” Conference – University of Windsor, October 11-13

The following was written by Paola di Paolo, student at Athabasca University and Animals and Us Conference presenter.  The conference was organized by the Animal and Interpersonal Abuse Research Group (AIPARG) and was held at the University of Windsor from October 11–13, 2018. The conference was well organized, interesting, welcoming of all views, diverse, and free as a grant was provided through the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.  Paola’s presentation at this conference “Contested Meat – From Working Equines to Pasture Pets to the Dinner Plate” is included below, and focuses on the commodification of horses and horse meat.

The Animals and Us Conference organized by the Animal and Interpersonal Abuse Research Group (AIPARG) was held at the University of Windsor from October 11–13, 2018. The conference was well organized, interesting, welcoming of all views, diverse, and free as a grant was provided through the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. .

Here is an excerpt from the conference’s website:

“Non-human animals play a large role in the economic, social, cultural, and physical landscape of countries around the world. They are used in agricultural production, the creation and testing of medical technologies, the manufacturing of clothing and consumer goods, and sports recreation. Animals not only play a significant role in the economy and public life, they are also fundamental to domestic life. It is estimated that approximately 7.5 million households in Canada alone contain companion animals (Oliveira, 2014). These animals do not just provide companionship; they play a pivotal role in promoting the psychological health, well-being, and rehabilitation of humans. … In the face of growing awareness of the myriad uses and harms, people are increasingly asking what can we do for animals instead of simply what can they do for us. …The Animals and Us: Research, Policy, and Practice conference seeks to facilitate transdisciplinary and interdisciplinary dialogues among researchers, scholars, activists, artists, practitioners, students, and community members of various ideological persuasions to inform, ignite, and inspire enriched public and scholarly discourses on the issues of Animals and Us. The conference will feature submissions from all theoretical, philosophical, methodological, and disciplinary positions and practice orientations within the broad fields of human-animal studies, (critical) animal studies, and anthrozoology.”

On Thursday October 11th presenters discussed their research linking domestic violence to spousal assault. The executive directors from 2 of Ontario’s domestic violence shelters presented how they transitioned their shelters from ones where women could not bring their pets to pet-friendly centres. Statistics indicate that women often remain in abusive relationships when they cannot take their pets with them as they fear their partner may harm their pet if they leave the pet behind. Statistics also indicate that there is a strong correlation between harming animals and domestic violence.

On Friday and Saturday speakers presented papers on a variety of topics regarding the animals and us. A few of the talks stand out for me. Dr Angela Snowshoe discussed the Lac La Croix indigenous ponies of Canada. She indicated that oral histories among indigenous people indicate that horses survived the Ice Age by migrating and thus horses were here long before colonial settlers. Snowshoe hopes to have the Lac Lacroix ponies designated as a heritage animal in Canada. John Drew discussed the English reading curriculum in Canadian schools with regard to how animals were presented to children in the books on the school reading lists. He found that in many cases, books were chosen that did not position the animal as being in his/her own right but positioned them as a stand in for humans. Nicole Forsyth introduced us to Red Rover readers – a series of books published n the United States to help children to develop empathy for animals of all kinds. The Red Rover organization also provides grants to women’s shelters in order that such shelters can build kennels to keep residents’ pets on the premises.

As someone who works with horses and as a horse owner, I daily reflect on our relationship to horses. I meet great horse owners who see their horses as sentient beings whose physical, emotional, and mental health are important. I also meet horse owners who see their horses as mere objects embellishing the human’s life. In order to look into this dichotomy, I began to research how we humans construct the identity of our horses. Horses are the only animal in Canada that is in his/her lifetime is a performance/work/companion/therapy animal AND is taken to slaughter. I researched the way horses are treated and thought of in Canada and wrote a paper which I presented at the conference: Contested Meat: From working Equines to Pasture Pets to the Dinner PlateIn my research I found that in EuroCanadian culture we have commodified the horse through language and how we ‘use’ these beautiful sentient animals. For a view of my power point presentation, please see the attached.

This was an excellent conference, a time for people to come together and share their ideas and to learn from one another in a safe environment encouraging openness and discussion on a wide range of topics united by the theme of animals and us. I hope this conference becomes an annual event.

One comment

  1. Good to see more attention given to this subject. Very well done. Thank you, Paola.

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