Between Saving a Life and Letting it Go

This video was made in Sept 2010; I chose to post it here now because of a recent discussion I had with a friend and the topic was fresh in my mind.

When it comes to the non-human animal species, most humans do not like to face the fact that animals in nature die, sometimes due to the prey/predator relationship; other times due to a finite number of years.  It is human nature to want to save an animal’s life when it comes across our path especially if it seems to be in distress, and we should if reasonably possible.  But there can be a fine line between saving a life and abusing the dignity of that life because of public or other pressure that we allow to force us into heroic measures.  Animals have as much “right” to a dignified death as humans do (and please do NOT confuse this issue with the extremist views of the “animal rights” faction – I do not agree with most of those viewpoints).  Dr. Safina narrates this story about a dolphin that became stranded near his home.  He soon saw that the dolphin was quite aged and likely would have died soon even had it never become stranded.  But because of public attendance viewing the “rescue” the team would not euthanize the dolphin on the beach in front of them and opted to move it to a care facility.  Listen to what Dr. Safina says about this – it speaks a lot about learning to empathize and participate another species’ being.

Abuse in Training: Learned Helplessness

We had a discussion surrounding this video on the Equine Zooanthropology group I belong to, and I wanted to post it here for any further discussion and to call attention to it.  This video by a well-known “natural horsemanship” trainer is a prime example of both so-called natural horsemanship (NH) techniques and learned helplessness in horses.  Learned helplessness occurs when an animal is repeatedly subjected to an aversive stimulus that it cannot escape.  Sooner or later, the animal will stop trying to avoid the stimulus and behave as if it is utterly helpless to change the situation.  Even when opportunities to escape are presented, this condition will prevent any attempt to escape.

That unfortunately is the ultimate goal of the NH…a training methodology that has been lauded as safe, gentle, and natural for horses.  It is none of those.  It is every bit as abusive as blatant physical abuse…and perhaps even more so as this has long-term emotional affects.  It does not take someone trained in behavior science to see this.

I am not singling this person out for attack – he is nothing more than a representative example of many who adhere to this type of training philosophy (although I’m sure his ego is big enough he would say he is quite different…)

We bring horses into our world, the least we can do is respect them as sentient, biocentric beings, which this man – and many others like him – is doing neither.