Those Scandinavians – they always seem a step ahead on welfare… A Swedish labour union is seriously considering extending rights and services to working animals, particularly those in the therapeutic field. Animals have worked for the benefit of humans for as long as they have been domesticated, but in the past century our need for them as mere labourers has vastly decreased – but animal ownership is hardly on the decline. As pets and companions, our critter friends have had the chance to teach so many of us about themselves as beings – as intelligent, sentient, empathetic, emotional and spiritual individuals.
If you read this blog regularly, chances are you know of or work in Equine Facilitated (or Assisted) Therapy (or Learning). While this field has made huge strides to be acknowledged as a legitimate and extremely effective form of therapy for humans, it’s beyond time we address the elephant in the room – that the more intelligence and sentience we acknowledge in our animal friends and workers, the more we must acknowledge their lack of choice and the possibility that we’re taking advantage of their incredible natures. We’ve had interesting conversations lately on this blog about the potential pitfalls and concerns that crop up when using horses in therapeutic settings, as well as ways to address or mitigate collateral damage to our equine partners. So far, it’s up to individual practitioners to ensure the best living and working conditions for their own horses, but I have often wondered if a regulatory system is needed as the industry grows.
I was pleasantly surprised to hear this conversation on my national radio station (the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation), on a widely-heard program that is known for its quality journalism. This is just a discussion for now, but I’m really happy to hear it addressed earnestly at this level.
You can listen to this program here:
- The Swedish labour union explaining their reasons for addressing the rights of animals in the workplace, particularly in a therapy setting – down to issues like whether or not a therapy animal should have to endure being hugged if it is not mutually desired, consensual touch.
- Kendra Coulter, Associate Professor of Labour Studies at Brock University, and author of Animals, Work, and the Promise of Interspecies Solidarity weighing in on what it would mean to bring these questions to Canada, and what working animals’ rights and services might look like here.
- Conversation with Devon MacPherson, who has trained her own service dog, Barkley, to aid her with her clinical anxiety. She advocates for regulating the service dog field, and explains how she mitigates the stress the Barkley’s job creates for him.
- Carriage Horse Welfare – A fourth guest outlines the conditions and regulations in her work as a horse-drawn-carriage driver. While she claims the horses are treated well enough already, Coulter challenges her assertions.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this – do you think animal workers should be protected and their welfare regulated? How can you imagine this being implemented, particularly in the equine therapy field? Is there a way to regulate so that critters can thrive in their professions, not just have their needs met superficially? What problems or pitfalls with unionizing animals can you foresee? Or let us know anything else your wild minds think up on the subject…