Relating to animals

My little pony weird Quite unexpectedly I found myself in two unrelated meetings which required some thought about the relationships between people and animals. Here's a rough taxonomy I am slamming down here for future reference. Feel free to comment and add to it. It concerns how we convince people to empathise with animals – animals they don't know.

1/First group is those who work with animals – for whom animals represent utility value. This isn't just sheap and cows. But the use of horses and sheep dogs. I spent a year of my life working with sheep dogs and I never sentimentalised the relationship. They were almost colleagues! I praised them and yelled at them but chained them up outside in all weathers. It would never have occurred to me to have any other kind of relationship with them! But the relationship is quite close – you have to care for the animal which may mean getting quite close to it – smelling of it even.

2/ Those who encounter animals as a leisure pursuit and hire them from third parties. Riding donkeys on the beach or camels in North Africa. Or paying to go to a stables once a week to go horseriding. For whom ownership might only be an aspiration – but the fact they don't know a particular animal well might mean they have a greater fervour for what these animals represent. This is animal as aspiration.

3/ Then there are of course pet owners with which Britain is inundated for whom the animal is a quasi human construct. Happy hunting grounds for anti cruelty charities like the RSPCA. Because it is all about empathy.With the pet as a member of the family – child surrogate and all that territory. 

4/ Then there those for whom animals have a more symbolic meaning: the English with horses which is why they don't like eating them. Camels to cross the desert. Elephants in Thailand. They don't have much contact with these animals but still have high regard for them. The panda is a classic in this regard – which is why the WWF has got itself hobbled with the 5 big species when their focus these days is actually much more about environment and habitat.

5/ Is there another one which is the fictionalising of animals aka Disney, Watership Down where animals come into the foreground as characters in animal narratives? Animal as alter ego. Adolescence narratives, Bruno Bettelheim and all that circle of life bambi thang.

6/ And there are the animal activists who believe that animals are just as good as humans – in fact are better than humans and are cruelly suppressed because humans won't give them the same status.

Now which of these groups is the softest touch if you're trying to fundraise on behalf of an animal charity?  And why?



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