Is Animal-Assisted Philosophy for Me (and My Dog)?
AAP is for adult humans who work with or on behalf of other animals in various contexts or who live with dogs and take an interest in the philosophical aspects of human-animal-relations. Together, we will be working only with not specifically trained or bred dogs in what is called a 'flipped model' in the AAI-literature. These dogs are hence not typical "therapy dogs" but philosophy is also not your typical therapy.
The goal of AAP is to facilitate honest and critical conversations about the challenges that human-animal-relations inevitably pose, yet in a fun and mutually supportive way to coproduce knowledge that is informed by participants' varied backgrounds and experiences.
Human-animal-interactions to expect are guided walks, games and grooming. The interventions will also involve elements of creative writing because, in my experience, allowing your own thoughts to run freely across difficult terrain over time really helps to see things more clearly.
On the right, I list the various interventions I am planning. As of today, I do not know whether I will be able to offer AAP in institutional settings or whether I will be working independently. Though I am particularly interested in doing animal-assisted philosophy with people who have little knowledge in animal studies and moral philosophy, I will ask that everyone who would like to take part in an intervention does a personality test with the dog whom they are looking to involve.
Vicarious Wildness. An Animal-Assisted Philosophy (AAP) Intervention (online)
‘Animal-assisted philosophy’ (AAP) is a term coined tongue in cheek for a serious project: to combine philosophy and creative writing informed by not specifically bred or trained companion dogs for humans to grow healthier relations with both other animals and their own animality. It was formulated in response to the global coronavirus crisis (COVID-19) that had upended life as many knew it in the minority world, a life also marked by human hubris vis-à-vis and alienation from other animals. The zoonotic nature of COVID-19 has only highlighted the problematic nature of many human-animal-relations that had already come under philosophical scrutiny. For decades, moral and political philosophers have questioned the use of farmed animals, animals in research, they have raised concerns about wildlife and debated the significance of the fact that humans are animals, too. Yet many of the old habits of thinking, feeling, and acting have been kept in response to the pandemic, even fortified: While there is growing interest in abandoning factory farming and, with it, the breeding grounds for the next pandemic, the industry is still going strong. While both members of the general public and researchers are increasingly sceptical about the merits of animal experimentation, using animals in research was part and parcel of developing vaccines. While fascination for wild animals has grown, it also fuels the desire to either establish contact with them or even keep them. While rescue charities found themselves inundated with dog adoption requests and puppies sold at record prices, a large number of these dogs were abandoned again or are now poorly socialised and undereducated. And, despite the obvious disruption to how humans live, love, grieve and explore every other aspect of life as the socially organised mammals they are, people are still uncomfortable with acknowledging their own animality, not to mention with meeting other animals on equal or their own terms.
One of the central tenets of AAP is that humans have a lot to learn from other animals and that people can start right with those with whom they already share their homes (in animal-assisted interventions parlance, AAP will use a ‘flipped model’). To this end, AAP aims to offer various learning experiences for people and their dogs: guided walks, workshops in open fields and online interventions. ‘Vicarious wild(er)ness’ is the first online intervention and will serve as a foundation for further AAP-work. It is open to anyone interested in philosophy, dogs and wolves, and creatively exploring difficult topics – upon successful completion of an evaluation that helps determining whether the particular human and dog can form a good AAP-team. Note that under no circumstances should these dogs be called “therapy animals”. Humans are invited to think of the dogs as “informants” or “teachers”, yet acknowledge the fundamental power asymmetries built into the human-companion dog-relation. Since, of all the other animals from whom humans could learn a thing or two, dogs are the only species whom humans seem to be able to involve in such an enterprise with the realistic hope for the experience to be mutually beneficial, no direct contact with any other species will be sought.
This intervention has three goals:
1) to make people think critically about human-wolf-relations, exploring whether relatively high compassion for dogs can translate into higher compassion and concern for wolves in the wild;
2) to reflect on the lure of ‘wild’ and its cognates. Before COVID-19, there had been an increased interest in wild environments and their preservation, reflected in a boom in wildlife tourism and nature writing. Wildness is typically idealized as a condition or environment untouched by humans. Yet, such conditions and environments hardly exist anymore, and with COVID-19 being a zoonosis that is likely to have originated in humans encroaching on wildlife, it is a good prompt for people to reflect on the place of the wild in good or flourishing human and non-human lives.
3) to strengthen the bond between participating humans and their dogs.
The intervention offers close engagement with:
- Canadian environmentalist Farley Mowat’s Never Cry Wolf, a nature writing classic about wolves, fusing science and sentiment
- British philosopher Mary Midgley’s contributions to animal ethics and philosophical anthropology
- contemporary scientific material on both wolves and dogs
- contemporary websites related to wolves (specifically, webcams and videos)
- participating dogs in a responsible, fun and structured manner
- participating humans’ own creativity through guided brief writing exercises
- other participants, course instructor as well as a number of professionals who work with or on behalf of either wolves or dogs (or both)
The following philosophical themes will be covered: myths and their role in views about human-animal-relations, ‘wild’/‘wildness’/‘beastliness’/‘wilderness’, ethics of human-dog-relations, theory of mind, play, ‘human nature’/‘being human’, relation between animal and environmental ethics, predation/living with predators, population control, aggression and conflict, interspecies communities and mutually beneficial relations.
During COVID-19, history has shown once again that people turn to dogs to support them in various ways. While, in the past, dogs have been selected for specific functions and later on bred for such functions and forms, we are currently experiencing a lot of mismatch between dogs' expectations of a good life and how we expect them to thrive (with corona puppies again being a case in point). In this intervention, we will look more closely at breeds, at landraces and the fact that most of the dogs who live in our communities globally have not been bred and at the functions that we expect dogs to fulfill in our communities in the future. Surely, it can't be the Malamute in an airconditioned one bedroom in a warming Northern hemisphere.
Playfully, we'll look at breed histories and names and discuss whether we can and should hope for Coonhounds to turn into Batrescoodles or for bringing back Bullenbeisser to now help us fight depression and anxieties. This intervention will be an invitation for people to dive more deeply into the - oftentimes confusing - histories of their dogs and facilitate dialogue about how humans and dogs could go forward in the future in a way that is conducive to each species well-adaptive functioning.