Controversial Humane Issues
- Become familiar with one or more controversial humane issues: breed bans, animals in entertainment, animals in research, and the link between animal cruelty and violence.
- Seek out and evaluate diverse information about these issues on the Internet.
- Explore personal feelings about these controversial issues.
- Empathize with an animals’ point of view.
- Explore different positions on controversial issues through writing and debating.
- Exchange ideas on these issues and learn to appreciate different viewpoints.
Animal abuse is sometimes condoned because of stereotypes about animals and ignorance about cruel practices. Finding accurate information on these issues can be challenging.
Curriculum Connection: Alberta Education Program of Studies
English Language Arts
Grade 7: Discover and Explore
- Extend understanding of ideas and information by finding and exploring oral, print and other media texts on related topics and themes.
- Express personal understandings of ideas and information based on prior knowledge, experiences with others and a variety of oral, print and other media texts.
- Reflect on own observations and experiences to understand and develop oral, print and other media texts.
- Revise understanding and expression of ideas by connecting new and prior knowledge and experiences.
Grade 7: Clarify and Extend
- Listen and respond constructively to alternative ideas or opinions.
- Use talk, writing and representing to examine, clarify and assess understanding of ideas, information and experiences.
- Talk with others to elaborate ideas, and ask specific questions to seek helpful feedback.
Grade 8: Discover and Explore
- Review, reread, discuss and reflect on oral, print and other media texts to explore, confirm or revise understanding.
- Seek out and consider diverse ideas, opinions and experiences to develop and extend own ideas, opinions and experiences.
Grade 8: Clarify and Extend
- Acknowledge the value of the ideas and opinions of others in exploring and extending personal interpretations and perspective.
- Exchange ideas and opinions to clarify understanding and to broaden personal perspectives.
- Reconsider and revise initial understandings and responses in light of new ideas, information and feedback from others.
Grade 9: Discover and Explore
- Talk with others and experience a variety of oral, print and other media texts to explore, develop and justify own opinions and points of view.
- Explore and explain how interactions with others and with oral, print and other media texts affect personal understandings.
- Extend understanding by taking different points of view when rereading and reflecting on oral, print and other media texts.
Grade 9: Clarify and Extend
- integrate own perspectives and interpretations with new understandings developed through discussing and through experiencing a variety of oral, print and other media texts
- Examine and re-examine ideas, information and experiences from different points of view to find patterns and see relationships.
- Assess whether new information extends understanding by considering diverse opinions and exploring ambiguities.
Grades 10-12: Manage Ideas and Information
- Determine inquiry or research requirements.
- Focus on purpose and presentation form.
- Plan inquiry or research, and identify information needs and sources .
- Follow a plan of inquiry.
- Select, record and organize information.
- Evaluate sources, and assess information.
- Form generalizations and conclusions.
- Review inquiry or research process and findings.
Many of these topics are also relevant to discussion in Health and Life Skills and CALM about bullying and evaluating situations of risk.
For each issue we have provided some thought provoking questions for discussion and some pertinent background information on the issue. The background material provided has high interest level and comes from reputable sources, but the reading level is generally high(except where noted) so younger students and weaker readers wil need some support. These controversial topics are suitable for a number of activities:
- small and large group discussions
- research projects
- formal presentations
- poster making
- journal entries
- creative writing
- structured or informal debates
Breed Restriction/Breed Bans
Certain dog breeds have been viewed as dangerous, and some local governments have moved to ban or restrict these breeds. Different groups have strong opinions on whether breed restrictions such asbanning “pit bulls” are effective in reducing injuries to humans from dogs. Some of the questions students could explore:
- Are some breeds naturally more vicious?
- Does appearance lead to stereotyping?
- How does the media influence decisions on these policies?
- What does it mean that most dog bites are from family pets or pets of friends?
- What role does training play?
- What do the statistics on dog bites show?
- What will happen if certain breeds are banned or restricted?
For your information, the policy of the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies on breed bans is as follows:
Breed Bans and Dog Bite Prevention
“The incidence of dog bites has not been shown to be reduced by restricting the ownership of certain dog breeds. Dangerous dogs can exist in every breed and breed cross. This behaviour can be attributed to the lack of appropriate training and socialization, inappropriate breed choice for owner’s lifestyle, failure to spay or neuter and mistreatment on behalf of the owner or person interacting with the dog. The issue of banning breeds that are thought to be more prone to aggressive behaviours has become the subject of debate – and legislation – at the municipal and provincial levels. The National Companion Animal Coalition, of which the CFHS is a member, has developed a fact sheet on this issue entitled, Reducing the Incidence of Dog Bites and Attacks: Do Breed Bans Work?. While this document is unlikely to end the debate on this contentious matter, it at least contributes some valuable information to what promises to be an ongoing discussion.”
Some other useful resources on breed bans and restrictions are listed below.
- Dog Legislation Council of Canada - information on breed restrictions in Alberta
- American Animal Hospital Association “Dog bites - Are there Dangerous Breeds?”
- Canada Safety Council “Aggressive Dogs threaten Public Safety” Article on dog bite occurrence in Canada by specific breeds.
- Rottweiler Club of Canada article opposing breed restrictions
- Canadian Association of Pet Trainers article opposing breed restrictions
Animals in Entertainment
Animals have been used for centuries to entertain people. Some argue that the animals enjoy “having a job” and are treated very well. Others argue that animals often suffer for our entertainment, and on principle, animals should not be made to entertain us. Some uses of animals are clearly cruel ( dog fighting), while other activities may fall into “grey areas”. Articles on both sides of each issue can be found on the Internet. Remind students to carefully check the source of the information found to help assess its accuracy and objectivity.
Some questions students could ask:
- What are the different ways animals are used in entertainment? Which are harmful to animals? How? (examples of uses - greyhound racing, rodeos, horse racing, horse shows, circuses, bullfighting, dolphin shows, swim with dolphin programs, animals in movies, hunting, zoos, dog fighting, whale watching, dog and cat shows, dog sled races, for example, the Iditarod)
- How do these activities affect our view of animals?
- Why are some forms of animals entertainment legal? Should they be?
- Do your views on this issue depend on whether the animal is domestic or wild? On whether the animal is very intelligent?
- What’s the difference between a zoo and a circus?
- Should animals ever be used to entertain us? What about teaching your dog to do tricks?
- What can we do to protect animals used for our entertainment?
One outcome of research into this area could be to write up a set of guidelines for humane treatment for one of the areas in which animals are used.
- The Humane Society of the United States has prepared a comprehensive review of Animals in Entertainment for teens(Grade 9 reading level) that is well worth looking at. Their branch, Animal Sheltering, has produced a disturbing poster of a greyhound that might be used to start discussion about what uses of dogs are acceptable.
- Students could review the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies policies on the use of animals in entertainment to see if they agree or disagree.
- The BCSPCA has prepared a useful information unit on rodeos. For an alternative view check the Calgary Stampede website or have students contact the Stampede office and the Calgary SPCA directly to see how they work together to protect animals.
- The BCSPCA has information on the use of animals in circuses.
- An interesting debate that also addresses the issue of freedom of speech could result from reading the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies position on Indigo carrying books on dog fighting.
- The American SPCA has an article at an easier (grade 7 ) reading level on circuses: ASPCA CIrcuses.
Animals in Research
Animals are used extensively in medical research. Public opinion polls suggest a wide range of viewpoints on this topic.
Some questions students could ask:
- Are some species of more concern than others? Do you care more about dogs than rats for example? Why?
- Should animals from shelters and pounds be used in research, especially if they are going to be euthanized anyway?
- Is it ever worth making animals suffer to conduct research?
- Would you pay more for cosmetics or drugs that weren’t tested on animals? How much more?
- Would you evaluate whether something like using animals research is acceptable only in terms of its consequences? Is an action always right if it results in the greatest good for the greatest number?
- Do animals have basic rights in a way similar to human rights? How might these rights be different?
- Have your views on using animals in research changed after researching this topic?
- The Humane Society of the United States has prepared a detailed discussion document on this topic and it is geared for teens: Science and Conscience - The Animal Experimentation Controversy.
- The Canadian Federation of Humane Societies has a number of policy statements on:
- People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is an American animal rights organization opposed to the use of animals in research.
- On the other side of the issue the British Royal Society (the National Academy of Science) in the UK defends the use of animals in research(click on Science Issues) as does the American National Academy of Science.
- The American SPCA has two articles at an easier reading level(Grade 8) on Using Animals in Research and Alternatives to Dissection.
The Link between Animal Cruelty and Family Violence
This link has been well documented and is a compelling reason for humane education. Animal abuse is a sign of problems within a family and all too often leads to later violence against people. This topic is more suitable for secondary school students.
Questions for discussion and investigation:
- How would you define animal abuse or animal cruelty?
- Does abusing animals cause people to be more likely to hurt people? Does animal abuse always lead to violence against people?
- Is it worse to hurt people than animals?
- Is it fair to end up with a criminal record for hurting an animal? Why or why not?
- Anthropologist Margaret Mead wrote, “One of the most dangerous things that can happen to a child is to kill or torture an animal and get away with it.” Discuss what she meant.
- Should we ban internet sites that promote animal abuse ( e.g. dog fighting websites) or would this be an unreasonable limitation on freedom of speech?
- What would you do if you saw someone hurting an animal?
- What can you do to prevent animal abuse?
- The best resource for teens is the ASPCA booklet Understanding Animal Cruelty. It is 24 pages long and provides background information and thought provoking questions on various aspects of animal cruelty including the link to family violence. It is well laid out and geared for teens.
For younger students
- ASPCA Animal Lessons background information for teachers and lesson plan ideas(K-8) on prevention of animal cruelty
Additional materials for high school students doing research on this topic:
- American Humane Association The Next Step: Exploring the Link Between Violence to People and Animals - 5 page article on link to family and school violence
- Animal Sheltering
- BC SPCA Family Violence + Animal Abuse - good two page overview - easy to read
- Research report: The Links Between Animal Abuse and Family Violence, as reported by women entering shelters in Calgary communities - more scholarly but provides local data
- Canadian Federation of Humane Societies: Human Animal Violence Connection
- Historical Overview
- The Violence Link – women, children, pets
- Why do abusers threaten, harm or kill animals?
- Effects on Women
- Effects on Children
- Benefits of Recognizing the Link
- What can I do?
- Signs of Abuse
- Risk Assessment
- Safety Planning Kit
- Safety Planning for Women
- Safety Planning for Pets
- Teach Kind resource: Animal Abuse and Human Abuse:Partners in Crime - two page background report
- Extensive resources are also available online at the Alberta SPCA
- Animal Abuse and Youth Violence - US Dept. of Justice report