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Kendra Coulter


Animals Are Workers, Too

Posted: 02/12/2014 7:50 am

There are workers who are not counted in censuses, protected by labour laws, or given a paycheque for their labour. Some of these workers are not humans.

The mention of animal work may evoke images of a by-gone era or a poor community in the global south where animals provide much-needed manual labour, like pulling and plowing. Animals have always been essential to human and social development, and as historian Susan Nance explains, "there has never been any purely human space in world history." In fact, animals work every day, around the world, and they deserve to be recognized.

The work animals do is diverse and wide-ranging. Dogs, for example, are effectively doing herding, law enforcement, search and rescue work, conservation, and other kinds of detection, whether that be sniffing out drugs, bombs, or human remains. Rats, too, are being enlisted for the dangerous work of land-mine detection -- with impressive results. Research is also underway to determine whether rats and dogs can be used to detect illnesses in humans ranging from tuberculosis to cancer.

Simultaneously, dogs, like cats, horses (both miniature and full-sized), and other animals, are increasingly involved in service work and in delivering a kind of health care. Service dogs provide round the clock guidance and assistance to people with physical and developmental disabilities. We entrust these animals with immense responsibility, tasking them with navigating complex terrain to guide people to work and school, and through the demands of daily life. The animals help transform the daunting and even the seemingly impossible into the achievable.

The transformative power of animals' work is also evident in some of our very intimate and personal experiences. Children struggling with literacy develop their abilities and confidence by reading to a patient dog or cat. Youth battling depression and addictions, as well as soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder, work to rebuild their lives with the therapeutic help of horses and dogs. Seniors and people of all ages in hospice care find meaningful peace and strength in communion with an animal. The emotional work animals do in homes providing joy, comfort, and compassion is immeasurable.

There are many other important and remarkable examples of animal work, and this brief survey does not do justice to the breadth or depth of the contributions animals make to our societies and lives, some of which come at great cost to the animals. But even by recognizing that animals are workers, we disrupt human-centric ideas about work and are challenged to think more deeply about value. Feminists and women have long fought to have the crucial unpaid labour done every day in homes recognized as work. Environmentalists and even some economists have pointed out the extraordinary benefits humans garner from nature, such as the processing of carbon dioxide and the production of oxygen by trees, plankton, and so on. Similarly, beyond simply recognizing that animals work, we must acknowledge how much we gain from their labour.

Encouragingly, there is growing interest in the work done with, by, and for animals. More and more people are asking questions and extending their spheres of empathy and even solidarity to animals. And it may be that the next major social and political movement for progressive change champions animals, too.

One thing we know for sure is that animals do so much for people. So what will people now do for animals?


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  • Dog Passenger

    Driver, take me to get some tasty treats at once. (Via <a href="http://animalsdoingpeoplethings.tumblr.com/post/551835089/via-animalinsider" target="_hplink">Animals Doing People Things</a>)

  • Baby Panda Wave

    Hi. (Via <a href="http://animalsposinglikepeople.tumblr.com/post/191189554/baby-panda-waving-back-to-the-oh-hai-bug-below" target="_hplink">Animals Posing Like People</a>)

  • Kitten Chess

    If I move my pawn to d5, then you'd be forced to block with your rook, and I could check with my bishop...wait, just give me a minute here. (<a href="http://animalsthatdopeoplethings.tumblr.com/post/9253692427" target="_hplink">Via Animals Doing People Things</a>)

  • Disapproving Starfish

    What'd the kids do this time? (Via <a href="http://www.blameitonthevoices.com/2012/02/starfish-does-not-approve.html" target="_hplink">Blame It On The Voices</a>)

  • Horse Smile

    Say cheese. (Via <a href="http://animalsposinglikepeople.tumblr.com/post/138483934/deez-my-teufs-note-doesnt-she-look-like-one-of" target="_hplink">Animals Posing Like People</a>)

  • Cozy

    This pillow-blanket idea is genius! (<a href="http://animalsthatdopeoplethings.tumblr.com/post/15779708073" target="_hplink">Via Animals Doing People Things</a>)

  • Bear Picnic

    When are we eating? (Via <a href="http://animalsthatdopeoplethings.tumblr.com/post/13925394566/scuse-me-im-supposed-to-be-getting-a-picnic" target="_hplink">Animals Doing People Things</a>)

  • Lounging Dog

    Just hanging out after a busy day in the garden. (Via <a href="http://animalsposinglikepeople.tumblr.com/post/100421434" target="_hplink">Animals Posing Like People</a>)

  • Puppy Couch

    You mind grabbing me some water while you're up? (Via <a href="http://animalsthatdopeoplethings.tumblr.com/page/16" target="_hplink">Animals Doing People Things</a>)

  • Pilates Pro

    Exercise instructions are hard to follow, when you're a dog.

  • The Littlest Yogini

    Reminding myself I am strong and capable, despite my inability to use the kitty litter this morning.

  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle

    Cowabunga dude!

  • My Personal Trainer

    The Jillian Michaels of cats.

  • Complicated Crunches

    Getting rid of that bear belly.

  • Cardio Cat

    Running out my anger and aggression.

  • Up Dog

    I started yoga to cope with my irrational anger at the mail carrier.

  • Devoted Dancer

    I always dance like no one's watching.

  • I'm Done!

    Don't make me do any more crunches.

  • Flexible Feline

    Stretching before exercise is crucial.

  • Polar Bear Boogie

    Dance away that midsection!

  • Centered Canine

    This yoga retreat was just what I needed after my breakup with Missy.

  • Acrobatic Frog

    Performing his favorite event, the Parallel Rope.

  • Skater Boy

    The coolest dog. He just rolls with it.

  • Farm To Surfboard

    Goat for it!

  • They Politely Wave Goodbye

  • They Take Their Humans For A Walk

  • They Skateboard

  • They've Got Some Killer Dance Moves

  • They Beat Your High Score On Fruit Ninja

  • They Hijack Sleds

  • They Get The Munchies And Raid The Fridge

  • They Ride Bikes

  • They Work Off Those Extra Pounds On The Treadmill

  • They're Good Listeners

  • They Do Chores

  • They Get Frustrated With Accounting

  • They Like Getting Massages

  • They Play Tetherball

  • They Play Mini Golf Better Than You

  • They Give Awesome High Fives

  • They Sing And Play The Piano... At The Same Time!

  • They Take A Look Under The Hood

  • They Greet Their Kid After School And Help Carry Their Bag Home

  • They Hitchhike

  • They Have Mad Hula-Hoop Skills

  • They Rock Out On The Guitar

  • They Wear Their Sunglasses At The Beach

  • They Find Work As Lifeguards

  • They Cry When They Lose A Friend

  • They Play Patty-Cake

  • They Do Backflips When They're Bored


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