I love animals. I care about their welfare and their happiness, if their coats are clean and paws are cute. I love animals so much that I went vegan and also actively spend time with Susu, giving her cat treats. Stroking a furry animal in times of stress is a great way to relieve stress and tension, which is why I was so excited to see the ‘You Are More Than…Your Studies: Petting Zoo’ event on Facebook.
However, this morning I decided not to go, at first mainly because of the weather. But walking by the ‘Petting Zoo’ as I walked into the Union provided further confirmation to my decision not to go.
As an animal lover, I expected the animals to be in the marquee where the puppies were last semester, but they were in the small redbrick area outside building 42, in small pens. Granted, it was only for three hours and they are supervised by farm staff at all times, but the animals will be used to open paddocks at their home farm, not being enclosed for periods of time in small areas, and having more room would have definitely been a lot less stressful for the animals.
The recently boasted £7 million turnover from SUSU would suggest that there could have been better ways of carrying out the event, such as a marquee with easy-clean floors and a lot of hay, keeping the animals out of the elements and in a much more comfortable environment. Sam Bailey, the VP Welfare at SUSU, argued that the marquee would have potentially been more stressful for them:
holding the event on the grass would be detrimental to the animals’ welfare as it would quickly get muddy and unstable, putting them in danger.
However the grass is used and gets choppy for other events, such as the long-running poster sale at the start of the semester. Surely an event including animals would mean SUSU could afford to implement strategies to benefit the animals’ welfare.
The online event is focussed around student welfare and de-stressing, saying that ‘studies suggest that petting animals can help you to de-stress and relax’. There are many other events held by SUSU, such as workshops on managing exams and revision, and are also a significant number of ways to de-stress on campus, like seeking out Susu the cat. Meanwhile, petting farm animals who do not understand why they are in a different environment out of their natural comforts and being petted by hundreds of young adults is surely not going to be good for the welfare and stress of the animals. Why does student welfare have to be at the cost of animal welfare?
Over 1,500 students attended the petting zoo, SUSU say they received brilliant feedback, and the general consensus from them seems to be that the farm running it knows how to make correct decisions about the animals’ welfare. However, if the animals have large paddocks and are cared for well, then surely the organisers would have thought that students crowding around animals on bricks could potentially be distressing for the animals.
As adults, it is important for us to realise that animals used as entertainment can often be detrimental to their welfare, even if it was not explicitly intended to be cruel. In this case, I think the Student Union had the best of intentions, but that their execution of the event was a questionable and problematic.