Why Are SUSU Still Exploiting Animals For Our Mental Health?

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The Union spout out so many reasons for having the petting zoo on campus – it helps to relieve stress, it’s popular, it helps with people’s mental health. But here’s the bottom line – it doesn’t matter how much grass they’re on, how big their enclosures are or how popular they are, it’s animal exploitation. Now hear me out before you start thinking I’m “just” a radical vegan (which, I mean, I am), there is no need for the Union to bring animals to campus to help with people’s mental health when there are many other proven ways of helping with mental health, some of which they have done in the past.

Credit: Katriona Turner-Thomson

This is the fourth exam season I’ve been at this university for, and the fourth time I’ve seen them running something along the lines of “You Are More Than Your Studies – Meet the Farm Animals”. To their credit, last year it was called a petting zoo and took place on the Redbrick so at least they seem to have learnt from their mistakes, and possibly even read a quite angry article I wrote last year. Now, to be fair to the Union, the event description encourages you to “Admire them, get some great snaps and relax away from your studies,” compared to previous years when they actively encouraged petting the animals. But it’s still completely unnecessary to have these animals on campus in the first place.

Just a few examples of previous years and current de-stress methods include booked meeting rooms by the union for people to revise in, free gym classes, meditation, yoga, even the punchbag. All of these are better options than meeting farm animals for one good reason – these are productive, proactive things that someone can do to help themselves rather than looking at some less than happy animals. Exercise releases endorphins, revision helps you learn and feel like you’re on top of your work and having booked rooms makes the work much less stressful than battling for space in an overheated library, and punching bags means you can release your stress physically. I just don’t understand how looking at some animals who don’t want to be there could help you “be more than your studies” or help to destress.

Some choice quotes from the event include “I wish I could pick up one of the lambs and just eat it for dinner” so clearly that person is getting the most out of this experience and Mary Christina Walton who said “Why can’t we destress by having a bouncy castle?” which I completely agree with. SUSU, why can’t we have a bouncy castle instead of some animals? Why do we have to exploit animals by making them be in an unfamiliar environment just for people to take pictures of them? 

David Allwright took the time to respond to some people who were annoyed and upset about today, so credit to him for encouraging people to bring suggested changes as a policy suggestion to the union AGM. But this does also seem like a way of passing the blame so he doesn’t have to deal with it – why is this even something that’s being continued in the first place? At least the animals are no longer on concrete in the cold but the treatment they’re having still isn’t much better. Just because we now have vegan pizzas in Stags doesn’t mean we’ll be distracted by animal exploitation, and there are better ways the Union can help people with stress than by bringing animals on to campus.

As Katriona Turner-Thomson put it, “Today I experienced cruelty, abuse and exploitation of innocent beings, and this was on our campus at our university. There is no justification in my eyes and it needs to stop, simple as.” When can we stop exploiting animals and start putting those resources into more mental health support instead? Like I’ve concluded in the past, I’m sure the Union just want people to destress and to be happy. But those of us who love animals do not want our happiness to come at the expense of these animal’s welfare.

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Third year PAIR student and head of events. Also The Edge's live editor and 2016-17 opinion editor. Fan of cats, gigs and a tea lover - find me rambling about politics and cats @_Carly_May on Twitter.

Discussion3 Comments

  1. avatar

    Asking to stop exploiting animals and put money in mental health care is a ridiculous comparison, in my opinion. Investing in mental health care involves significantly more money and sustained, long-term investment – not only that, but that would be carried out by the University, not by SUSU which is a separate organisation.

    Also, cute animals may also release endorphins and many of these alternatives listed – exercise, boxing, a bouncy castle – aren’t accessible to disabled people and may require a greater time commitment than looking at some animals for a few minutes.

    The last thing I’d say is that it might be worth getting in touch with the people who supply the animals rather than SUSU, to find out what their intentions are and how they manage the long-term safety of the animals.

  2. avatar

    I can’t help but agree here. I guess a few things are worth clarification:

    1. Within the student body, it is clear there are many people who are against this treatment of animals. It, therefore, should not be on display in the Redbrick. We should respect those students who we KNOW find this distressing/ object to these activities. A better alternative, I think, would be SUSU arranging a zoo-trip at a discounted rate. This way students who want to go can, and students that don’t are not subjected to it.

    2. I’m hopeful that the animals are looked after well. But travelling farms/zoos have a long history of problems.

    3. There is no concrete evidence that animals in this way release stress more than other activities. In fact, there is more evidence that cats and dogs contribute to good mental health. So if that’s their aim they need a puppy room – not a chicken! And cats and dogs LIKE being petted.

    I think SUSU is right at heart here, but wrong in application. It needs to be somewhere where students who find this actually increasing their stress levels are not exposed to it, and there needs to be a more careful consideration of the way its used (what animals etc.)

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