Sometimes our jobs force us to address things we would rather not know about. We spend a lot of time researching, writing and thinking about the myriad ways humans abuse, kill, murder, maim and are cruel to each other but also the other species we share our planet with. For some animals have no right to exist if they are of no use to humans. If their existence and welfare conflicts with human ability to extend territory, dominate all other species while maximising profit, animals inevitably lose. They are killed, ‘culled’ or ‘managed’ out of existence, to cite some popular euphemisms. Using terms such as managing ‘invasive’ or ‘pest’ species disguises the invariable killing that is involved. Sometimes that killing is even glorified, revered and rewarded.
A case in point is the Maranoa Regional Council Wild Dog Management Advisory Group’s recent annual Golden Dogger Awards (news coverage here). The local council’s web page offers more details (page here). Aimed at landowners, the page encourages them to “do their bit to rid the region of wild dogs” by presenting dog scalps to be counted toward an annual Golden Dogger Award. According to both the council web page and the news article, the numbers of ‘scalps presented’ is up this year on last, and last year was up on the previous year. Note, that ‘scalps presented’ means ‘dogs killed.’ We are not told how the kill is achieved but there is mention on the site of ‘trapping’ animals. Other information we can glean from the website includes: the highest number of scalps handed over (I am presuming this means the highest number of dogs killed by one person) was 182; there is a novice category; a junior (i.e. under 18) category; and an ‘Honourable mention’ for those who produced over 30 scalps to the council.
How are we to think and feel about this program? Public executions from medieval times spring to mind. In the books of any reasonable person the savage slaughter of dogs, turned into a sport with an award system must classify as officially sanctioned barbarism. Consider the dog’s final indignity of having their scalps laid out as trophies by proud hunters; people who purport to be civilised. Sickening levels of outrage, anger and fear are our starting points, for the dogs that are killed, the potential harms involved to hunters, young and old, egged on by their local council to engage in this ‘sport’, but also for the wider endorsement of violence in the community. The strong links between interpersonal violence and cruel attitudes and treatment of other animals are well established. Over and again it has been established that when people hurt animals they are much more likely to hurt humans (and often the most vulnerable members of our community); and that when humans hurt other humans, they are much more likely to hurt animals.
In a paper called Throwing the Baby out with the Bathwater: Towards a Sociology of the Human-Animal Abuse ‘Link’? we argued that violence and cruelty to animals is institutionalised. It is not the outcome of individual pathology, but the outcome of living in a society where animals are deemed inferior to the needs and wants of humans. We may well love and adore some species but when they get in our way (profit-wise, usually) they can easily be relegated back to an object and disposed of in any manner deemed suitable. We see signs of this mentality everywhere but never more clearly than in events like the Dogger Awards (above), the annual New Zealand Easter Bunny Hunt and recent debates in both NZ and Australia about the supposedly calamitous damage feral cats do to native species.
It is interesting to us that that throughout all of these examples nationalist, colonialist and potentially racist tropes abound. It is not dissimilar to the rhetoric that surrounded the furore over Live Exports a few years ago – a sense that ‘our’ native species need to be protected from invaders, indeed that we ‘get it right’ in Australia and other countries do not.
As we wrote some time ago in a paper considering the institutional nature of human-animal violence links: ”While numbers of certain species (e.g., feral cats or cane toads) may need to be reduced – and this proposition itself begs analysis with its anthropocentric undertones – this should be done humanely and by qualified professionals. As it stands, offering incentives to members of the public to engage in deliberate harm to “inconvenient” animals is at best negligent and at worst promotes the very type of harm to animals that research has shown as a risk factor for interpersonal violence” (Full paper, here).
While this deserves more analysis than we have time for here (a PhD project, anyone?), suffice to say that setting up ‘us’ and ‘them’ categories is a classic way to objectify the perceived enemy and thereby justify any kinds of treatment (including murder) of them. The question is, just when did dogs become our enemy?
Authors: Nik Taylor, Heather Fraser, Tania Signal.