The American animal rights movement has officially been underway since Peter Singer’s book “Animal Liberation” was published in 1975. In recent decades, it has expanded to issues such as “no-kill” pet shelters, better-quality pet food and more sophisticated animal medicine, and it has birthed whole industries based on pet care.
Only recently has the movement morphed into an academic field, with almost a dozen academic journals on animal-human studies, including the social sciences and animal law. Courses have popped up around the world, including at Harvard and Dartmouth universities in the United States and the University of Auckland in New Zealand.
Every summer, the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Animals and Society Institute (ASI) sends six to eight scholars to Wesleyan University in Connecticut to study topics such as genetically engineered pigs and gender relations in cattle ranching. At the University of Maryland, Professor W. Ray Stricklin reports that the 65 seats in his “Animal Welfare and Bioethics” course quickly fill up. The majority of his students, he says, “are female, urban, and 85 percent are interested in attending vet school. When you ask them why, it’s their concern about animal treatment.
“Students today are very keen on doing something beneficial,” he adds. “They care about animals, and I have e-mails in my box from students asking about possible career opportunities. There has been an incredible interest in this over a period of time.”
ASI estimates there are 23 full academic programs worldwide in animal studies. The three degree-granting human-animal studies programs in the United States are HSU, Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond, Ky., and Carroll College in Helena, Mont. Then there is Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont, Calif., which has an animal studies specialization within a sociology major. There are animal studies minors at University of Redlands in Redlands, Calif.; Drury University in Springfield, Mo.; New York University; and Canisius College in Buffalo. These degrees equip students for careers in fields such as animal sanctuary management, animal therapy and zoo design. According to the Society for Animal Welfare Administrators, salaries are on par with most other careers. At the low end of the scale is a non-certified vet tech, who makes between $25,237 and $28,240 a year; executive directors of welfare organizations make between $56,351 and $186,337.
In all, there are more than 300 academic courses worldwide in 29 disciplines at law schools, colleges and universities, scattered through anthropology, sociology, psychology, philosophy, literature, American studies and women’s studies departments, according to ASI.
“These are not just animal advocacy courses,” says Kenneth Shapiro, executive director of ASI. “Human-animal studies is an academic field that provides scholarship on issues raised by the animal protection movement. It will generate jobs for people going into the shelter or zoo business and animal law.”