Wednesday, January 30, 2013

My Cat is Sad

This poem by Spencer Madsen does a heartbreaking job of conveying the contradictions inherent in living with a companion animal. We bring home a cat, dog, or other animal because we want to spend our life with them.

And in the best of all worlds, we do, spending time with our new friend, playing with them, taking them for walks if they're dogs, buying them toys, and snuggling with them on the couch.

But the reality is, we also spend a great deal of time away; at work, out with friends, out running errands, on vacation or visiting family. We ignore our pets an awful lot of the time.

What must it feel like to be small, alone among your own kind, and often waiting--for attention, for dinner, for love?

And then imagine how much worse it must be for all those outdoor "pets," the dogs who live at the end of chains, or the rabbits who live in barren hutches? Or for the millions of former pets, once loved, or at least well treated, now waiting in a cage or pen at the shelter, not knowing why you're there, what happened to your family, and what will be your fate?

This is another beautiful example of trying to get inside of ananimal's mind--to try to understand how they think and feel, so that we may better care for them.


Photographer Andrew Bruce sent in this photo he took of his dog on his iphone. He noted:

As I raised my phone to look at my dog, the face recognition software (designed to recognise human faces and ensure that they are given an adequate exposure)  kicked in (the green rectangle signifies this).

I like the idea that my phone sees a face in my dog, just as I do.

Elderly Animals

Coping with the mortality of her parents, photographer Isa Leshko explores aging in the Nonhuman Animal world.  She specifically focuses on survivors of animal agriculture.  This is a rare glimpse into a life stage often robbed of those animals we raise for food.

 From the artist:

I am creating these photographs in order to take an unflinching look at aging and mortality. My maternal grandmother had dementia during her later years, and now my mom has it. I am scared of developing Alzheimer’s disease and I get nervous whenever I lose my keys or forget a person’s name. Photographing geriatric animals enables me to immerse myself in my fear of growing old. I have come to realize that these images are self-portraits. Or at the very least, they are manifestations of my fears and hopes about what I will be like when I am old.
I also want my images to inspire greater empathy toward animals, particularly farm animals. It is very rare for a farm animal to actually live its full natural lifespan given that most of these animals experience brutality and death early in their lives. By depicting the beauty and dignity of these creatures in their later years, I want to encourage people to question and challenge the way farm animals are currently treated.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Werner Freund, "Wolf Man"

I just came across this photo today of wolf researcher Werner Freund, who raises and observes wolves at a sanctuary called Wolf Park in Merzig, Germany.

While Freund's methods are controversial--in order to assert himself as the dominant member of the pack of wolves (and to protect himself from a wolf who was rushing him), he once kicked a wolf under the jaw--and some other researchers don't believe that his work sheds much light on an understanding of the species, it seems clear that Freund has breached the wolf/human social boundary, much like the way that Timothy Treadwell hoped to do with grizzly bears before he was killed by one in 2003. Freund, who raised his wolves by hand from pups, has clearly been accepted into their pack.

He howls with the wolves, plays with them, and sometimes feeds them raw meat from his mouth. While they may be hand raised, the wolves are not domesticated, so Freund says he has to "be wolf" in order to interact with them.

In some ways, what Freund has done is really just a very extreme version of what many animal lovers want to do: get as close to understanding the inner lives of other animals as possible.

"Raging Bitch" Beer

Maryland-based brewery Flying Dog recently launched this new pale ale which features the image of an angry dog foaming at the mouth with human breasts.  A clear intersection of animalized femininity and feminized animality.  The implication here is that that both women and Nonhuman Animals are irrational, overly emotional non-persons apt to fly off the handle at any moment...and apparently that makes for good beer.

Monday, January 28, 2013

"If She Can't Stay Pregnant, What Else Will She Do?"

This advertisement selling vaccines for dairy cows is a regular smorgasbord of oppression.  The first assumption made is that dairy cows are commodities whose worth is tied to their productivity and usefulness to humans.  If she can't be pregnant, she better be earning her keep serving men in some other way--in this case, it is assisting men in their commodification of other species.

Secondly, the statement, "If she can't stay pregnant, what else will she do?"  pulls on powerful gender stereotypes of women that construct the primary purpose of womanhood as the production of children.  So women (thus animalized) and dairy cows (thus feminized) are made to produce offspring for the benefit of male dominance.  In doing so, both are stripped of their personhood and agency.

The dairy cow is also intended to represent a dog, with the implication being that the purpose of dogs is also to serve human interests.  Furthermore, the plight of the pheasants goes completely ignored.  Five pheasants have been the victim of male violence and their purpose in this advertisement amounts to nothing more than a prop.  Their death goes completely unexamined.

Centered, is a man, the epitome of patriarchal control, surrounded by his conquests and the subservient female, brandishing a gun and a smile of contentment.

This dairy advertisement speaks volumes to the normalized violence inherent to the male relationship to women, Nonhuman Animals, and other vulnerable groups.  There is a sense of entitlement in his wanton destruction of the five birds and the joking exploitation of dogs, cows, and women.  The privilege to manipulate the female body by men for men is made apparent in advertising a vaccine that is intended to prevent the diseases that regularly afflict cows under the routine practice of their exploitation.  If she will not bend to his will, he can force her to.  If her broken body cannot comply, she will simply be put to work elsewhere.

See the work of Carol J. Adams for more on the intersections of speciesism and sexism.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

A Dog Reacts to 2 Girls 1 Cup

In 2007, one of the most popular viral videos of the year was called "2 Girls 1 Cup." It was a short trailer for a fetish porn film called "Hungry Bitches," and featured two women defecating into a cup, eating the feces, vomiting, and then eating the vomit.

Trust me when I tell you not to try to satisfy your curiosity by googling the video. You really do not want to see it. It was one of the grossest things I have ever seen in my life, and I think most people who saw the video would agree.

In fact, the best thing to have come out of the video was the video reaction phenomenon that quickly emerged from it. Here, people filmed themselves, or friends or family members, watching 2G1C for the first time, putting the reaction videos on YouTube for others to enjoy.

The reaction videos are priceless (especially those involving people's grandparents); we get to watch the viewer initially not understand what's happening in the video, then, as they begin to understand, watch as disgust registers on their face, and then eventually watch as the viewer gets angry, gets up, or sometimes vomits themselves.

Of the many theories to explain the evolutionary significance and function of disgust, one theory suggests that things that are disgusting to humans are those that make us more like animals--that breach the human animal border. Thus bestiality, public sex, and anything involving human waste would be seen as disgusting to most of us.

This makes this dog's reaction so perfect. Because he is a dog, and dogs do enjoy eating feces, he registers no disgust at all at 2 Girls 1Cup. Why would he?

Friday, January 25, 2013

What to do about Stray Dogs?

Elise Schlosser of the Animal Geography Specialty Group just sent me a link to an article today about a planned hunt in Moscow of stray dogs.

Like a lot of cities, Moscow has a "problem" with stray dogs, and the solution of at least some of their citizens, with the cooperation of the police, is to set out meat laced with poison to kill the dogs.  Oddly, the police will be on hand to  "prevent cases of cruelty to animals."

Moscow is just the latest city to use lethal methods to handle its stray dog population. Mexico City, Kiev, as well as locations in Albania, Montenegro, Afghanistan, Turkey, Iraq and India are just some of the regions that have recently taken to killing their stray and feral dogs.

While local animal rights activists are, not surprisingly, horrified at the prospect of the killings (which are set to take place tonight), as are dog guardians, the dog hunters justify their actions as a civic duty of sorts.

While there may be some legitimate reasons behind some of the killings--feral dogs are suspected of killing a woman, her baby boy, and two teenagers in Mexico City just last month--in many cases, cities and states simply find that stray dogs are, to paraphrase anthropologist Mary Douglas, "matter out of place." Because dogs must be owned by someone in many countries, then dogs who live on the street are, by definition, a problem, and must be taken care of.

This is a sad, but good example to use to discuss, once again, the social construction of animals and how the categories into which animals are placed--stray, owned, loved, abandoned--shape and determine their treatment.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Dogs and Loyalty

Perhaps the concept that comes to mind most commonly when we think of dogs is loyalty. Dogs are known for their loyalty to humans, and for how patiently they wait for us to return home. Going back to Argos, Odyssseus' faithful dog who waited twenty years for Odysseus to return to Ithaca, before finally dying, there are countless stories in literature, myth and reality of dogs whose loyalty and faithfulness know no bounds. Many of those stories involve dogs who wait besides the graves of their guardians, or near the last place that the human and dog spent time together, waiting for them to be reunited.

The latest such story comes from Puglia in Southern Italy, where Tommy, a 12-year old German Shepherd, has been attending Mass daily at Santa Maria Assunta Church. It was at that church that his caretaker Maria Lochi had her funeral last November, and it was at that church that Maria took her own daily Mass, every day at 5:00pm. That's when Tommy, hearing the church bells, enters the church each day still, sitting quietly at the altar, and leaving once Mass is over.  The parishioners are now caring for Tommy by giving him food, but he has no home and continues to wait for his Maria to come home.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


My friends know that I am absolutely bonkers over a website called Dog Shaming. It’s a tumblr devoted to photos of dogs who have committed a doggy “crime” (chewed up the couch, eaten their guardian’s panties, bitten the UPS man), along with a sign (sometimes hung around the dog’s neck) detailing the nature of their crime; often the dogs are photographed alongside of the “evidence.”

Dog Shaming is reminiscent of the Medieval practice of charging animals with crimes, and even trying them in human courts. In Medieval Europe, animals could be excommunicated from the Catholic church, sent to prison, or even hanged for their crimes. On Dog Shaming, dogs are publically shamed,  but it is done with affection and humor, and that is as far as their punishment goes.   Dog Shaming is instead about how much we love our dogs, no matter what they do, and no matter how expensive the damage that they cause.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Introspective animals

We don't know, not for sure, what our companion animals are thinking. And we certainly have even less of a chance of knowing what's going on in the minds of wild animals.

But that doesn't stop us from trying to find out. Part of the fun of creating captions for animal images online is trying to get inside of animals' heads.

The introspective animals are, to me, one of the more interesting of the animal macros, because the creators have done more than just come up with a funny caption, as is the case with so many lol animals. Instead, there's an attempt to get at a relatively deep thought which could very well be bothering the animal in question. Sometimes, as in the case of the introspective bear, the bear is really just a stand in for a person who doesn't know what he wants (and refers, by the way, to the well known fancy cats meme), but in the case of introspective pug, I think he really is wondering whether, in fact, he is a good boy.

Of course, we'll never really know, and neither will introspective pug.

Awesome dogs

Last year, I saw a "lost dog" poster circulating on the Internet that, upon closer inspection, wasn't really a lost dog poster at all. It turns out that it was an "awesome dog" poster, and it turns out that a few people have created them to show how awesome their dogs, and at least one cat,* is.

We all know how much people love their companion animals. But I'd never before seen people hanging up posters in public to proclaim that love. Awesome indeed.

*upon closer inspection, this cat may be a wild cat. But he or she is still, clearly, awesome.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

How to Pet a Dog/Cat/Rabbit

One of the fun things about Internet animal humor is that beneath the humor is often a legitimate attempt to understand what is going on in the minds of our beloved companion animals. We don't just put words into the mouths of lolcats, for example, because it's funny. We also do so because we want to know how they think, and we are attempting to express what we think they are thinking.

One of the newest Internet memes is the "how to pet a dog" and "how to pet a cat" charts. These charts are ostensibly instructional charts to show people the areas on a dog or cat's body that we should focus on when petting them.

But if you look at the dog chart, each area of the dog's body is marked "awesome." The artist clearly has determined, as so many dog guardians have, that dogs love to be touched, paid attention to, and handled in every possible way. Dogs love humans! They love us!
Compare the dog chart to the cat chart, however. Things get quite a bit trickier here. While there is one spot marked "awesome," there are a few spots marked "meh," a large area marked "nope," some "definitely not," and then there's an area marked "F**k you!" which should serve as a warning to everyone who can read. While clearly not all cats, or all dogs, are the same, these charts demonstrate the ways in which humans do indeed try to understand what companion animals want, how they feel, and what makes them different.

Finally, while rabbits are not nearly as "known" as dogs and cats are in mainstream culture, in the house rabbit world, people who live rabbits have gone to great lengths to try to understand their likes and dislikes, and what makes them tick. Ian Elwood, a House Rabbit Society educator, has used this specialized knowledge to create a rabbit petting chart. A quick look at the rabbit's chart should tell the uninformed that rabbits, like cats, have some areas of their bodies that are also off limits. So approach a rabbit's stomach, feet, and tail with caution!

I have no Idea what I'm doing

A lot of the humor from animal memes on the Internet comes from putting animals into human positions--making them speak for humans, or do things that humans normally do. Sometimes that's done in a way to show that non-human animals are smarter than we give them credit for. But sometimes it's done to mock them, and to make them look stupid. That's the case with the "I have no idea what I'm doing" meme.

The first meme of this kind emerged in 2011 and was a macro of a golden retriever shown next to a camera, ostensibly photographing a wedding. The caption simply says "I have no idea what I'm doing."

Most "I have no idea" images are of dogs, but can be of other animals as well.

The more complicated the activity (and the greater the danger associated with the activity), the greater the humor, as the one on the right demonstrates.

This one on the left doesn't use the same phrasing but the general idea is the same: this dog does not know what he's doing!

And finally, if the point of these images is to make fun of the subject, because there is no way that a dog can understand how to operate a camera, an airplane or a helicopter, it shouldn't surprise us that this meme has been expanded to focus on women as well, as this next image demonstrates. Notice that in this image, "lol" is used to make the speaker not just stupid but especially feminine.

Pandas and the Internet

Pandas are one of the most popular of the charismatic animals. They rank very high on what sociologists Arluke and Sanders call the sociozoologic scale (along with dolphins, polar bears and other large, cute and cuddly animals), and therefore we are not just enamored of them, but we don't blink an eye when it comes to spending large amounts of resources to saving them, while letting other less charismatic animals perish by the billions.

Baby pandas are among the cutest of all of the charismatic animals, so each time a new panda is born at a zoo or a conservation facility in China, the Internet explodes with new photos and videos.

This little guy, Xiao Liwu, was born at the San Diego Zoo in 2012 and during a veterinary exam in December was so thrilled with his new green ball that he wouldn't stop hugging it throughout his exam. And reading that, 2 billion people collectively said "aawwwww."

At China's Hetaoping Research and Conservation Center where pandas are bred and released to the wild, the caretakers go through an amazing amount of steps to make sure that the pandas who are to be released don't imprint on the humans, resulting in odd photos like this one.

Recently, another odd photo has been circulating the Internet. This one is a vintage photo, and I can't seem to find anything about where it came from or what the context is. But it recently turned into a macro, based on the popular "I have no idea what I'm doing" meme.

What I find so interesting about this particular image is that we are just bananas about pandas right now; not too many other animals have their own webcams the way that pandas do, so that bored office workers can check in on them all day long. Captive pandas have cameras in their faces constantly, so the idea that this particular panda may have gotten hold of a camera and turned the tables on a human subject is amusing.

Or, as in the case of this last panda, he simply decided if you can't beat them, join them.

What if cats had their own Internet?

I came across this macro the other day and thought it was a perfect way to capture how completely and utterly cats have taken over the Internet; I feel like an entire class can be devoted to discussing this one issue.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Advice animals

Advice animals are Internet memes that date to 2006 when the first advice dog was generated. The original advice dog, a golden retriever puppy superimposed on a color wheel accompanied by poor advice, has since grown to dozens of other advice animals, including business cat, philosoraptor, and stoner dog, which now occupy their own subreddit on the website Reddit. It's known as an image macro when a photo has been superimposed with text in a humorous fashion. Animals are among the most popular image macros on the Internet.

Lawyer dog is another advice animal, but moves from the original theme of an animal's face superimposed on a color wheel or other static background. With lawyer dog, the image was taken from someone's corgi dressed in a sweater and tie for Halloween, who was sitting over an open book. The image was posted to Buzzfeed in late 2011, and quickly became a popular advice animal, in which the corgi gives legal advice flavored with a dog's sensibilities.

Lawyer dog often gives advice relating to cats, one of his favorite subjects, but he often appears to give legal threats, rather than advice. In this image, lawyer dog is threatening his guardian for saying the word "park" but not following up by taking him to the park. This joke plays upon the dog's honesty and faith in his person; when a person says we're going to the park, the dog expects that they are going to the park.

One of the newest advice animals is financial advice dog, a golden retriever wearing glasses sitting at a desk. The image of the dog first appeared on Reddit on January 10, 2013 and quickly became a meme, after being captioned.

Financial advice dog's humor derives from the fact that, first, he's a very serious looking dog giving out financial advice. But his appeal is even greater because his advice draws on what a dog, rather than a person, would know, such as the rate of return of tennis balls. Ultimately, financial advice dog offers the best of animal meme humor, by mixing financial advice with sound dog advice.

Animals sitting like humans

One of the reasons we find animals on the Internet so fascinating are the ways that they so often seem so like us. Recently, a popular image theme is "animals who sit like humans." It's difficult to see these pictures and not imagine these dogs, cats, frogs, and other animals as small (or large), extra cute people.

Are just the adorable animals worth saving?

Marion Copeland posted a link on the H-NILAS listserv to an article about climate change. The article noted the four "adorable" species impacted by climate change, which begs the question: are only adorable animals worth saving?

Cats, Cats, Cats

Without cat pictures, cat memes, and cat videos, the Internet would collapse. There simply isn't enough pornography, sexting, and Words with Friends to keep the Internet operational without the presence of cats.

Cats have been ubiquitous on the internet since Bonsai Kitten, an Internet satire site which claimed to sell the tools to turn kittens into miniature "bonsai" cats by stuffing them into glass jars. The site outraged thousands of concerned citizens who flooded the phone lines of animal rights groups in the early 2000s, hoping to get the site shut down.

In the last few years, Maru has dominated the Internet. A Scottish fold cat who lives in Japan, Maru's fame derives from the fact that he is not only adorable, but he is especially adept at jumping into boxes. Maru's youtube channel is one of the most popular in all of Japan, and his videos have been viewed almost 200 million times.

Another popular cat, also from Japan, is Shironeko. Shironeko is known as the most relaxed kitty in the world, for his habit of letting his caretaker place objects on his head for photographs, usually with what looks like a smile on his face.

Since late 2012, however, the most popular cat on the Internet is Grumpy Cat. Her real name is Tardar Sauce, and, according to her guardian, she is not grumpy at all. Yet thanks to the unfortunate shape of her mouth, she has become an incredibly popular Internet meme, being used to demonstrate disdain about Christmas (her popularity took off in December), happiness and love, and apathy about every subject.

Why are cats like Maru and Grumpy Cat so popular on the Internet? Cats are ubiquitous in our own lives--there are more cats in our homes than any other animal--so it makes sense that they would be the most popular Internet animal as well. They are also relatively serious and somewhat inscrutable--in fact, they don't have nearly as many facial muscles as do dogs, so it's hard to read their facial expressions, which means we often have to guess as to what they are thinking.  And finally, cats were not domesticated like dogs were--to be a partner to humans. For that reason, they're not easy to train, and in fact, it's often hard to get a cat to do anything at all that we want them to do. So the idea of using cats as online representations for our innermost thoughts, like Grumpy Cat, or watching them do clever and fascinating things, like Maru, or making them hold eggplants on their head, like Shironeko, is much more exciting with cats than with dogs, who, after all, live to please us.

Welcome to HASImages!

Welcome to the newest project of the Animals and Society Institute, HASImages!

HASImages is inspired by a blog I visit frequently for my sociological teaching called Sociological Images, created by sociologists Lisa Wade and Gwen Sharp, which is intended to encourage readers to use their "sociological imagination" in everyday life. The blog features images (as well as videos, charts, statistics, and the like) along with commentary that highlights the sociological insights found in those images.

Because I teach sociology, I'm always on the lookout for new resources to use in my classes, and I've found the materials on Sociological Images to be invaluable for my teaching. I also love to use images in my human-animal studies teaching, and figured that other faculty would too. After all, why wouldn't you use images of pandas, sloths, and kittens as often as you can in your classes?

And while finding cute images of animals on the Internet is no tough task (just take a quick look at some of my favorite sites like cuteoverload, dogshaming, or the daily bunny), I thought it might be helpful to not only provide the best, the cutest, and the most intriguing animal and human-animal images in one location, but to also provide commentary on those images.

This blog, then, is aimed at faculty who teach human-animal studies courses and who are looking for material to use in their classes. Please feel free to take what you like!

We're also looking for contributors. Please send images that you think are interesting, thought provoking, or challenging to us at and if you'd like to contribute a commentary or analysis, let us know that as well. We'd like to hear from you!

Our first image, to open our new blog, is one of the most iconic animal images on the Internet. Known as "Happy Cat," it's the original lolcat--a photo of a cat with a caption using poor grammar called lolspeak. Computer programmer Eric Nakagawa and his girlfriend Kari Unebesami capitalized on the popularity of Happy Cat and images like it, and in 2007 created the website to showcase lolcats to a public greedy for them. At the height of its popularity, the website was getting one and a half million visitors per day.

While lolcats are not as popular today as they were a few years ago, animals are just as popular as ever on the Internet, starring in videos, featured in memes, and headlining websites and tumblrs of every variety. Check back here frequently to keep up with the latest in animal images!