Sitting under an apple tree, we watched our horse friends picking the tips off of fresh, juicy, tender grass shoots, as they tapped their haunches with their tails to flick the flies away. My friend and I had just graduated high school and, naturally, we knew exactly what we wanted in life. I looked down at the blueberry I was rolling between my fingers, before popping it in my mouth and saying, “you’re right, I can’t stand those folks who are so wrapped up with theory, but lack an ounce of real-life experience working with animals to balance it out. They have absolutely no clue what they’re talking about. The day I go to get a degree instead of a job as a trainer, I give you permission to come after me.” We shook on it. Twice.
As I write this, I am halfway through my PhD in anthrozoology. I’m still waiting for someone from those early days to come and shake the sense into me! But how can you shake the sense into someone who is beaming from ear to ear, because they have found something they love?
Standing in front of a career shift and wanting to “get a degree under my belt” (my words at the time) after many years of full-time experience working professionally with and for other animals as a guide dog instructor, I had no idea where to turn first. Do I go for veterinary medicine? Zoology? Oh, I know, how about animal behaviour? Weeks were spent googling. One rabbit hole after another was spiralled down. They were all missing something. It wasn’t just the dogs or the horses I was interested in, it was those complex interactions with humans I was and am obsessed with.
Then I saw it: anthrozoology. Not thinking it was applicable to me, I googled the definition.
Anthrozoolgy: the study of interactions and relations between humans and other animals.
I went for the MA in anthrozoology at the University of Exeter (which I highly recommend to anyone who asks). Halfway through, I knew I could not quench my thirst in just two years and needed to do everything in my power to continue in that very programme with a PhD.
Growing up, my friends and I spent countless hours speaking about how we live and work with other animals. That feeling, that spark, of those long chats where we could barely stop to breathe in and out, came rushing back to me. I have been hooked on anthrozoology ever since. So many anthrozoologists share this and come from backgrounds not initially directed toward academia. It is so interdisciplinary by definition, drawing to it a truly mixed bag of scholars. That is exactly what makes this field so beautiful. Young, still forming, complex, and often not well-defined, but I think exactly that makes it especially beautiful and exciting.
Despite loving research concerning humans’ interactions and relations with other animals, I am still known to mumble about a lack of folks with practical experience in the field at times. Perhaps you are reading this and looking for a degree after years of working with and for other animals, or maybe you have never spent much time with them, but would love to learn more about them and haven’t found your specific focus yet. I just want to say that, if you are considering it, and have made it this far in my post: jump. Go for it! It was the best decision I ever made and if you are thinking about it this much, that is a strong sign that it might be for you, too.
Have you heard of anthrozoology before? Or better yet, are you getting/do you have a degree in it? I would love to hear all about it!
Photo by: Meruyert Gonullu