Blacklisted: The Tale of Animal Cruelty

What College Youth Need to Know About Animal Abuse and Why

Orca feeding via National Geographic

When the topic of animal cruelty presents itself in conversation, what first comes to mind? Animal testing? Abuse? Endangerment? Though these things are considered valid forms of animal cruelty, the qualifications for cruelty fall deeper than one would expect. In the documentary Blackfish, an orca in captivity is closely observed to prove that whale captivity is cruel and inhumane. The facts presented in this documentary lead one to consider the following: why does society need to be aware of the politics of animal cruelty and captivity, and what does society gain from this knowledge? 

Though topics such as these only appear to be specific to adults in the marine biology field, common members of society still need to understand and maintain the issue of animal cruelty. Why? Believe it or not, animal cruelty can be carried out through all aspects of society, whether intentional or otherwise. 

These unintentional behaviors can include isolation, improper care, and lack of attention. More intentional forms of neglect can include exposing pets to secondhand smoke, locking pets away, ignoring their anxieties, and engaging in an uncommitted relationship with these creatures. It is for this reason that college students would largely benefit from learning about animal cruelty, as it presents an issue that is often overlooked today.

One key factor in the importance of understanding animal cruelty at a college level is the idea that animals can be abused in the form of improper care. Animals, like humans, absolutely need to have proper care in the form of grooming, timely and correctly proportioned meals, proper hydration, and adequate living arrangements. Failure to meet these requirements results in cruelty. 

Cruelty is not strictly limited to beasts of the wild, or even to animals held in facilities such as zoos and circuses. In fact, most college individuals fail to realize that the majority of animal cruelty registers as unintentional. Animal cruelty can often manifest itself into the lives of college students in the form of the pets that are kept by these individuals. Students often participate in cruelty stunts when they purchase pets that they are unable to properly care for, as well as pets that are granted little attention due to being “easy pets,” such as fish and other tank animals. 

Often, the treatment of household pets demonstrates an eerily similar treatment shown with wild animals in captivity. When a pet-owner gets bitten for the first time, those involved often place the blame on that animal, like the condemnation of the Pitbull breed in response to their owners involving underground brawls against other breeds, granting them the title of “dangerous.” In this case, the owners receiving the bite are SeaWorld orca trainers, while the “bite” appears as violent behavior, and even murder. In short, humans are the most intelligent beings on Earth. We experience and respond to certain triggers in many ways – some may appear in the form of irrational anger, while some appear in the form of unmatched forgiveness. 

Now, consider this: if orcas are considered one of the intelligent oceanic mammals, it could be logical to assume that they experience and respond to stimuli in an equivalent way as humans. Therefore, if orcas have the cognitive capacity to undergo violent reactions and response, household animals possess the ability to behave this way as well. It is crucial to learn what constitutes as cruelty to prevent domesticated creatures from rebelling against their owners.

The common misconception about captive orcas is the idea that they are unable to fend for themselves if they are injured in the wild, thus allowing them to be grateful for the assistance they acquire from their human captors. Dr. Lori Marino, who has been closely studying and analyzing the behaviors of orcas, states that the “cetacean neocortex [the measure of intelligence] surpasses in gyrification [the process of forming the characteristic folds of the cerebral cortex] all other mammals, including humans.” Since these oceanic animals possess a more advanced cognitive understanding, surpassing even human understanding, these creatures can care for themselves in the wild depths of the ocean. 

This fact also indicates that if these creatures can care for themselves, then they are able to recognize and respond to stimuli around them. Dr. Marino also mentions that orcas are among the most intelligent animals on Earth, therefore enabling them to experience the complex emotions and behavioral responses that relate to social intelligence. However, the extent of these behaviors cannot be fully tested in the ocean due to free roaming, and cannot be studied in captivity due to safety restraints put on by organizations that house orcas. 

Knowing this, it should be noted that orcas are aware of the treatment they receive from humans. This point indicates that animals are fully aware of their lack of care and these behaviors can potentially cause domesticated animals to lose trust in their human caretakers, and may become violent, feral, and more likely to retaliate when an injustice is present. Orcas, after being trained as performers within SeaWorld’s commercial entertainment program, begin to experience aggressive behaviors towards their trainers despite developing a trusting bond with that trainer. 

So how does all this information offer relevance to college students? Think back to the pets and ways one unintentionally mistreats the animals one chooses to keep. To avoid neglect, the second point one must watch for include failing to give the household pet active attentive spotlight. Though the cognitive behaviors presented in felines and canines are not completely known to mankind, one can assume that these creatures are aware of the treatment they receive, and they can often gauge when they have been let down by their human counterparts. Negative treatment yields negative reactions. 

If orcas begin to attack their trainers more often after performance training due to abuse, imagine how one’s house animals may react when too much neglect and mistreatment is applied. To stop the violent self-awareness of the animals we keep close; college students need to be attentive in the ways in which their treatment of animals affects the much larger understanding of cruelty. It is important for college students to learn about the processes of animal cruelty to enable them to apply the same antics with their household pets to ensure that they do not mistreat these animals, and for students to hold the ability to understand that not all abuse present with animals is physical.

While some may argue that studying the topic of animal cruelty in a college setting is irrelevant unless one is directly dealing with the subject within their major, most are unaware that “animal cruelty” is not a distant concept that only happens across the globe to aquatic animals. Animal cruelty can apply to household pets such as dogs, cats, and goldfish. Learning about animal cruelty is an important life aspect, especially to college students who are beginning to trickle into independent domestic life, can assist one in understanding certain behaviors and tendencies to avoid when caring for household animals. 

Pets should be considered as members of the family; one would not ignore the needs of their human guardians and siblings, nor would one ignore what makes these members unhealthy and uncomfortable, so why ignore the needs of household animals out of the sheer thought of inconvenience?

In conclusion, it is important for students of any age to understand boundaries and requirements of animal cruelty because—unbeknownst to them—the issue is closer to their levels of relevant information than typically expected. While society may not be able to immediately abolish the need for captivity parks that exploit animals for science and entertainment, they can start where it matters—with the furry friends who are more family than property.

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