Journal of Writing & Environment

Web Rove – Creature Feature

by Meg Brown

Anthrozoology – the study of human-animal relationships – is an exciting and nascent discipline. Several universities now offer courses and specialties in human-animal studies, and graduate degree programs for anthrozoology are in the works. As a writer following the development of anthrozoology studies, I am drawn to what is bizarre or contradictory in our responses to animals, and I am interested in how our encounters with nonhumans define and shape our ethics. I’m not alone. The academe may be a latecomer to human-animal studies, but writers and artists have long explored the relationships between human and nonhuman beings. For this week’s web rove, we’ve chosen five selections to demonstrate the depth and breadth of human relationships to nonhuman animals.

Stalking the Kill: Tourist Trophy Hunting From Africa to Dallas” by David Rosenberg and David Chancellor (from Slate)

People need and love animals, but we also exploit them, displace them, kill them, and consume them. Trophy hunters are drawn to wild animals, and many profess to love the lions and leopards they kill, but trophy hunters simultaneously prefer a version of the animal that is dead, mounted, and put on display.

Writer David Rosenberg and photographer David Chancellor document this love-hate relationship in an article discussing Chancellor’s new book Hunters, released in March. Chancellor followed tourists and their guides to create provocative and revealing photographs of trophy hunters and their quarry. Be advised that some of these images depict dead animals and may be disturbing. See more of Chancellor’s photographs on his website.

Hunter’s Moon” by Molly Fisk (from “American Life in Poetry”)

Poet Laureate Ted Kooser’s “American Life in Poetry” column offers revealing glimpses of America in verse. Kooser’s project has published several poems that explore the intersection of human and non-human lives, including poems on dogs, horses, turtles, and even one about animal extinction. One of my favorites is “Hunter’s Moon,” a beautiful poem wherein Molly Fisk offers a kind of human-animal relationship that few of us have considered.

Behind the scenes in the lives of captive wolves” by Ceiridwen Terrill (from High Country News)

Certain animals reliably provoke strong reactions, and there is no better example of such an animal than the wolf. Once the quintessential villain, wolves were shot, strangled, and poisoned until the species was nearly extinct south of the Canadian border. The Endangered Species Act of 1973 turned wolves into a cause celébre, an icon of our disappearing wilderness. This animal is now surrounded by a highly-positive and emotionally charged iconography. America’s new fondness for wolves gave rise to a little-known industry in which wolves and wolf-dog hybrids are raised for tourism, commercial photography, and the pet trade.

Ceiridwen Terrill investigates the often-hidden world of wolves and wolfdogs in captivity across the United States in this report for High Country News. Terrill visited over two dozen captive wolf facilities, leading her to ponder, “at what point does kindness to animals morph into exploitation? What are the appropriate boundaries between humans and wolves? And why do we insist on testing the limits of those boundaries?”

Blessing of the Animals” by Brenda Miller (from the University of North Dakota Writers Conference Digital Reading Room)

Terrill decided to write about captive wolves and wolf hybrids after her own failed relationship with a pet wolf hybrid. She might have been better off with a pet dog. Humans co-evolved with dogs, and recent scientific evidence suggests that dogs, unlike wolves, are particularly well-adapted to domestic life with humans. The dog remains America’s most popular pet: according to the American Pet Products Association, an estimated 39 percent of American households include at least one dog.

Few have written more poignantly about our canine compatriots than Brenda Miller. I had the privilege of meeting Miller at the 2012 University of North Dakota Writers Conference, where the theme was “Humanimal.” During the conference, Miller read her essay “Blessing of the Animals,” a lovely and heartfelt story about her life with dogs. Though 33 percent of Americans claim to be cat people, by the time Miller finished reading, there wasn’t a dry eye in the room.

The latex fox and the leather hound” by Tracy Clark-Flory (From Salon)

Humans have been dressing and acting like animals for thousands of years, acting out human dramas with the help of animal masks. Most of these rituals have little to do with the actual animals they emulate. What happens when contemporary animal roleplayers meet in the woods? Tracy Clark-Flory finds an answer to this question when she visits a strange and kinky “fox hunt” that takes place every year in northern California. No animals are harmed during this hunt, because the “fox,” “hounds,” and “horses” are all human.