85% of Americans Support Animal Protection: A Positive Shift

Conservation psychology and conservation social work can lead the way forward

Posted Mar 20, 2016

The is so much literature out there about animal protection that a report about rising support for animal protection in the United States escaped my attention. The brief summary published in 2014 called "New Poll Shows Support for Animal Protection Rising in the U.S." begins, "Animal protection has the support of 85 percent of Americans, according to a new poll conducted by the National Council for Animal Protection and the Humane Research Council."

This is very good news for nonhuman animals (animals) and we also learn,

"The results of the 2014 poll were striking. Of six major charitable causes listed, animal protection emerged as the cause most favorable to Americans, garnering support from 85 percent of Americans, up from 71 percent in 2005. Also significant is that those who have “a great deal of respect” for animal protection organizations and activists more than doubled over the time period, jumping from just a quarter of the United States adult population in 2005 to more than half of that population in 2014. Seventy-four percent of respondents agreed with the statement that “humans have an obligation never to harm animals,” and 79 percent agreed that “animals should be protected from all suffering and harm caused by humans.” These percentages reflect an increase from the 2005 poll results of 56 and 64 percent, respectively."

For those interested in more details, historical data are reported here. Some significant trends include:

72% of U.S. adults have a “favorable” opinion of the animal protection (AP) movement.

32% give AP groups “significant” credibility regarding information about animal welfare.

Many people “strongly support” using anti‐cruelty investigations (47%), the media (37%), and speaking in schools (33%) to advocate for animals.

44% think the AP movement has had a “moderate” or “significant” impact.

43% have talked or heard about AP “frequently” or “occasionally” in the past three months.

A majority say they are “not very” or “not at all” knowledgeable about each of the animal issues listed except companion animals.

78% or more believe the welfare and protection of animals is “very” or “somewhat” important for all of the animal situations listed.

38% say it is “very” important that students of all ages are taught humane education.
73% have watched wildlife, 25% have donated to an AP group, 19% have adopted an animal,

and 5% have volunteered for an animal group in the past year.

Concern for animals has caused 58% of people to spay/neuter their pets, 31% to sign an animal‐related petition, and 20% to vote for an animal‐friendly candidate.

40% would “strongly support” a law requiring that farmed animals are given enough space to behave naturally.

35% “strongly support” the specific goal to “minimize and eventually eliminate all forms of animal cruelty and suffering.” 

The importance of conservation psychology, conservation social work, and anthrozoology

I want to call attention to these two studies even if some readers know about them because three growing fields, namely, conservation psychologyconservation social work (please also see the website for The Institute for Human-Animal Connection at the University of Denver's Graduate School of Social Work), and anthrozoology can play significant roles in furthering these positive changes as we move on the anthropocene, the so-called age of humanity.

Conservation psychology is defined as "the scientific study of the reciprocal relationships between humans and the rest of nature, with a particular focus on how to encourage conservation of the natural world. Conservation psychology is an applied field that uses psychological principles, theories, or methods to understand and solve issues related to human aspects of conservation."

Conservation social work (CSW) "expands the social work ecological model that focuses on persons-in-context to include the consideration of natural physical environments, interrelationships with nonhuman animals, thoughtful stewardship of natural resources, and advocacy and skills for environmental health and resilience. Conservation Social Work is a much-needed interdisciplinary effort for coming to terms with the critical and continual problems that arise when humans interact with animals and nature. Our relationships with animals and nature are confusing, frustrating, and paradoxical, but integral to life on Earth. Conservation Social Work provides a unifying and global approach for addressing problems centering on human-animal, human-nature, and human-human interactions with the vision of promoting well-being for humans, animals and nature alike."

Anthrozoology "(also known as human–non-human-animal studies, or HAS) is the study of interaction between humans and other animals. It is a modern interdisciplinary and burgeoning field that overlaps with a number of other disciplines, including anthropology, ethology, medicine, psychology, veterinary medicine and zoology. ... It includes scholars from a diverse range of fields, including anthropology, sociology, biology, history and philosophy."

Data generated from research in these fields are crucial to educating people, even those working in the broad field of human-animal interactions and human-animal studies, because so much information is accumulating rapidly. Many, if not the vast majority of people, need to be continually updated about the importance of animals and all sorts of landscapes, not only for the nonhuman residents, but also for our own physical and mental health (please see for example "Your Heart and Brain on Nature: a Scientific Update" and links therein, essays by Psychology Today writer Susan Clayton, and two excellent books, Conservation Psychology: Understanding and Promoting Human Care for Nature and The Oxford Handbook of Environmental and Conservation Psychology). In addition to these three fields of research, the ever-growing international and interdisciplinary field of compassionate conservation also is showing how working on behalf of individual animals can be very effective in resolving human-animal conflicts without having to harm the nonhumans. 

We all must work together to make the shift in attitudes toward animals increasingly positive: A win-win for all

The major problem on our magnificent planet is that there are too many humans. Conservation psychology, conservation social work, and anthrozoology recognize this fact and when there are inevitable and growing numbers of human-animal conflicts, very often it's because of the humans, not the nonhumans. This is not to be anti-human, it's just a fact. And, when push comes to shove, human interests trump those of the nonhumans who still are considered to be mere objects in legal systems. It does not have to be this way and the positive shift in attitudes is wonderful news that must be parleyed into action on the animals' behalf. 

Not only extremists care about other animals. There are a number of other messages that are pertinent to changing attitudes about nonhumans and landscapes, and the above three fields play critical roles in this process. Of course, it is not just "animal rights activists", "extremists", or "radicals" who care about animals (please see "Secret Flight of Swaziland Elephants Avoids Legal Challenge" in which I discuss the psychology of wrongly dismissing those concerned about other animals as one class of radicals or another). This also is very clear from the results of the poll mentioned above. Furthermore, a 2015 Gallup poll showed that almost one-third of Americans believe “animals deserve the exact same rights as people to be free from harm and exploitation.”

There are significant issues centering on violations of social justice. Recognizing that there are major social justice issues is critical because we can hope that when people realize the extent of animal abuse they will see that there are major violations of fairness that need to be remedied (please see "Why Justice for Animals Is the Social Movement of Our Time" and "Food Justice and Personal Rewilding as Social Movements"). The above polls and trends show that this is happening, perhaps not as fast as many would like. There is a sense of urgency in our increasingly human-dominated world. 

Clearly, there is a lot of work to be done right now, in the anthropocene, and I hope researchers in the above and other areas and non-researchers alike will accept this challenge for our and future generations. Working with youngsters is critical (please see "The World Becomes What We Teach: Humane Education Is Key").

Striving for a more compassionate and empathic world and increased coexistence between humans and nonhumans will be a win-win for all. It's time to begin right now.

Marc Bekoff's latest books are Jasper's Story: Saving Moon Bears (with Jill Robinson), Ignoring Nature No More: The Case for Compassionate Conservation, Why Dogs Hump and Bees Get Depressed: The Fascinating Science of Animal Intelligence, Emotions, Friendship, and Conservation, Rewilding Our Hearts: Building Pathways of Compassion and Coexistence, and The Jane Effect: Celebrating Jane Goodall (edited with Dale Peterson). (Homepage: marcbekoff.com; @MarcBekoff)

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