Placing Animals by Julie Urbanik does an excellent job analyzing the important relationship between humans and animals and forces us to question why we treat certain animals differently than others. Its incredible to think about all the uses we have for animals and the countless interactions we have with them each day. A great quote from the beginning of the book that highlights this idea is “We eat them, wear them, live with them, work with them, experiment on them, try to save them, spoil them, abuse them, fight them, hunt them, buy, sell and trade them, love them fear them or hate them.” Humans have such an intricate relationship with all the animals that inhabit this planet and in many cases we would not survive without the existence of these creatures. She explains that our definition of animals is extremely broad and as a result the relationship we share with them is inconsistent and complicated. The spectrum of “animal” organisms is so vast, from wild animals to domesticated pets, the relationship we share is hard to define. Secondly, where one is located in the world geographically also has an immense effect on the interaction one has with various animal species. This also touches on the idea of natural vs. artificial habitats such as zoos vs. the wild. For example, the book explains that today, more tigers are estimated to be in captivity as pets in the United States than in the wild, which demonstrates the contradictory relationship that we share. So many people want to save the tigers from extinction yet we as humans continue to take them from their natural ecosystem and keep them in enclosures as pets.
This raises the question of what can be classified as a pet and where do we draw the line. I have heard many horrifying stories of people raising wild animals from a young age treating them as pets and then, once the animal is fully matured the owner thinks they are safe and then they get attacked and injured. The first example I can think of is the chimpanzee Travis that got agitated and ended up eating the woman owner’s face.
Not all animals can be domesticated and people need to realize that it is not safe for the animal nor the owner to keep an adult wild animal in one’s home. This is where the idea of zoos and other natural looking enclosures comes into the picture. These are cultural concepts that we as humans created to separate the space between what is human and what is animal. Initially zoos were designed to be a place where humans could go and experience creatures from across the world. This image has changed and now days zoos are designed to educate people about the animals inside and encourage humanity to help save these creatures from us. Another aspect the book discusses is agriculture and safe farming practices similar to Eating Animals that we read earlier in the year. It examines unfair farming practices and how some animals in agriculture are treated poorly and the idea of animal rights. These unfair practices include confined living quarters, inadequate food and water, and improper breeding.
Another idea discussed in the book is that as we further try to distance ourselves from nature and the wild animals that inhabit the space, we are forcing these animals into areas where they are not native. This in turn causes even more issues as these new animals cause an imbalance in the ecosystem. The take away here is that we must learn to live with the animals, as well as set aside the proper environmental space for them to survive and thrive.