Pawing the Wrong Problem

When administration tries new, innovative, cool ideas to fend off the horrible danger of stress, a lot of things can go wrong. For example, we could end up with bouncy castles instead of beds. Or we could find ourselves in a situation where we are puppiesstroking puppies for no apparent reason.

The upcoming puppy lounges in Halifax and Alcuin is not only a bad idea, but it reminded me what I don’t like about pets; their owners.

As a person who used to suffer from panic attacks, I can tell you I know a few things about stress. I know that stress isn’t an external problem, it doesn’t depend on your environment. It is a personal response to stimuli; not everyone deals with exams the same way, which is why many people have taken to the parks and not the library. Paraphrasing the modelling guru Tyra Banks; stress comes from the inside. Understanding that probably has led you to understand my point. A puppy zoo doesn’t belong in your arsenal when you’re fighting against anxiety.

If you were to try it, you would soon realise that hanging out with a few puppies you’ve never met before isn’t much help. Sure, it’s cute, but it isn’t going to help you more than a stroll in the sun. Because the people who do get stress relief from animals get it from their own pets. They get relief from being around their most loyal lifelong partner, the one that they have an emotional connection with. Were you to build that kind of relationship with one of the University’s puppies, you would probably be more stressful afterwards. You would try to see it as much as possible and you’d be worried about keeping it.

But the debate around the colleges’ plans doesn’t end there.

One of the biggest animal rights NGO spoke out against it. The mention of the word “zoo” rang the alarm and had them running to press microphones. In their eyes, the zoo is a cruel, selfish act that would “stress the animals”.
Putting aside that this particular NGO spends less than 5% of its funds on actually helping animals, or that in 2009 they killed 97% of the animals they impounded because they were “unadoptable”, they miss the point.
Maybe they missed the press release on this, but something happened some thousands of years ago; animal domestication. This is neither a brutal nor horrific imposition of man’s motives to animals.

It is the best way to include animals in our lives. Since we can’t have wild cheetahs in our living rooms, and we wouldn’t understand them much either, over the course of many, many years we have managed to make some animals a little bit more like us. And this way we have been in a position to truly love them and not simply admire them from afar.

Of course, the system isn’t perfect. There are children who get incredible joy from playing with their pets and there are children who get bored after a while. But this isn’t a problem due to animal domestication, it is a problem due to bad people.
We may have confined them in the concrete walls of civil life, but we have given ourselves the chance to create emotional bonds transcending species, and that’s a beautiful thing. Besides, after all this time, many of these species have evolved to be comfortable in this way of life.

At the end of the day, it comes down to prioritising. Animals face serious problems around the world. They are tortured and murdered for meat, leather, or sport. A few University students aren’t as big a threat to puppies as hunters are to tigers. Maybe, if such NGOs focused more on the serious issues instead of telling people that it is unethical to live with and care for an animal that you love, they would help more.

Bottom Line: Zoos won’t help us with stress, but NGOs should focus on the real problems animals face.


  1. Problematic
    20 May 2014 - 12:37 GMT

    While I appreciate your conclusion on said NGO (though a question remains over how they were informed of these events…) needing to focus on real issues, there is still a huge misconception about these events.

    The Alcuin event has been and gone – it isn’t forthcoming – and as far as I can tell none of my friends who went feel cheated that all of their problems haven’t magically disappeared.

    Because that is the crux of the matter – whether deliberately or through poor writing, implicitly or explicitly, these events have been portrayed as ones which are meant to combat stress, anxiety and other mental health issues. Not only is this not what they’re trying to achieve, it’s a massively offensive implication both in terms of the light it paints the colleges in and the way it addresses mental health issues.

    A little exam related stress may, for some people, be alleviated by interacting with animals. I don’t mean to draw conclusions on your situation but it reads as though your issues with stress and panic attacks were more severe than low-lying exam stress. In that case it would obviously take different approaches to manage, and only an idiot would tell you to pet a puppy to cure your panic attack.

    The animals are always safe at these types of events and their wellbeing is top priority. If a room of puppies makes 50 students feel less stressed, why are we complaining about it? Until someone tries to run a “ride a pony to cure chronic depression” event the whole lot is being blown out of proportion.

  2. Why we can't have nice things...
    20 May 2014 - 16:49 GMT

    The Alcuin event happened over a week ago. Not exactly news any more.
    A lot of things can go wrong? Happy students + rescue animals + low cost + popular event = Vision Controversy
    This kind of hand-wringing “journalism” that blows things out of all proportion is why we can’t have nice things. Just because it doesn’t work for you, please don’t ruin it for the rest of us. And next time try citing research instead of a super model.

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