The largest animal rights organisation in the world has accused two university colleges of engaging in “harmful activity” after they announced plans to introduce a zoo-style room and puppy lounge for students over the exam period.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) says Alcuin and Halifax are subjecting animals to the “stress of travel, handling and confinement in mini-zoos on campus”.
They have called on the colleges to scrap their animal-related plans and are urging students to voice their objections to university bosses.
In a statement, they told Vision: “With a wide range of relaxing activities available in and around the university, it’s extremely disappointing that these two colleges are planning to subject animals to the stress of travel, handling and confinement in mini-zoos on campus.
“Even with the best possible care, these animals won’t be kept in their normal social or family groups, and being confined to a room will prevent them from enjoying natural behaviour, such as running, exploring, sunning, searching for food and bathing in the dust.
“There are countless other ways in which students can unwind during exam season without depriving animals of joy and putting them at risk. Perhaps the university would consider renting a trampoline or having massage sessions for the day? Mindfulness classes have also been shown to be effective at reducing students’ stress as well as leading to improvements in grades.”
They added: “We urge York’s students to contact the university to voice their objections to this harmful activity and encourage the university to engage in activities that do not exploit animals.”
Spokespeople for Alcuin and Halifax deny that they are exploiting the animals and insist their welfare are taken very seriously by the charities.
A spokesperson for Alcuin said: “As a college we seek to offer a range of activities that we feel will benefit students during high-stress periods such as during exam season.
“This year we have decided to go through Nuzzlets, a local York charity that provides a loving home for around 100 animals.
“Being an animal charity, they have the welfare of the animals as their main priority. The animals are in no way being exploited and there will be trained staff present on the day to ensure this.”
A spokesperson for Halifax added: “This work is still very much in progress and the College and HCSA will announce the plans once those are finalised.
“All of the proposals include highly-reputable charities that take welfare of animals very seriously (as, of course, do we).”
Alcuin College plans to open a display of animals into its JCR on the 8 May as part of an initiative to de-stress students over the exam season, which begins during Week 5.
Meanwhile, officials from Halifax College say they are hoping to open a puppy lounge before May 19 where undergraduates and postgraduates can go on a break from revision.
YUSU Welfare Officer George Offer said the effectiveness of animal-assisted therapy had “flawed methodology” and that there were “better ways to spend students’ money”. He told Vision: “If these events are being run under the guise of exam stress relief then it’s important to note that research into the effectiveness of animal-assisted therapy is, at best mixed and, at worst, has flawed methodology.
“That’s not to say puppy rooms or similar aren’t a welcome distraction from revision, just that if you want to make a meaningful difference in relieving exam stress there are better ways to spend students’ money.”
He added: “Having said that petting zoos etc have made excellent additions to college summer festivals in the past.”
But in 2013, PETA wrote to the vice-chancellor of the University of Leeds who cancelled plans for a petting zoo over the exam period after being told of the risks to both the animals and students.
And in March, the organisation, which has more than 3 million members and supporters, forced sabbatical officers at Stirling University to axe their plans to also introduce a petting zoo on campus to promote mental, physical, sexual and social health.
In a statement at that time, they said: “Petting zoos are a bad bet for students and for animals. Travel, confinement to small cages and rough handling cause animals intense stress.
“Exhibitors take young animals on the road and, if they survive the ordeal, typically dispose of them when they become older and more difficult to handle.
“At the same time, experts indicate that petting zoos are hotbeds of serious pathogens, including E coli and salmonella, which increase the risk of illness among human visitors.
“It’s good news that University of Stirling students will now get to unwind in ways that don’t harm animals or endanger their health.”
Meanwhile, Vision can reveal that Vanbrugh College also plans to have animals on campus.
The college says it is opening a miniature farm as part of its ‘De-stress for Success’ campaign.
Animals including a donkey, pygmy goats, lambs and pigs will be present to students on 28 May between 1pm and 5pm.
The college says it is funding the idea through welfare payments and some direct funding.
Information given to Vision says that the company Vanbrugh is using “have worked with the likes of Disney and Sky” and “are extremely professional and place a huge emphasis on ensuring the welfare of the animals”.
Michael Duncan, the JCRC chair, said: “Along with the university, who have approved this event, we are completely satisfied that our miniature farm will not endanger the welfare of any of the animals involved.
“In addition, it should be noted that it is intended purely as a break from revision and makes no claims to have any psychological or health benefits. If any students have concerns, they are more than welcome to discuss them with me.”
A spokesperson for the university did not comment on Alcuin College’s idea but of the puppy lounge, they said: “Interaction between humans and dogs can be beneficial for both species.
“However, it’s very important that the puppies are kept in conditions which don’t cause them any stress.
“I will ask our health and safety team to monitor these developments and make sure that the dogs are properly looked after.”
Claire Campbell, a management student, said: “Personally, I don’t see a problem with using animals. As long as their welfare is not at risk, then it shouldn’t be a problem.”