Animal Activism, Nonhuman Charisma, and Ethical Considerations when Working with Captive Animals and Animal Agency Employees
Keywords:Captivity, nonhuman charisma, activism, ethics, multispecies ethnography, animal shelters
When activists, multispecies ethnographers, or scholar-activists disrupt official narratives about how animal control agencies manage captive animals, the public pressure can result in increased vulnerabilities for both animals and agency employees. This paper unpacks an example where activists used public archives and records (methods widely used by multispecies researchers) to raise awareness about the story of a cat named Nina. Her case provides a reminder that bringing attention to injustice may result in punitive consequences for employees as the agency tries to appease the public rather than address internal policies. There are consequences for telling animal stories beyond simply giving animals a voice. How agencies respond to pressure resulting from the publication of animal stories demands ethical considerations beyond those currently required for research with human and nonhuman participants. This paper specifically addresses the use of public records to make captive animal experiences visible to a broader public and the potential for negative consequences these actions may have on the animals and employees of the animal agencies. The discussion suggests ways to mitigate these risks for captive animals and agency employees, beginning with preliminary research that situates the animal story within the political history of the agency, critical triangulation of data about the case, analysis of the internal policies that resulted in the situation, and the way the agency mitigates public criticism both internally and officially. These considerations weigh the risks and benefits of the short- and long-term impacts of confronting injustice against animals held in agencies’ custody and control.
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