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Animals in the Classroom

October 10, 2022
graphic of a cat reading a book with a bird on its head

By Riley Box 

Animals aren’t just our mascots or a focus of research. They also feature prominently in several University of Wyoming classes, including Writing Animals taught by Associate Professor Kate Northrop and Sociology of Pets taught by Assistant Professor Jennifer Tabler.

The goal of Writing Animals, taught this semester, is to look at the relationship between humans and non-human animals through creative writing and research.

“This course is built on the premise that imagining the existence of lives beyond our own is crucial to surviving and thriving,” says Northrop. “It is crucial to health.”

Creative writing encourages this imagination and allows humans to more closely examine our lives with non-human animals. It also helps students investigate why some animals are not treated the same as pets.

“Writing Animals pushed me to explore more about my physical world through writing,” says Sage Walton, a senior accounting major from Fort Collins, Colo., who took the class in 2021. “Northrop does such a lovely job with the discussion of texts, and I highly recommend taking it.”

Sociology of Pets is another popular class at UW that is taught in the spring semester. Sociology is the study of development, structure and functioning of human society. This class offers a unique look at sociology by analyzing why humans treat some animals as friends and family while treating others as commodities. Discussions include animal testing, animals as symbols and animals in the economy.

“This class is important because it helps students think critically about something often taken for granted — our relationship with other animals,” says Tabler. “We take for granted how human-animal relationships differ across time and culture.”

Throughout the semester, students develop a survey regarding people’s attitudes and experiences with animals. Survey questions range from the ethics of hunting to emotional attachments to pets.

“This class changed my whole outlook on animals,” said one student who took the class in the spring semester. “I’ve become more conscious of my actions and how they affect animals.”

Even though both classes encourage new perspectives of the treatment and understanding of animals, the methods and approaches make each course unique.

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