Human-Animal Interactions: Spain Style

Throughout our journey to Spain through the Human-Animal Interactions Education abroad, we visited several different places that exemplified the diversify of animal care practices we as humans utilize, being given the opportunity to compare and contrast the cultural implications behind how we care for our animals. For example, we visited the Madrid Zoo, an animal rescue, several farms and animal research facilities, the Plaza de Toro (bull fighting arena) and more. Overall, throughout the places we visited in the wonderful country of Spain, there were many human-animal interactions that are similar and different that in the U.S., holding a good amount of pride and tradition in each.

“A country and its people should not be judged based on size. Nationalism is something you feel in your heart.” Dennis, the van driver and 9th generation Gibraltar native caught something that seemed to be prevalent throughout our trip through Spain: pride. No matter where we went or what human-animal interaction seemed to be in practice, there always seemed to be a certain amount of pride associated with it, whether that be due to tradition or just general production. Through animal practices such as entertainment and sports, production animal welfare, and commercial/touristic use, there were many human-animal interactions in Spain that were comparable to the United States.

Personally, this diverse belief system in the practice of animal use and care really opened my mind to how much a certain culture or way of thinking can change really effect an entire lifestyle different than my own. Yes, animal welfare and care may not seem that important to everyone, but entire industries in not just food production, but sports, education, conservation, and so much more are effected just by the way we care for our animals, and to travel somewhere seemingly similar and have it turn out to be quite different is eye opening in a way. While some things about their farming style, bull fighting, and expert practice in equestrian riding and show can be considered very controversial on several different levels, there is a huge amount of cultural belief and practice behind those practices that have been occurring for longer than the United States has even been a country. To see how much can play into our societal view of animals as human communities was very enlightening, and now I have a better understanding of why certain practices may be put into place because of the diversity behind the humans in control of animal life.

When it comes to the entertainment and sports industry and animals, there seemed to be more practices with a much deeper cultural meaning to them in Spain than in the United States. The first one that probably comes to mind is bull fighting. There is so much controversy outside of the country (excluding Catalonia) about the practice, and, while is can be considered inhuman euthanasia in the broad sense of the term “humane”, there doesn’t seemed to be much understanding behind why it is practiced. The Spanish bullfighting sport/entertainment industry isn’t exactly based off of revenue or gain, but the tradition and passion behind the fight. The bull is revered as ‘brave’ for the progression of the fight, and the way that its life is taken is basically seen as sacrificial. With each stage of the fight comes a different story, youth to midlife to the end of life, the fight is not just a show to the people who are watching it, but an almost spiritual performance. When the bull’s life is taken, the people involved are fully aware that it might be painful or incredibly stressful to the bull, but they also see this pain and stress as a valiant and courageous way to go. The bulls are going to be harvested for their meat either way, but to be utilized for their inbred behavior and dangerous attributes is basically an artform to the people involved. Bullfighting is almost a worshiping lifestyle, not only for the people involved in the fight but the ones who raise the bulls, and there is so much pride and tradition within each layer of the practice. The same could be said for the Spanish School of Equestrian Art and the practice of showing their horses. While some may think that showing horses is wrong and that there may be abuse involved, the relationship between the horse and the trainer/rider is something very unique. They both work toward the same goal of showing a prestigious movement or jump, and along with that comes a reputable pride in the aesthetics of the performance. This sport is also a lifestyle: a human-animal interaction that lasts longer than most.

Furthermore, I was very interested to see how the animal welfare practices and views were in Spain, and it turns out there were many commonalities with several differences in the upkeep of humane animal care. For example, in the University of Madrid’s animal research center, they also contained a system for ethical committee checks on the research process, however, it was a little more involved than the process we go through at Ohio State, having two in person committee reviews annually for each project. The government also seemed to have a greater hand in the auditing and care process of not only the research and production facilities, but even the animal rescue, donating just enough money to meet the physical needs of the animals brought to the shelter. That being said, the welfare practices and regulations on the farms that we visited seemed very similar to those we have in the United States, but with more control and regulation behind them.

Lastly, I feel like the certain pride that comes along with animal use and production in Spain should be noted. For example, everywhere we went in Spain, there were bull-themed products and statues, not only honoring the tradition and sport that is bull fighting, but using the animal as a symbol for the country itself. The same could be said with Gibraltar and the territory’s commercial use of macaques as a selling point for tourism. This sort of indirect human-animal interaction shows how much the people within and outside of the country appreciate the animals used in various settings, and use this point of pride to gain revenue. That same sort of pride was also reflected in certain animal products, like the pork and the cheese. To advertise the product as being a certain type, like 100% Manchego cheese or Iberian pork, there were many strict guidelines in place to defend that advertised labeling. Everything down to the color of the sheep and the exact feed intake of the pig were taken into account, and the whole of Spain has become famous for its pride in food. Indirect human-animal interactions such as animal imaging on products and consumption still do show the large amount of pride the Spanish have in their animal interactions, being very particular about the tradition that goes along with it as well.

Overall, throughout the places we visited in the wonderful country of Spain, there were many human-animal interactions that are similar and different that in the U.S., holding a good amount of pride and tradition in each. Through the tradition of animal use for sport and entertainment, which has been evolving and growing to the Spanish prestige it is today, we could see how the relationship and view of the animal has come to almost a worship and large respect in comparison to other animal uses. The animal welfare practices in Spain were very comparable to the United States, having more governmental checks but very similar issues and care routines. Animals could also be seen as a sense of pride in a touristic sense as well, seeing the animals and the animal products they are most proud of wherever we went.

The realization of the amount of diversity and perspective change there can be among something as common as the practice of animal care and human-animal interactions is very impactful in not only my future endeavors, but my future understanding of the motivation behind why people view animals the way they do. With a future centered around studying the care of animals, whether that be graduate school in animal welfare or veterinary school, I think that how we as as society view our animals and interact with them is extremely important, because, whether we realize it or not, animals are very ingrained in our lives from pets to food to the environment and everything in between. To see that, because of certain societal aspects (culture, ethics, expectations, etc.) animals can have a completely different care practice and viewpoint in store for them, I have a better understand of what thought can go behind our interactions. Personally, I may not agree with all of the practices I may have seen, but I can objectively describe and reason through why the care is a certain way, and that is they kind of knowledge I wouldn’t have been able to discover in a classroom or on my couch at home. My change in perspective about the diversity among human-animal interactions really can reflect in my future in several ways, and I’m very grateful for this opportunity that made a significant impact on my view and future understanding.