Education Abroad: Human and Animal Interactions in Spain

Alice Noschang
Education Abroad: Human and Animal Interactions in Spain

Animal Sciences: Human and Animal Interactions in Spain, is an education abroad program focused on exploring the numerous ways humans and animals impact each other while exploring Central and Southern cities in Spain. The group traveled to a farm, university, laboratory, zoo, or shelter to compare the types of human and animal interactions experienced in Spain to those we experience in the United States, with a focus on how government, history, and culture influences the relationships. We also experienced the local food and culture with tours of a castle and watching traditional tango and flamenco dances while at group dinners.

Traveling and studying in Spain was a very unique and exciting experience, one that I will never forget. I learned so much about the culture, food, and of course, animals. I believe that this was a transformative experience for me. I am an introvert, so to go on a week long trip with people that I never really knew before, pushed me outside of my comfort zone in a good way. I also learned how to be a little more independent by navigating through situations, such as walking through the cities and restaurant etiquette, in a place that I have never been before and did not speak the same language. I learned that I am capable of handling new challenges that I may face in everyday life. I made friends on this trip that I would have never met otherwise. Their perspectives to the experiences that we had challenged and shed new light on my current views, helping to develop them.
I also learned quite a bit about my views of many human and animal interactions. I was able to develop my outlooks on certain topics. We had many different kinds of animal and human interactions, from zoos and shelters to research and farms. I was surprised at the similarities between the interactions and use of animals I had in Spain and ones that I have had in the United States. It was interesting to see how culture and tradition play a role in animal fighting, how similar research practices are, and how the care for production animals is similar and different in the United States and Spain.

The following three experiences led to the transformation and development of what I believe is correct and right regarding animals. These experiences were full of new discoveries, and I thoroughly enjoyed learning about roles of particular animals in Spanish society and relating them back to the roles that animals play in our society in the United States.
The tours of the Plaza de Toros and the bull breeding farm gave me insight to a tradition that I have only heard of and never quite understood, bull fighting. I never could comprehend why people would put an animal through so much pain just for it to die a while later. On the tour, I learned that it was more about tradition. This tradition is only acceptable in certain places and prohibited in others. I was not expecting this to be such a controversial practice in Spain, but it is. On the bus, one of me peers and I were discussing the process, and she mentioned that it seems like such a waste, since the animals that do not make it to the third round of bull fighting are just killed, and I do agree with that. Only one bull will fight and several others are just killed, even though their meat can be used, it seems unfair. In my animal science classes, we talk about how you should cull animals only for genetics, not for human mistakes. In my opinion, I think that killing these animals because they are not the correct kind of aggressive, is a human mistake, since we are forcing them to act out by purposefully putting them in a stressful situation. I think that it might even be inhumane. However, I can understand why bull fighting is still around and probably will be forever. To people who watch it is like a religion, like baseball or football, so to ask people to give it up, probably will never happen. Unfortunately, I do not think there is any way to make it more humane without taking out the tradition, and completely changing the practice. It is also the only thing keeping the breed alive, as described by our host at the bull farm. Bull fighting is a taboo in some places in Spain, just as it is here in the United States with other forms of animal fighting, like pit bull and cock fighting. In both places, some people think of it as a sport and others think it as unnecessary cruelty depending on how tradition and cultural norms play into the practice.
One of my favorite stops was to the University of Complutense – Madrid Agricultural Department. I am minoring in animal nutrition and thought that the tour was very interesting, especially since I understood most of what they were talking about. I thought it was neat to see how all of the research is done in the labs on the feeds, and with the animals. One thing that one of the graduate students, Javier talked about is his research on olive oil extract as a replacement for antibiotics, which are banned in Spain. Based on the way things are going, I think in the next decade most antibiotics in the US will also be banned, and we will start feeding our animals in a similar way, and more research will need to be done on antibiotic alternatives. It was interesting to see the animals in a research setting and to be able to connect it back to what we learned from Dr. Kieffer’s talk here at Ohio State. Dr. Kieffer talked about the process of applying to do research and then how people are held accountable for making sure that the animals were treated humanely and had their needs met. Even though Carlos, a professor at the university, did not talk about the application process he did mention animal welfare many times. Carlos talked about how they have many internal and external inspections each year to make sure that the research animals are properly being cared for and have enrichment. He also mentioned how sometimes they have to change their ways in order to comply with the new and developing regulations. It is fascinating to see how the public pushes for welfare across the United States and Spain, and I wonder what is would be like in developing countries.
I thought the Manchego Sheep farm that we visited was also very similar to how dairy farms are run here in the United States. The facility and the housing of the sheep based on age and milking output was almost identical. One thing that stood out to me was how clean the milking parlor was, the employees cleaned up all of the feces after the sheep left. I attempted to ask one of the employees a question, and he started answering about something I did not understand, but he had a smile on, and I could tell he really enjoyed what he did. Later in the tour, the same man pulled out one of the lambs for us to pet. I think he enjoyed seeing us react to the rough wool and the smiles on our faces. I believe that keeping the facility and clean and the care that they provide to their animals is also beneficial to the animals. Keeping the sheep healthy and comfortable even though we are using them solely for our use is very important. The farm’s passion and work ethic for keeping the Manchego breed alive and healthy is directly seen I how they treat their animals, which then translates into a delicious product

In Spain, I explored many different types of animal and human interaction, and how culture affects our outlook on the interactions we have. I thought it was interesting to learn about the bull fighting and how some people enjoy it and other strongly disagree with it, and why that was. It was also interesting to compare and contrast how research is done here and in Spain. I was surprised by how the use of the sheep can also impact the wellbeing of the animals. I learned so much while visiting the beautiful country of Spain. I even changed some of my personal views on how we treat animals and what I consider as right and wrong. I will apply my experience and what I learned traveling throughout Spain, to my academics, life, and career. I will be able to provide a unique insight to class discussions when we talk about animal health and welfare in my minor classes. I will be able to apply the practical skills I learned, like branching out, not be afraid to face a challenging situation, in everyday life and maybe even during more traveling in the future. I also believe that I further developed my critical thinking skills which I can apply in everyday situations and academics. I also hope that the things that I learned on this experience I will be able to apply to my future career as a veterinarian.