The book Antrozoologi. Samspillet mellom dyr og menneske (2018, Anthrozoology. The interplay between animal and human) was edited by Bente Berget, Elsebeth Krøger, and Anne Brita Thorød, all affiliated with the University of Agder, Norway. It takes a twofold approach to this topic: on the one hand, it aims to introduce the cross-disciplinary field of anthrozoology to interested readers, and on the other hand, to provide readers with reports on practical experiences with various forms of interplay between animal and human. These encounters may be therapeutic or activity oriented, and may be related to particular animals (horse and dog) or to a specific setting that includes animals and nature, such as a farm. The contributors to the volume are educated within, and have experience in, a variety of research fields, including ethology, philosophy, nursery education, pedagogy, agronomy, social science, psychology, public-health science, and linguistics.
In their introductory chapter, the editors define anthrozoology as a cross-disciplinary field that combines knowledge gained in the fields of ethology, medicine, psychology, veterinary medicine and zoology; and that studies all aspects of the interplay between animal and human (p. 15). According to the editors, anthrozoology has proved highly valuable to so-called animal-assisted interventions, defined as active, time-limited actions, where various forms of interaction with animals are used as a supplement to ordinary actions (p. 15).
While the collective approach seems to be based on a common set of philosophical insights (mainly Sartre and Bubar), where the implication of being seen by an animal plays a key role, the volume seems to lack an overall awareness of how the language about animals works. There are many phrases used where human’s use of animals and the advantages of this are mentioned and not problematized. In addition, the interplay to be described generally focuses on what is in it for humans; for example, children become more confident readers when they have the opportunity to read to a buddy dog (helpmate dog), drug addicts or people with mental-health challenges may find emotional support when caring for horses. The studies and examples provide little information or knowledge about how the ‘users’ gain interspecies awareness, since they focus either on knowledge about the ecosystemic interdependency between animals and humans, or on knowledge about animals ways of communication.
The chapter on animal behaviour, animal welfare and therapy animals is one of the most academically useful chapters providing the readers with important information about the needs and limits of various animals. However, although the chapter focuses on animals, the information about them are set within the framework of the training of animals – training by humans with the aim of helping or supporting humans.
While I see no problem with preparing for encounters between for instance dogs and children, or with children reading to dogs, I have some problems with training dogs to behave like readers. The author claims that the dogs pretend to read (p. 148). In my opinion, we know nothing about dogs and reading, so we cannot assume that they are pretending. Training dogs to behave like readers destroys the balance within the interplay.
Another doubt about the book is the tendency to claim highly problematic ‘truths’, such as the one that children and young adult have always enjoyed being with animals (p. 19). Such uncritical dependence on cultural clichés does nothing positive for the fragile relationship between various forms of life.
Nina Goga, 12.09.2018