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University of Redlands launches human-animal studies major

Have you ever wondered what your dog is thinking or if cows have feelings? Are you interested in the reasons behind the behavior of animals and wish you could learn more about them? University of Redlands' new major in human-animal studies might be for you. 

Human-animal studies (HAST) began at Redlands 20 years ago as a four-week May Term course. It has grown in popularity ever since, and U of R is now offering College of Arts and Sciences students the opportunity to major in the field.

“HAST is an interdisciplinary field that examines the complex and multidimensional relationships between humans and other animals,” said Psychology Professor Catherine Salmon, program director. “It consists of work across disciplines in the social sciences, the humanities, and the natural sciences.”

Launching HAST as a major puts U of R at the forefront of education in the field. Currently, only eight other institutions in the United States offer HAST majors to undergraduates, said Philosophy Professor Kathie Jenni, one of the program’s architects and proponents; with the HAST major launching in the fall 2021 semester, the U of R will be the only one on the West Coast. Yet the scholarship of and interest in HAST are rapidly growing due to concerns about climate change, animal welfare, and an increasing number of pet owners.

“We see the major as a distinctive program,” said Jenni, “that can attract students to the U of R who otherwise wouldn't have considered us and who hope to enter one of many animal-related careers. Every year students have told us that they came to the U of R because we offer [HAST] and their other top-choice schools did not.”

That is why Kaila Ferrari ’17, now a senior digital content specialist at the International Fund for Animal Welfare, chose Redlands. “I didn't see other universities offering classes that covered animal ethics and the human-animal relationship. I knew I wanted to do something that related to wildlife conservation, and it seemed important to understand the field from both a science and human-impact background.”

Meghan O’Sullivan ‘17, now a doctor of veterinary medicine, said she learned a lot about the human-animal bond that benefits her veterinary career. “It opened my eyes to bigger issues going on in the animal kingdom across the seas and in our own nation, and it helped me understand the viewpoint and expectations that many owners today take on their pet — which is crucial for my line of work.”

The list of HAST-related jobs is long, Salmon said, and includes work in administration, fundraising, marketing, outreach, humane or environmental education, animal protection, development, policy, research, animal-assisted therapy, and more.

Salmon said, at its heart, HAST is about the relationships between us and non-human animals — and these relationships play essential roles in our lives.

“For some people, animals, particularly pets, play a significant emotional and social role in our lives. For some people, animals are a source of fear or disgust (which can be driven by physical danger or concern about disease, etc.), and for others, they are a source of nutrition. But all of us engage in some sort of relationship with various non-human animals over our lives. HAST is becoming a major force in understanding these relationships and hopefully will lead to more net positive relationships across the board."