Four Years with Jane Goodall

Four Years with Jane Goodall

The season of family picnics and reunions draws near which means I’m drafting up my responses to my favorite question: “Anthrozoology? What are you going to do with that degree?”

The good news is that I’m one of the lucky ones. I’ve been working in my field for almost four years now and I absolutely LOVE my job. My own parents (who are just thrilled for me) even roll their eyes when they have to hear me rave about having my dream job. The sad truth is that it seems uncommon to love your job these days. So, I repeat, I am one of the lucky ones.

Dr. Jane’s visit to Canisius, 2010

In 2010, I was serving as the Senior Fellow for the Institute for the Study of Human-Animal Relations (ISHAR) at Canisius. ISHAR was just starting and some how, some way, we were lucky enough to kick off the speaker series with Dr. Jane Goodall, DBE. Dr. Jane delivered her lecture, “Gombe and Beyond: The Next 50 Years,” and captured my heart (along with 2,500 other hearts at the KAC that day).

I’m know I’m not the only young person who met Dr. Jane and subsequently declared that I would work for her some day. During her visit to Canisius, I learned about the Jane Goodall Institute’s global humanitarian youth program, Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots. In fact, hundreds of thousands of young people in more than 120 countries around the world are following in Dr. Jane’s footsteps as well.

With Dr. Jane in Costa Rica, 2015

When I finished my undergraduate degree (in political science with minors in zoo biology and anthrozoology – wait, what?), I scored a fellowship with Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots and spent a short time working in an office in Danbury, CT. From there, I was offered a full time position as the Program Coordinator and I was given the gift of being able to work from home in WNY.

I am living in a city that I love – a city that raised me – doing a job that I love. Every day, I get to work with young people and their mentors all over the world who are making a positive difference for people, animals, and the environment. We call ourselves the “next generation of Jane Goodalls.” We’ve tasked ourselves with ensuring a bright future for the Earth and all of the beings that live here. Very anthrozoology.

Humans or puppies? (It’s not what you think.)

Humans or puppies? (It’s not what you think.)

There’s this thought experiment in ethics called “the trolley problem” where you’re asked to imagine that there is an uncontrollable trolley racing down the tracks toward a group of people who are tied up and unable to move. You’re standing in front of a switch that you can pull to cause the trolley to change tracks and head in a different direction where only one person is standing on the tracks. What do you do? Stay out of it and let the trolley kill several people or pull the switch and sacrifice one person for the sake of the rest?

Imagining which decision to make in this scenario might be easy for you or it might be exhausting. But what if I asked you to go back and read it again and instead of a group of people on the first track, there’s a group of puppies…?

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Again, this decision might be easy for you to make but I’m here to tell you that there’s a group of students at Canisius who would likely jump in front of the train themselves rather than make the decision about saving puppies or people. Meet the ANZOs (Canisius’ anthrozoology graduate students).

Just like students studying mathematics don’t all walk around with pocket protectors, students studying anthrozoology aren’t all more inclined to spend their evenings with wine and cats. However, we are all (perhaps born, perhaps trained) to try to value all life equally or, at the very least, value all life carefully.

Is it right to sacrifice one human life for several? One human life for several animal lives? What if the puppies on the track were the last puppies on Earth?

This type of debate plays a big role in the anthrozoology program. Canisius students are juggling impossible questions like these so that when they finally step away from classrooms and online discussion boards, they can confidently make real-world decisions that might change the future of our planet for people and animals. Pretty big deal, huh?