Can Animals Consent?

*Originally published on the Natural Lifemanship Guest Contributor Blog, January 4, 2018

By Sarah Schlote

connection
Safety and choice in relationship. Image by David Karaiskos Photography

This interesting question, which came out of a post I shared on Facebook (here and here) about a yoga on horseback video that went viral recently, elicits differing opinions. Some claim that consent is a human construct linked to morality, and therefore cannot apply to animals philosophically or legally (calling it anthropomorphism). Others claim that since all mammals share a similar neurobiology, responses to safety, danger and life threat, experience emotions, are sentient and perceptive — and that since both human and non-human animals can express “yes” and “no”, aversion, attraction, fight, flee, freeze, fawn, collapse, submit, and make informed choices — they can indeed “consent” or not (in their own way). This second group suggests that to deny animals the ability to consent is anthropocentric and can be a way to justify the exploitation of non-human animals for the benefit of people. 

This article certainly will not resolve this debate, and its goal is not to malign or shame any particular horsemanship discipline, method, or equine-assisted intervention approach. Rather, I hope to invite curiosity and offer a different lens in a spirit of gentle openness and non-judgment about ideas that, while controversial, are nonetheless important to reflect upon.

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