Ella Bruce

Philosophy - BA (Hons)

Do working animals really work? 

Animals and humans have worked side by side for thousands of years and continue to do so. But has anyone thought about whether these animals are able to understand and willingly consent to do such work? In my Major Project I discuss the importance of animal ethics as a key part of philosophical ethics, which helps to articulate the moral need to treat animals with respect and dignity, as well as whose responsibility it is to make sure this happens. I explain various philosophers’ views on the philosophy of work, including ideas about the capacity to work and the idea of labour as discussed in the work of Locke and Marx.  I also discuss Aristotle’s views on slavery and apply these thoughts to the subject of working animals.  

From animals involved in agricultural work such as elephants and oxen, to animals who work in entertainment such as horses in circuses, I look at the kinds of work animals do, to consider how we might decide if it is exploitative or not. I also conducted a questionnaire to find out what people generally think about these issues and also how much they know about working dogs in particular.  By collecting all this information and understanding the relevant philosophical views, I address the main question of this study: ‘Is the relationship between working animals and their human counterparts exploitative or beneficial?’  

One of the main aims of my study was to create an educational document to be used as an academic tool, that can be informative and offer insights into the treatment of working animals. I hope my study can provoke debate and provide information to help eradicate ignorance about what working animals actually do and allow discrimination against the animals and their human counterparts to fall away.  


In the process of collecting these philosophical views and the information I gained from interviewing practitioners and the public, I came to the conclusion that the relationship between specific working animals; dogs who are trained as guide dogs and therapy dogs, and their human counterparts, is not exploitative and instead, can be viewed as very beneficial. I was able to come to this conclusion by understanding the philosophical meaning of work, the methods in which these animals are trained, as well as the opinions of the public.  

Doing my Major Project has really helped me understand my passions and find my academic strengths.  Through doing this study, I was able to understand the field I want to go in to in a more in-depth way then I would have ever had the opportunity to before.  I plan to work at a service dog training centre, and as part of my study I was able to interview people that had been in the career for years and be able to get an insight into what day-to-day life is like for them. I now have a document to show to future employers to prove that I have a thorough understanding and interest in the field and passion for learning. I think it is a good idea to think about what kind of area you want to go in to as a career and try and shape your Major Project to be something you could show your potential employer to stand you out above the rest of the applicants.  

I have always been someone to advocate for education and visibility of the disabled community, something that was an important part of forming my Major Project was that it was something that could be used to educate people and help those that may still be unaware of the wonderful work that service dogs do.