Eastern Kentucky University's second Living With Animals conference starting March 19 is drawing interest, and participants, from around the world.
The conference, which was first held in 2013, will include information on everything from equine portrait photography to elephant cognition to Barbados green monkeys' predator recognition to American pet cemetery gravestone images.
It will give participants the chance to hear about such things as dealing with animals around the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, how we can learn from animals in captive settings and what we can learn about canine connections from George Eliot's novels Adam Bede and Middlemarch.
Presenters Kate Ford and Ellen Furlong of Illinois Wesleyan University will discuss moral reasoning in dogs. There is also a presentation on the "First Dogs" including how presidents treasured their canine companions.
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Each day's keynote address is free and open to the public.
EKU's animal studies program "is unique in the world," according to EKU psychology professor Robert Mitchell, who helped found it in 2010. The first animal studies students graduated from EKU in 2012.
The interdisciplinary animal studies program introduces students to animals in history, animal ethics, animal-human relations and animals in literature through a broad range of courses through the university curriculum.
"This is an attempt to try to get people from all kinds of disciplines to come, so they can learn something," Mitchell said. "I think scientists are very skeptical of the humanities people, and humanities people are very skeptical of the scientists."
A conference about the various dimensions of human-animal interaction not only brings together various academics and professionals, but serves to introduce EKU animal studies students to leaders in their field.
This year's conference is expected to draw participants from as far away as Denmark, Luxembourg and India, Mitchell said.
Conference organizers tried to create the breakout sessions so there's a diversity of points of view including philosophers, artists and scientists, said Mitchell who is an expert in human-animal relations and has six cats.
"Each one is such a personality," Mitchell said. "I don't think of them academically."
Michal Pregowski, an EKU visiting scholar from Poland, said that the animal studies conference is a big draw for Kentucky.
"This is something that's important around the world," he said. "Whenever you have a conference that's not in one of the big cities, that draws people from more than 10 countries to Richmond, Ky., it's big."
Radika Makecha, an assistant professor of psychology and animal studies at EKU, said she moved to Richmond from the Bahamas because of its animal studies program. She describes it as a new and exciting discipline that draws from philosophy, cognitive psychology, literature, religion and art.
"We try to look at interactions between humans and animals — and at the animals themselves," Makecha said.