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A Week in the Life of MAPP
Science, law, and ethics are all in a day's work for students in our MS in Animals and Public Policy program (MAPP), and that's just for starters. Learn more about this popular program.
December 1, 2016

This week, MAPP students are thinking a lot about data, and how it’s applied and misapplied to policy issues raised by our relationship with companion animals. Policies surrounding the prevention of dog bites, for example, are contested in starkly conflicting framings. Is the problem one of “dangerous dogs” or “irresponsible owners?”

Science, ethics and policy

The science has something to say about this debate. What are the measured risks associated with different ways of socializing and keeping dogs? What about the relationship between bite risk and dog breed? What information do we use, in practice, to identify dog breeds, and is it reliable? Given our current understanding, does the science support existing and proposed laws and regulations intended to reduce dog bites? Is “breed-specific legislation” justified? How might policies be improved to reduce bite risk, while improving the lives of our dog companions?


Dr. Margaret Slater gives a talk as part of the Animal Matters series at Cummings School.

Highlighting our discussion of science and companion animals is a visit from Dr. Margaret Slater, Senior Director of Veterinary Epidemiology at ASPCA. For our Animal Matters public lecture series, Dr. Slater presents on Tuesday a talk entitled, “Changing Perspectives on Rehoming and Retention of Dogs and Cats: Keeping Fluffy Home.”

While chewing on these issues, students are contemplating their future in the MAPP program, deciding which of the two curriculum tracks to pursue. (While they are a little apprehensive, we assure them on the basis of past experience, that it will work out well for them either way.)

MAPP curriculum tracks

Students considering the research track are consulting with possible research mentors, defining their areas of interest, and formulating a set of potential research questions—from the ethics behind diet choices to reduction of stress in shelter animals to stakeholder attitudes towards seals on the Massachusetts coast. Students pursuing the research track will take additional research methods classes in the spring, refining their skills while they define their projects.


Anne Goodall, MAPP’16, works with a beluga whale during her externship at Mystic Aquarium.

Students weighing the applied track are speaking with faculty and recent alumni to explore organizations that might host their capstone summer externships. Past hosts include the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (both law enforcement and endangered species branches), ASPCA (government relations and animal cruelty), Brown University’s Research Animal Protection Program, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Mystic Aquarium, and many others.

Field trip

Finally, students complete their week by taking advantage of the amazing academic environment of eastern Massachusetts. Friday and Saturday morning, MAPP faculty and students will attend Harvard Law School’s “Animal Welfare Act at 50” symposium. Here our students will get a chance to hear and network with attorneys, government officials, and advocates considering the strengths, limitations, and prospects for improvement of America’s most comprehensive federal animal welfare law.

Program Directors speak to incoming Masters Program students on August 24, 2016.

Dr. Allen Rutberg speaks to incoming Masters Program students on August 24, 2016.

So, some science, some law, some ethics, and a lot of animal policy—just another week at the Center for Animals and Public Policy, considering the place of animals in our world.

Allen Rutberg, Ph.D.

Director, Center for Animals and Public Policy

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