On 17 March the SRC and RAG committee brought alpacas to campus to be used as "stress pets", similar to the dogs used by Paws for Stress in previous years. This ill-considered idea is irresponsible and completely unnecessary from the SRC and RAG, who are merely bowing to the masses with no regard to safety or compassion.
Alpacas originated in Peru where there are both domesticated and wild herds, with the current wild population estimated at 3.5 million. While in 1983 they were introduced to the US and have subsequently been imported to Europe and beyond, alpacas are accustomed to mountainous regions and wide open spaces - not a city and certainly not in a university campus. Simply transporting the alpacas to the University, no matter how big or comfortable this transport may be, will result in some stress being endured by these animals. The owner may state that they're happy and content but, unless the animals have suddenly mastered the English language and told them this, we should always err on the side of caution. It is absolutely not in the best interest for these animals to be brought to the University and have clamouring students trying to touch and stroke them whilst unable to leave. The Glaswegian environment is completely alien, unnatural and stressful, no matter how hard the SRC or RAG attempt to convince us otherwise. Unless we take all the students out to the mountains of Peru, this is not acting for the animal's well-being. Even if the alpacas are "fenced off" and students are kept at a distance (which defeats the purpose of this campaign), the new sights, sounds and smells will be overwhelming and stressful.
In their attempt to address a human mental health issue, the SRC and RAG have given no thought to the health of these animals. Using alpacas is completely different to using licensed and trained therapy dogs. Therapy dogs have often been trained from a young age and have had years of experience working with people and crowds - for them, a room full of students is completely normal and part of everyday life.
Complaints were raised on the Facebook event as it was announced, to which RAG replied: “We got the idea from identical events held at both Edinburgh and St Andrews campuses which were a success in terms of Alpaca safety and student interaction…We appreciate your concerns and will be sure to pass them on to the owner of the Alpacas. If she has any doubts regarding the alpacas safety, we will be sure to cancel this event.”
The event went off without incident or injury and would appear to be a resounding success. However, what the organisers fail to grasp is that this is not simply a safety issue; this is a welfare and stress issue not for the students, but for the animals.
I agree that the SRC and RAG should be doing all it can for mental health awareness among students and they should be praised for their efforts, but compromising the well-being of a living thing is simply not the answer. We as students simply do not need to interact with alpacas.
The SRC and RAG need to understand that in order to show compassion to stressed students, they cannot ignore the welfare of other living creatures. Stick to the trained animals if you must use animals at all. I do not see the connection between alpacas and mental health or why they should in any way be used to raise money. It would appear that they have run out of credible ideas for fundraising.