Working equids play an essential role in the livelihoods of millions of families around the world. The way people, especially their caretakers, perceive them affects attitudes towards them and consequently their welfare. This study aimed to understand the perceptions and attitudes of soldiers towards the mules they work with. For this, psychological constructs, such as empathy and pain perception, and discourse analysis were used. The results show that soldiers' empathy towards animals is positively associated with their perception of pain and empathy towards humans. Soldiers prefer to work with mules over donkeys and horses, and perceive mules as intelligent and with the best aptitudes for pack work in the mountains, although they perceive them as aggressive. The text analysis shows that soldiers have a good understanding of mules' nutritional, environmental and health needs but require a better understanding of their behavioral and emotional needs. Finally, they see mules as strong and noble animals, valuable to work under difficult field conditions and an essential component that supports army logistics in the mountain. Future selection and training strategies for soldiers should include behavior and welfare concepts to facilitate the soldier-mule relationship and improve mules' welfare. Mules are essential for pack work in mountainous areas, but there is a lack of research on this species. This study intends to assess the perceptions, attitudes, empathy and pain perception of soldiers about mules, to understand the type of human-mule relationship. For this, a survey was applied with closed-ended questions where the empathy and pain perception tools were included and later analyzed through correlations. Open-ended questions were analyzed through text mining. A total of 73 soldiers were surveyed. They had a wide range of ages and years of experience working with equids. Significant positive correlations were found between human empathy, animal empathy and pain perception. Soldiers show a preference for working with mules over donkeys and horses. Text mining analysis shows three clusters associated with the mules' nutritional, environmental and health needs. In the same line, relevant relations were found for the word "attention" with "load", "food", and "harness". When asked what mules signify for them, two clusters were found, associated with mules' working capacity and their role in the army. Relevant relations were found between the terms "mountain", "support", and "logistics", and also between "intelligent" and "noble". To secure mules' behavioral and emotional needs, future training strategies should include behavior and welfare concepts.
|Author Address||Programa Doctorado en Ciencias Silvoagropecuarias y Veterinarias, Universidad de Chile, Santiago 8820808, Chile.firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com|
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