Monday, September 30, 2013

Animal Welfare in practice

Lots of different definitions of animal welfare:

  • The state of the animal's body and mind, and the extent to which its nature (genetic traits manifest in breed and temperament) is satisfied [a]

  • Animal welfarism: the position that it is morally acceptable for humans to use non-human animals, provided that adverse effects on animal welfare are minimized as far as possible, short of not using the animals at all. [b]
  • [The animal's] state as regards its attempts to cope with its environment. This state includes how much it is having to do to cope, the extent to which it is succeeding in or failing to cope, and its associated feelings.[c]
  • The feelings experienced by animals: the absence of strong negative feelings, usually called suffering, and (probably) the presence of positive feelings, usually called pleasure. In any assessment of welfare, it is these feelings that should be assessed.[d]
  • Animal welfare involves the subjective feelings of animals.[e] 
Most of the definitions don't include preservation of life; the assumption being that, once an animal is dead, it cannot suffer, so cannot experience poor welfare. This is obviously the basis of justification for most welfare improvements for farmed animals (the other being that some people will continue to eat meat whatever we do, so improving conditions is more likely to help actual animals than futile campaigns in favour of strict vegetarianism for all).

More nuanced discussions of welfare accept that killing a happy animal deprives that individual of further happy experiences. An example of this is Animal Welfare in Veterinary Practice by James Yeates, the RSPCA CVO, who argues that what we need to consider is the concept of "a life worth living" (which implies that the animal has an interest in continuing to stay alive) and "a life worth avoiding" (which implies that we should not cause animals to be in such a state and that a humane end would be a benefit to the animal if rehabilitation is not possible). 

It's this kind of reasoning which provides a justification for projects such as more humane rearing of veal calves (who would otherwise be shot at birth or exported to worse conditions). 


Dogs were the first domestic animals and, as a species, have evolved to live with human families (although wolves are able to cross-breed with dogs—as tigers can with lions—they are no longer the same species). It no longer makes much sense to talk about the natural behaviour of dogs apart from life with humans because living with humans is what is natural for dogs.

Because dogs are now primarily companions greater weight tends to be given to preserving their lives as a vital element of "animal welfare" than is true for farmed animals. Some commentators talk as though "animal welfare" is (or ought to be) about saving the lives of stray dogs and little else.

This ignores those dogs who suffer but are not strays or unowned:

Heidi: an example of a neglect prosecution

Dogs make up a large proportion of the RSPCA's caseload. This prosecution is particularly sad because Heidi and Mimi could have been seen at our Cambridge clinic if their owner had contacted us.

Dogs may also suffer if their owners put money before their welfare (as in the case of puppy farming and trafficking) or if owners become so obsessed with breeding for a particular "look" that they ignore potential health consequences.


"Our position on pedigree dog welfare

There is a wealth of scientific and other evidence to show that the welfare and quality of life of many pedigree dogs is seriously compromised as a result of established selective breeding practices.

The RSPCA’s position on this serious issue is very clear, and was informed by the independent scientific report we commissioned on pedigree dog breeding."

"We are working with the Royal Veterinary College and the University of Sydney on a three-year PhD research project to develop a new system for data collection, analysis and interpretation. It is not just dogs that are affected by welfare issues from selective breeding so the PhD study aims to estimate the prevalence of inherited and acquired disorders in both dogs and cats to highlight breeds at greatest risk of specific conditions.
More information is available on the VetCompass project website."

Two contrasting views:

"THE RSPCA is still a very real threat to pedigree dogs and dog showing, and all in the hobby should stay on guard in the coming weeks and months.

In the wake of the society’s recent bizarre instructions for its supporters not to take part in, or be associated with, any dog shows which are to be judged on the basis of breed standards, most people have concentrated on making the point that the think that the Society has lost the plot and become more extremist in its attitude. "
Dogs Today July 2010

What's really interesting is the conclusion of the Dogs Today piece—that pedigree breeders must improve breed standards to reduce exaggeration and support breed clubs in working to eliminate genetic defects to avoid giving the RSPCA any ammunition. The RSPCA may not be making friends, but it is successfully influencing people for the good of dogs' welfare.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Best ever Sunday at our Burleigh Street shop

Fantastic day at 61 Burleigh street, although Anton, Una and I are now more or less crawling on hands and knees.

In all, we took £340 - enough to fund a fracture repair operation or to board a dog in kennels for 6 weeks.

If only we can keep this up we should be able to think about expanding the welfare work we do—something that's desperately needed.

However doubling our sales means we need to double our intake of stock. 

If you're considering a clear-out, or have been on a diet and now have clothes a size too large, please remember our shop.

We also need good quality bric-à-brac, toys; really anything that will sell.

Burleigh street is pedestrianised, but if you want to drop items off by car there is access from Paradise street at the back of the shop. If you're coming to the back entrance, it's best to phone ahead to make sure someone knows you are there and will let you in: 01223 312 802.