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Dog Welfare

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For many centuries, animals have been fashioned to accommodate Man’s needs and, whether we like it or not, animals are entirely dependent upon us for their welfare.

Animal welfare has been defined as ‘the state of an animal as it copes with its environment’ (Fraser and Broom, 1990) and ‘the welfare of an animal is determined by its capacity to avoid suffering and sustain fitness’ (Webster, 1994).

Prior to the 1960’s little thought was given to the welfare of animals but since that time there have been vast improvements in the conditions provided for farm animals, companion animals and laboratory animals. 

In 1965, the Bramwell Committee instituted a set of minimum standards for farm animals in intensive husbandry systems known as the Five Freedoms.  Originally these guidelines were very basic but in
1993 they were redefined by the Farm Animal Council as being:

• Freedom from thirst, hunger and malnutrition – by providing fresh water that is readily available and a suitable diet
•  Freedom from discomfort – by providing a suitable environment that is clean and dry, has shelter and a comfortable resting area
• Freedom from pain, injury and disease – provision of adequate veterinary attention to ensure freedom from suffering
• Freedom to express normal behaviour – by providing suitable space, interspecific reaction and environmental enrichment
• Freedom fear and distress – by ensuring that conditions that might cause mental suffering are avoided.

Initially the five freedoms were designed to improve the husbandry of farm animals but these standards could be applied to any animal that was reliant on man for its welfare and it was not long before the RSPCA was promoting these standards in its campaign.  In 2002, the RSPCA called upon the government to update the animal welfare legislation.

The Animal Welfare Act 2006 came into force in March, 2007 and it included a ‘duty of care’ based on the five freedoms stating that anyone in charge of an animal has a legal obligation to comply to these standards.  Increased and new penalties were introduced on acts of cruelty, neglect, mutilation, dog fighting and giving dogs as prizes. 

While the five freedoms provide a good moral basis for improving animal welfare, they are not flawless.  For example, the neutering of a dog or cat will cause a certain amount of stress and pain for a short time and will alter its behaviour but, without a doubt, neutering is the best policy for controlling over population that can lead to the spread of fatal disease.

When considering animal rights it is always important to look at the big picture and to assess whether an action  will have an effect on human welfare or the environment  When animal rights activists released mink from a fur farm in Hampshire in 1998, there was no thought for the devastation that they would cause to the indigenous wildlife and small pets.

The Protection of Animals Act 1911 covers actions that cause an animal unnecessary pain through mental or physical torture. Of course, animal welfare is not just about what we do to animals, but also what we don’t do.  These are ‘sins of omission’, in other words, neglect.

In some respects, mankind has come a long way since Descartes (1596-1690) famously said “I think, therefore I am” implying that animals have no feeling and are little more than machines, but even in this day and age, animals are faced with a multitude of welfare problems not least, the dog.

Dogs suffer at the hands of irresponsible breeders, puppy farmers and pet shops that sell puppies and encourage these breeders.  Our rescue centres are heaving with stray and abandoned dogs.  Incidents with ‘dangerous dogs’ are occurring nationwide due to the increase in ‘status’ breeds.  The Irish Greyhound Racing Board is threatening to export greyhounds to China without any concern to their treatment once leaving the country.  Dogs face mass destruction all over the world due to the overpopulation of strays in urban environments.   These are just some of the ways in which Man treats his Best Friend today. 

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