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Welfare needs of pets

Late May brings back memories of exams.

Thirty plus years ago I was seated alone, in front of three examiners being grilled on animal behaviour, welfare and ethics. My confidence was low. I was good on facts and figures, but this was the ‘wooliest’ topic that we had studied so far.

Luckily, I was asked to describe how I would assess whether a group of calves’ welfare was being well attended to.

I described five means whereby I would assess their care, which were

  1. Freedom from hunger and thirst.
  2. Freedom from physical discomfort.
  3. Freedom from pain, injury and disease.
  4. Freedom to express their normal behaviour, such as being able to groom themselves, get up and turn around.
  5. Freedom from fear and distress.

The examiners seemed surprised. I was a little surprised myself as I had no recollection of revising this, but must have read it at some point, and it luckily re-surfaced in my brain at the right moment.

These five freedoms were being established as an evidenced-based animal welfare measure in the 1960s, and I have been using them as a basis for talks that I give about caring for animals to schools and other groups for some time. I try to instill a sense of the responsibility that comes with pet ownership, as well as the joy.

So I was interested to receive an email from a charity called the Animal Protection Agency, promoting their new ‘Pet Score’ they have called ‘EMODE’, which they have labelled the ‘first step in responsible pet ownership’.

It was there that I read a quote on animal welfare: “It is now widely accepted that good animal welfare is not simply the absence of negative experiences, but rather is primarily the presence of positive experiences such as pleasure.” A. Boissy et al.

I dialled in my Labrador, and established that she was easy to moderate to keep. But when I suggested I fancied a bearded dragon, not surprisingly it was labelled as a difficult pet.

If you would like to try it, go to emodepetscore.com, and share it around to those thinking about getting a new pet. It definitely provides food for thought.

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