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Do you Believe in Dog? (2018). Powered by Blogger.

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It started when two canine scientists decide to become pen pals in an era of digital media...


27 August 2012

I'll show you mine if you show me yours!

Yep - that adult (green coat) having more fun than any kid? That's me.
Hey Julie,

We had a fun weekend, there were miniature trains involved, so how can that be anything other than fabulous? 
I hope you did too!

Can I firstly say – !!!! – how awesome is EthoSearch?! Thank you SO MUCH for sharing that with me – I can’t believe I didn’t know about it and will certainly be starting any conversations with new students in my research group with “Hi, I’m Mia, and here is the link for EthoSearch – you’re welcome”. It’s a GREAT resource.

So you’d like me to define ‘animal welfare’, would you?

Great question! I’ll show you mine if you show me yours! I’m not sure I have a one line response, but allow me to ‘think out loud’ if you will...

I think it’s fair to say that there’s no single universal definition of ‘animal welfare’. 

I think this is partly because our understanding of how and what animals experience is changing over time and partly because different people emphasise different aspects of animal experiences so their 'angle' on/of animal welfare will also differ.

It is a term with its roots in philosophy and ethics and I was lucky enough to share great conversation over dinner with Peter Sandøe earlier this year. 

Sandøe trained as a philosopher and is currently a Professor of bioethics in Denmark. You can hear the public lecture (and see the PowerPoint presentation) that he gave in March 2012, titled ‘Animal Welfare – where does science end and ethics begin?’ via the Animal Welfare Science Centre/RSPCA Australia. It’s a fabulous presentation and well worth taking the 45min if this is a topic of interest to you.

When I refer to thoughts about the definition of ‘animal welfare’ used by people who have been working in this field far longer than me, I find:

Broom (who, incidentally, I can happily vouch for as a master of the conference dance floor!):
“The welfare of an individual is its state as regards its attempts to cope with its environment”. 
  • If coping can be achieved easily with little effort and resource, energy and time use – welfare is considered OK. 
  • If it fails to cope or coping takes much time/energy/resources, then welfare is obviously poor.

From within Sandøe & Christiansen:
  • The welfare of a sentient animal is determined by its capacity to avoid suffering and sustain fitness.
  • Not only will welfare mean control of pain and suffering, it will also entail nurturing and fulfilment of animals natures.

"Good welfare is achieved when animals are healthy and have what they want

From within Stafford:
  • The welfare of an animal relates to its subjective experiences of life.
  • We can never know the subjective experience of a dog but we can be reasonably sure of its physical condition and can use physiological, behavioural and immunological parameters to give some indication of an animal’s experience of suffering and pleasure.
  • The strength of these emotions may be measured using physiological and behavioural parameters that appear to be common to many mammals including humans.
  • Interpretation is always subjective.


From within Grandin:
Despite debates on what animal welfare is, many guidelines  and regulations have been created to protect animal’s wellbeing. It’s a little peculiar to imagine rules governing a concept that we, in general, have so much trouble understanding and defining. Some animal welfare concepts and concerns are purely ethical and cannot be completely explained scientifically. 

I think many people would anticipate a response to your question along the lines of ‘animal welfare refers to an animal’s physical and mental well-being’. For me this is a little like your example of saying ‘aggression is aggressive because it’s aggression’ – it doesn’t really clarify what is meant. I could also say 'there is no definition, we don't know what we mean by animal welfare'... 
How would you rate this dog's welfare compared to the one below? (source)
Instead, I think I prefer to say that I understand ‘animal welfare’ as a state of an individual animal which can range from negative to positive and is influenced by its physical, behavioural, environmental and affective experiences. I’m also quite prepared to change this understanding as I continue to learn. 

What ‘good animal welfare’ refers to may need to wait to be a topic for another day!

I’m very interested to hear more about the welfare aspects of the work Marc Bekoff touched on in his article last week. Can you tell me a bit more about that? 

And remember – I’ve shown you mine, so fair’s fair... 


Broom, D.M. (1986). Indicators of poor welfare, British Veterinary Journal, 142 (6) 526. DOI: 10.1016/0007-1935(86)90109-0

Dawkins, M.S. (2008). The Science of Animal Suffering, Ethology, 114 (10) 945. DOI: 10.1111/j.1439-0310.2008.01557.x

Grandin, T. (Ed.) (2010) Improving Animal Welfare: a practical approach, (Book), Cabi; ISBN: 978-1-84593-541-2

Sandøe, P. & Christiansen, S. (2008) Ethics of animal use, (Book), Blackwell Publishing; ISBN: 978-1-4051-5120-7

Stafford, K. (2006). The Welfare of Dogs, (Book), DOI: 10.1007/1-4020-4362-7

© Mia Cobb 2012
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