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


30 August 2012

Welfare hiding right in front of us

Hi there Mia!

When you address someone as I did above, do you put a comma between “there” and “Mia”? Maybe this is a grammar question for a grammar website (or I could just Google it), but I’m wondering if people put that comma in? 

I used to put in the comma, but then I was told it sounded like, “Hi there (paauuse) Mia!"

HI! How awesome to have those definitions out in the open. Prior to my program in Applied Animal Behaviour and Animal Welfare, I hadn't considered that welfare could be defined or explicitly explored through the scientific method. But, when welfare’s in the title of your program, it’s bound to come up (but why the word animal 2 times! Was that really necessary?) I find that in general conversations, we talk about and around welfare: "How are you doing? How's your dog doing? How are you feeling," even though we might not necessarily realize that the responses are welfare-based in nature.

WSPA made a Concepts in Animal Welfare online course (available to anyone for free). I particularly like how they describe thinking about welfare. If someone asks you how you are feeling, at the moment, your welfare might be mighty fine in some areas but not so groovy in others. Our welfare, and the welfare of others, moves on a continuum.

Maybe this person should get a new chair and open or close a window.

So I think about welfare along this continuum from really good to middle-of-the-road to not-so-good, and different factors can come out in different places. Then, on top of everything, we have to consider welfare from the perspective of the other.

For example, if I just broke my leg falling down the stairs, I’m probably going to freak the #@!&@*!! out. But if a rabbit hurts himself, we might not know anything has happened because as a prey species, it's not in his best interest to freak the #@!&@*!! out. 

It’s not to say that he doesn’t experience pain, he just wasn’t built to make a big scene like I will. If the rabbit in pain made a scene, that could attract attention and he could end up someone's easy dinner. Best to hide it. 

But for me, maybe it’s adaptive to make a big scene so that someone will come help me? Or, maybe the big scene has the opposite effect and makes other people want to stay away? Or maybe a lawyer would see me in my state of chaos and distress and weigh the benefits of helping me against the risk of a possible lawsuit. Humans are complicated...

What's interesting about dogs is that less-than-awesome welfare states can sometimes be hidden right in front of us. 


A while back, I attended an outdoor, end-of-summer dog event called WoofStock. Dogs and people meandered about. It was hot. I saw a crowd of people, and I went over (because that's what we do). 

A man was carrying a Pug, and boy was that tongue hanging out of that dog's mouth. Everyone was cramming in to look at the, “Oh-So-Cute” dog! I was left wondering, Why isn’t he walking around like all the other dogs? He too has the gift of 4 legs. 

I researched brachycephalic dogs, and found that through decades of breeding, we have created (and maintained) a dog who can have difficulty breathing and whose tongue doesn’t fit in its mouth. I pulled the research together and wrote a blog post on Dog Spies called,  

I hope you agree that I don't think it's "pick on pug" day. I'm just looking at the question of welfare from three different directions: (1) how do dogs look; (2) what do we find aesthetically pleasing and (3) do certain physical attributes offer particular challenges?

Sometimes what we humans like and find attractive & aesthetically pleasing is not in dogs' best interests. For example, what's the welfare of the above Pug? Some might look at this dog and say, What a cute face! But is he enjoying where his tongue is?

Bye for now!


Oechtering, G., Schlüter, C. & Lippert, J. (2010). Brachycephaly in dog and cat: a "human induced" obstruction of the upper airways, Pneumologie, 64 (07) 452. DOI: 10.1055/s-0030-1255513

Asher, L., Diesel, G., Summers, J.F., McGreevy, P.D. & Collins, L.M. (2009). Inherited defects in pedigree dogs. Part 1: Disorders related to breed standards, The Veterinary Journal, 182 (3) 411. DOI: 10.1016/j.tvjl.2009.08.033

© Julie Hecht 2012
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