AWF: Where do pets fit into our busy lives?

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ANIMAL WELFARE FOUNDATION DISCUSSION FORUM 2017

WHERE DO PETS FIT INTO OUR BUSY LIVES?

JAMES YEATES: CHIEF VETERINARY OFFICER RSPCA

This talk begins with a list of inputs and outcomes in modern life.

INPUTS

  • Science
  • Business
  • Globalisation
  • Urbanisation
  • Digitalisation

OUTCOMES

  • Pet keeping
  • Physical health
  • Mental Health
  • Sustainability

Animal welfare laws are not new, there are records of advice to veterinarians that go back 3,000 years. However, there is usually a lag period in practice and experts do not nowadays get the respect of previous times, with many other sources of ‘expert’ opinion available. People still do not understand the five welfare needs and some abuse/neglect, the speaker suggested, is not about ignorance.

Keeping pets is as old as history but security and abundance in modern life have resulted in an increase in pet keeping and an era of ‘acceptable affection’ in which talking of pets in loving terms is now considered normal. This has also resulted in over affection with failure to accept euthanasia when it is advised, obesity and hoarding being some of the problems seen.

On the other hand, busy urban lives have caused problems for pets. When nobody is at home it is worse for pets that need company. Faster unstable lives lead to less time available for pet care and the pets themselves will lack contact with their natural environment. Further problems arise from the interconnected world –in particular, the globalisation of trade and animal products, access to information but also misinformation.

Mental health is an important current topic and pets may be very valuable to alleviate loneliness and boredom in people. They may help in the treatment of depression and anxiety and act as prevention for these illnesses. On the contrary mental suffering is also possible in pets and there is a need for owners to understand recognise and act if their pet suffers in this way.

The five welfare needs of human and pets are compared under the headings of Diet (obesity and dental problems), Environment (small compartments, air and water pollution), Company (social isolation, overcrowding), Behaviour (lack of natural resources), and Health (access to NHS/Obamacare and even over-treatment?) These same factors are stated to exist in both pets and their owners.

In summary, pet keeping is not incompatible with modern life-it can actually be the antidote. However, pet keeping is incompatible with some forms of modern life mentioned previously and therefore we need to choose our pets carefully and ensure that pets don’t pay for human problems. Finally, the need to continue the education of owners is essential.

Some of the questions asked regarding concerns of keeping non-traditional pets, advantages and disadvantages with older people keeping pets, should advice be given on what pet to choose, and is the pet being of value to the owner but not the other way round?

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