The Feast of St Francis on the 4th October is also when we celebrate World Animal Day. Truth be told it is animal day every day for those of us who love animals, work with them, keep them as pets and advocate for their life to be free from suffering. But, in line with the occasion it's worth revisiting the 5 animal welfare needs so you can assess how well the animals are doping in our life, in our environment, in our country and so on. Let's do this!
1. Animals need a suitable environment in which to live
It doesn't get any more obvious than the difference between underwater and above water. Try swapping one for the other and the animal would die suffocated. Humans all over the world usually live in a safe(ish) house with some kind of roof, somewhere dry to sleep, somewhere to store and consume food, and somewhere to go to the toilet. Those are the basic needs we all have and like our environment to fulfill. Of course you wouldn't want to go to the toilet where you eat or sleep so there is an implied need for space to stretch your legs and walk between rooms. Just like any human, an animals environment has to fulfill these needs too. Prey species tend to have different strategies on how to keep an eye and stay safe from predators; cats climb to higher ground to sleep, or hide in small spaces (and there you have your answer as to why cats climb onto cars or into engines because our streets offer them no other options), fish swim into the spaces between rocks, rats walk in the shadows, rabbits dig burrows underground etc. All animals have a predetermined type of house they build or borrow. Some store food in their den (generally only plants) while others prefer for their food to be far from home so as not to attract predators (generally meat). By now you start getting a sense that animals like to do the stuff that made them successful, helped them survive. So what happens if they can't do it? What happens when the cat has nowhere to hide or climb to? What happens when small animals are forced to live in a cage where their bed and food are mere inches apart and they are always in full view of the cat of dog? What happens is that they are stressed. They suffer. Stress induces higher cortisol. Prolonged elevated cortisol depletes immune resistance and can slowly damage organs too, so in the long run that animals will be more prone to disease. How do you know what kind of environment your animal needs? You look at the kind of environment it chooses for itself when it is not a pet. Would your fish choose an acidic or alkaline pond? What kind a temperature would you find your pet animal in its wild form?
2. Your animal needs to be able to exhibit most normal behavior patterns.
I bet may of you thought of TVs and internet as part of that suitable environment for humans but it isn't although it is and here's why. I get asked the same question over and over. "Why do dogs/cats do that?" referring to any behavior that is common in the species like barking, digging, scratching the sofa etc. I usually answer with something like "Why do humans like to do sports?" Any activity we enjoy really. In a recent discussion with school children we talked about what they do for fun. So, some of them read books, some play games on consoles, others play games in the real world, other watch TV, and so on. The single common factor in all of these activities is that they imitate real life or immerse us in an alternative life. It is like real life but without the pressure of real life. And then you look at animals and you see dogs that like to chase stuff or carry stuff, you see cats that could repeat the predatory sequence all day on a feather toy, animals young and old engaging in playful fights, and you get a sense that it's all something they would do to obtain food or resources but they're doing it even though they don't have to. They want to. They need to do it to feel well in their head. And this makes you think about other behaviors they need to do and one example is denning. Every animal has instincts built into it on how they are meant to build a nest and raise their offspring and they need to do it, even if they are very far removed from their habitat. They experience stress when they are forced to go against their nature because those behaviors helped their species survive. If they can't do it they usually try anyway and that's when humans will say the animal has a behavior problem. It doesn't. It is just doing what is normal for them and they should be given more appropriate opportunities to do what they do as animals.
3. Your animal needs a suitable diet.
We are not talking about weight-loss here. We are talking about species appropriate diets. You have your carnivores, your omnivores and herbivores out there and they all have a natural range of foods they consume to make sure they get all the proteins, fats, carbs, vitamins, minerals and water they need to stay healthy. What good premium pet foods producers are really doing is putting all that together in an easy to use form. How do you know what's not good for your pet? You don't find it in their natural diet, so ingredients like anti-freeze are an obvious one. Another obvious one you would think is plastic. Is plastic part of the a turtle's suitable diet? No. We throw it in the sea and it presents to them in a form they perceive as food and so they die because then they are not getting sufficient nutrients from what they are putting in their mouth. Do they know? No. It looks like food to them so they eat it. Back to our beloved pets at home, begging us for table scraps and some of you will give in to the begging. Obviously since humans have different nutritional needs and tolerances, you're often giving them stuff that is nutritionally harmful or useless. Same would happen if you were to swap dog food with cat food. Dog food has lots of useless nutrients to a cat and not enough of the proteins it needs. If fed it long term they would start breaking down.
4. You animal may need to be housed with, or apart from, other animals.
Humans are a social species. We find strength in numbers. The very fact that a scream will draw people in the vicinity to help is testament that we are wired in such a way to seek support from other humans and that we are programmed to respond to it by helping, makes us dependent on each other for survival. It is difficult for us to understand a different social structure because it is so alien to our species but not all animals enjoy living in groups or even tolerate it. It is mostly dictated by the natural food of that species and their natural threats. You have the dog who we know originated from the wolf who is capable of forming family units if the food available is large, but they are also capable of going solo if the food is small, much like dogs. Then you have cats whose natural food is the same as their wild counterparts, i.e. small animals, rats, mice and birds, and you can quickly understand that small prey is not something you can share with a group. So by nature cats, especially those that less domesticated than others, are a solitary hunting species. What kind of threats do they have? Besides other predators? Other cats. Other cats could move into their territory and reduce the food available to them so cats prefer to keep other cats away, unless there is food in abundance but then they're going against their natural behavior instincts and they get stressed so they get sick more often or fight. On the other hand you have bird species that some people keep as pets that are almost obliged by nature to find a mate and stay together for life, yet you often see them caged alone or some people will mix and match like they are interchangeable parts. Horrible thing to do to a monogamous bird. Many of the animals that end up on our plates are social animals but are housed in single units for convenience or disease control and it is terrible. You try living in social isolation in an environment as bare as most animals housing units and you would be looking for a noose by tomorrow afternoon.
5. Your animal needs to be protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease.
When you get sick or your kids get sick, you go to the doctor, or I hope you do. You hopefully don't go asking your cobbler what's wrong with you or anyone else for that matter because they know just as much about it as you do. So when your pet is sick or acting strange, you should go to a veterinary clinic. If the vets don't find anything wrong they might refer you to a behavior specialist. Why? because these are all signs of suffering and if you delay treatment it causes unnecessary prolonged suffering which is bad, illegal even. These are obvious situations to seek the assistance of professionals. Then there are what I understand to be less obvious ones; yearly checkups, routine vaccinations, parasite infestations etc. Sure your over the counter parasite treatments are often enough to get rid of parasites but look closely at the box. If it says POM-V which stands for prescription only medicine for veterinary use, there is often a good use and a wrong use for it. For example, using certain parasite repellent treatments designed for dogs could induce cats to have severe life-threatening fits. Neglecting your pet's vaccine schedule puts them at risk of contracting dangerous diseases which they could pass on to others. But there are other things you should do to keep your pets safe which shouldn't need a vet or any expert really. HIDE YOUR TOXIC CHEMICALS! And that rusty old nail sticking out of the woodwork...do I need to tell you how that could cause injury?
I hope this made the wheels turn in hour head in some way and that it has helped some animals out there have a better life in the near future. Don't forget that...
EVERY SECOND COUNTS ;) Have a good one!