September 2010
From the State Vet's Office

Distinguishing Welfare from Rights

I just turned 50 a few weeks ago, so I guess that qualifies me to comment on the changes I have seen over the past five decades. I suppose one of the areas where I have seen a great deal of change is the way animals are viewed by our society. I realize the words "viewed by society" covers a pretty broad spectrum. When we look back at veterinary medicine 50 years ago, the majority of the focus was on large animal medicine and production agriculture. Now return to today. Small animal medicine has advanced to the point that procedures like CAT scans and hip replacements are available for small animals. It speaks well of our profession. It is also a reflection of the extent of care some clients demand for their pets.

Did any of you see the recent story of the millionaire lady who had left her fortune to her pet dog. Her son was contesting the will. We’ll have to see how that plays out. Personally, if I had been the son, I would settle for being the caretaker of the million-heir dog. You know, the dog probably needs a private plane to travel in and a new mansion to live in.

I also recently heard more and more churches are allowing people to bring their pets to worship with them. That was because some people refuse to leave their dog at home alone. Others said they feel closer to God when allowed to bring their dog to church. I guess that’s all between a person and their local congregation and their Creator. I can see some real concerns, however, if a squirrel somehow wandered into the church service like the one in the Ray Stevens song. There is also the possibility of dog pressing its cold nose on some lady who is nearly asleep and before she knows it, she has confessed more to the congregation than she intended to.

Anyway, you can see many people think animals occupy a position right up there with us humans.

The Veterinarian’s Oath states we, as veterinarians, will use our scientific skills to protect animal health, relieve suffering, conserve livestock resources, promote public health and promote medical knowledge. I took that oath when I became a veterinarian. I am a champion for animal welfare. I absolutely believe it is my utmost responsibility to relieve suffering. It is my responsibility to conserve livestock resources. I believe those responsibilities even encompass prevention of illness and suffering of animals as much as possible. I care about the welfare of animals. As a regulatory veterinarian, I have the ability to enforce rules and regulations effecting animals. I would not, however, call myself an animal rights activist.

The term "animal rights" is a loosely defined term implying that animals have at least the same basic rights as humans: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. First let me say I am not a lawyer, don’t play one on TV and I did not stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night. So what I have to say about rights are simply my opinions and might not hold up in court. I know the Declaration of Independence is one of the founding documents of our country. It states all men (I think that means mankind) are endowed with certain rights by their Creator….life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. While I believe it is the responsibility of us humans to not abuse animals and relieve suffering, I personally believe they do not have these "rights." The animal rights movement on many levels is opposed to the consumption of meat, dairy and eggs, as well as their use for leather, entertainment and research.

If a person chooses to have a soy burger instead of a ribeye steak, that’s ok with me. In fact, I don’t care if a person sits on the couch and eats doughnuts all day if that’s what they want to do. My problem comes when they want to take away my ability to order a ribeye steak. I do not believe it is inconsistent with my oath as a veterinarian to work toward the welfare of animals used in agriculture only to consume meat, wear leather boots and ride my horse. Because of the shared philosophy that animal agriculture is both acceptable and good, a coalition of those involved in animal agriculture was able to get a law passed addressing animal husbandry practices.

The law, known as HB 561, is intended to make sure animal husbandry laws are based on science and best management practices. Husbandry laws passed in the future will address animal welfare. It is important to note a well-cared-for animal is a more productive animal.

This bill does three basic things. First, it increases the penalty for a person convicted of cruelty to animals and for repeat offenders. Next, it preemptively prevents local municipalities and/or counties from creating ordinances related to animal husbandry that would be stricter than what is established by the Alabama Department of Agriculture. And lastly, it assigns authority to enforce laws and develop regulations related to livestock disease and care with the State Veterinarian.

Concerning animal rights, there are areas I cannot argue. I believe animals do feel joy, pain, anxiety and even possibly share in the euphoria when Auburn wins, but I do not believe they have rights. I think it is totally wrong for anyone to torture an animal. But you try to tell my cat that her torturing those mice for half an hour before she consumes them is violating the rights of those rodents, she’ll just look at you like you’re crazy………and I would be inclined to agree.