Thursday, May 2, 2013

Is your animal welfare account in the black?

Hundreds of thousands of native animals (like this joey's mother) are killed by cars every year on Australian roads. Should all motorists be paying a small annual fee to fund the care of injured and orphaned animals?

In his recent book, AnimalWelfare in Veterinary Practice, James Yeates uses the metaphor of an animal welfare account.

Every person in the world has a direct effect on animal welfare. How they treat animals they own or meet; what food and clothes they buy; which charities they give money to; what they enjoy as entertainment and their environmental impact can have an effect on the lives of many animals.

Each person probably effects a combination of harm and benefit (even the kindest people do some harm and even the most evil people may help animals by accident and has an overall impact on animals’ welfare. Each person has an animal welfare account, based on all their welfare impacts. If a person does more good than harm, this is to their credit. (Yeates, 2013, p1)

This is a great concept as it recognises that every intervention – no matter the intent – has an impact, but it also suggests that we can mitigate harm by taking steps to impact animals in a positive fashion. i.e. making a deposit into the animal welfare account. Kind of like paying for carbon off-setting when you purchase an airfare.
According to Yeates, veterinarians must be particularly mindful of their animal welfare accounts because, while we have the same general responsibilities and obligations to animals as everyone else, we have (by virtue of our proximity to animals, our ability to intervene when health problems arise etc) more opportunity to cause greater harm and fewer excuses because of our greater knowledge.
So how do we offset our negative welfare impacts? In his book, Yeates provides some great suggestions:
1)   Develop the skills to accurately assess the welfare of animals (so that we can recognise when there is a deficit and correct it)
2)   Engage in reflective practice: be aware of our strengths and weaknesses and work on these
3)   Consider the bigger picture: we can think of imaginative ways of welfare-offsetting
4)   Get involved with our professional bodies such as the AVA as well as organisations that promote animal welfare
5)   Give pro-bono time, money or fundraising efforts to welfare or charities
6)   Make good consumer choices when shopping or eating out – “embody the welfare standards we want others to emulate
I would love to hear ideas from others. Do you agree that vets have a greater responsibility when it comes to animal welfare? How do we offset harms?