What is animal welfare?
Animal welfare is an ethical concern for the mental and physical wellbeing of animals. It is more than simply the absence of cruelty and more than just physical health. Animal welfare involves managing animals in a way that gives them what they need: a suitable environment, a suitable diet, to be able to express normal behaviour patterns, to be housed with, or apart from other animals and to be protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease (UK Animal Welfare Act, 2006). There are several definitions of animal welfare but one of the simplest asks two questions: Are they healthy, and do they have what they need?’ (proposed by Marian Dawkins, University of Oxford). The reason we are concerned about the welfare of animals, and not plants for example, is because animals are considered to sentient, and therefore able to experience emotions and suffering. Animal welfare exists on a continuum from poor welfare to good welfare, where animals are able to experience positive emotions, such as comfort, pleasure and opportunities for choice.
Why should I care about animal welfare?
UK and EU law states that animals are sentient, and so are capable of both suffering negative emotions, such as fear or pain, and having positive experiences. The UK Animal Welfare Act of 2006 also states that it is the duty of all animal keepers to care, that they are responsible for the welfare of their animals. So legally we have to care about animal welfare if we own a pet or have any care for animals. As empathetic human beings we are concerned about the mental suffering of other beings, both human and animal, often it makes us feel bad to see an animal suffering. But these are not the only reasons to care about animal welfare – animals that are frightened or distressed can be dangerous and cause injury to themselves or others, animals in poor welfare may be more likely to suffer from disease or may grow more slowly, working animals in poor welfare are less productive. Keeping animals in a state of good welfare can be good for us, as well as the animals themselves.
Do you offer animal welfare courses?
Yes, we offer courses in animal welfare or related subjects at a range of different levels. SRUC offers HNC, HND and SFQ courses in animal care and vet nursing [www.sruc.ac.uk/courses], and our degrees in Applied Animal Science and Agricultural Bioscience also include some course work in animal welfare. The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies offers degree level training in Veterinary Medicine. Together SRUC and R(D)SVS teach MSc courses in animal welfare, either at our campus or by distance learning. We also offer an online MSc in Clinical Animal Behaviour. We have also made freely available, short online courses in animal welfare which can be accessed by anyone at any time. We also have PhD studentships available for three-years of research in animal welfare, to see our latest projects please visit the jobs pages.
How do you fund this work?
Our research is funded by a variety of sources. A lot of our research is related to government policy developments or understanding of animal welfare and so will be commissioned by the government (Scottish, UK, EU or elsewhere). Other pieces of research are funded by NGOs or charities, sometimes to help them develop their own animal welfare policies or to ask a specific question. We also work with industry groups, sometimes in partnerships with government, who might want to improve their animal management practices. We also provide consultancy in animal welfare to a wide range of different groups.
Current news about the activities of the Jeanne Marchig International Centre for Animal Welfare Education can be found in our blog.