Laboratory animal, pet animal, farm animal, wild animal: which gets the best deal?
A veterinary surgeon wishing to practice in the UK promises, on admission to the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, that their "constant endeavour will be to ensure the welfare of the animals committed to [their] care" (RCVS 2006 Guide to Professional Conduct). Yet a constant dilemma is that the veterinary surgeon deals with the animal's welfare differently depending on the category into which the particular animal fits at a particular time — even though its ability to suffer is the same whatever the circumstance. A laboratory animal is considered by many to suffer the most insults to welfare, yet its welfare is protected by a plethora of regulations, ethical reviews, best-practice guidelines and vociferous public opinion. While any decision on its treatment will take into account the scientific outcome, the judgement will have been considered by many and the outcome already decided. The companion animal may be much loved by its owner but its veterinary treatment will be affected by the psychological state of that owner and his/her ability to pay; the animal's treatment becomes a 'family management' issue. In veterinary treatment of a farm animal, the benchmark for 'acceptable' suffering can be quite different; lower levels of welfare may be tolerated over considerable periods. When a wild animal is presented for treatment, the welfare of the individual may not be best served by anything other than euthanasia, yet treatment is often enthusiastically attempted. We explore this inconsistency of approach to animal welfare, using examples, and we attempt to rationalise and raise awareness of the inconsistencies. We propose the use of a welfare illustrator grid to increase cross-sector objectivity and improve harmonisation of approach across the sectors.
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