Understanding and accomplishing animal welfare, (c) 2016 Frania Shelley-Grielen, all rights reserved
The human history of caring for the animals we keep and domestication might have had its beginnings in the simple desire to be close to an animal unlike us; whether that desire sprang from hunger, curiosity or potential companionship. From hunting animals for food sources to partnering with them for what help they might provide us, to those which returned our interest in companionship to domesticating those that approached us the least fearfully, we have put into place both good and bad ways to maintain these animals in our lives.
A contemporary look at animal keeping bypasses the shepherd and his flock with his attendant “shepherd” dog for assistance or of semi-feral cats keeping the rats away from our grain. While we can still find these scenarios their numbers pale in contrast to the vast millions of animals we now house who are cared for mechanically or by a handful of attendants. The animals we consider here live in the context of a mostly man-made environment, whether they be the companion animals we live with or other domesticated animals that we keep on our land, in intensive farming, in research facilities, zoos, sanctuaries and aquaria, etc. In all of these environments we dictate every aspect of how these animals live from the physical space they get to live in whether it is a cage, pen, stall, room, yard or house. We dictate where they can rest and on what, concrete or soil, bedding f natural materials they themselves might choose in a natural environment or man made, cleaned and how often (or not). We dictate how comfortable and restorative that rest and sleep will be depending on whatever natural sleep/wake cycles they might have by controlling light and dark and the noises that surround them. We dictate what they eat and when they eat it, which animals they are next to, if they can socialize or not, whether they can rear their young, or pick their mates, the list goes on. And as we know or are learning, sometimes we do a better job of it for the animals in our care than others. Sometimes we care about that and sometimes we don’t.
Advances in farming practices and zoo keeping protocols have progressed slowly, painfully and at the cost of multiple fatalities and of abject suffering for many animals. In the past, basic husbandry requirements of diet, shelter, lifestyle, family and social structures were mostly unknown, neglected, or ignored. A look at the early days of procuring animals for zoos is a gruesome account of animals perishing in transit from the stress of capture, improper handling, confinement and malnutrition. Animals did not necessarily fare better arriving at zoos where carnivores might be fed cereal and desert animals housed in cold and exposed climates, oftentimes the basic needs of all species for dens, burrows, cover or even basic shelter was denied. As formal knowledge of an animal’s biological needs developed and as animal care workers learned how to supply those basic needs, animals benefited. Then, as now, we know that even with the wealth of growing knowledge available, advances that were made or have been made are not universally applied, practiced or legally required.
Without a doubt, undertaking the study of how to best care for animals before taking them from their natural environments would have spared the cost many animal lives not to mention the cost of their great emotional distress and suffering or the great expenditure of human efforts with its own cost in fatalities and expense. There is little defense for this other than for a lack of knowledge and the custom and practices of the times. For today, in the world we live in, we are surrounded by an explosion of new research and exciting initiatives addressed to the question of how we can do better for animals and we are starting to pay attention.
In the midst of this ever growing conversation about how and why animals “matter” to us, the way we think about, work with, study or interact with animals is changing along with our standards for animal husbandry. Our focus has increased from attending to simple biological needs to attempting to allow for emotional needs and natural behaviors. We now acknowledge that good animal care is more than making sure an animal is fed, sheltered and disease free; we take into account the individual experience of an animal in their environment (“animal welfare”)- making sure animals have what they want and need. We weigh our own interactions with animals (“human animal relationship”) into the welfare equation. We quantify and measure how to make sure our newer standards are put into effect, we have “five freedoms” and “five domains,” among other categories, lists, charts and checklists, all meticulously documented, carefully researched and exemplified so they are ready to go.
But how do we make all this happen in real life? How do we go beyond sheer theory: the very idea that animal welfare does matter for the animals and for us? How do we mainstream the scientific studies that show us the relationships that increased welfare makes for healthier animals and better outcomes into recognition and practice that applying these standards works? Most importantly, how do we go from the talking to the doing? How does all this get done in the everyday world of the work, chores and tasks that need doing for the farmhand, the stockperson, the zookeeper, the dog or horse trainer, the dog groomer or pet sitter?
Attention to animal welfare is not a recent phenomenon; 2,300 years ago, Xenophon, a Greek historian and soldier, wrote The Art of Horsemanship, a classic on riding and caring for horses, rich with admonitions on caring for colts who might be frightened such as: “he should be taught, not by irritating but by soothing him, there is nothing to fear” or prudent advice for grooming and handling: “Compulsion and blows inspire only the more fear; for when horses are at all hurt at such time, they think that what they shied at is the cause of the hurt.” In more modern times, as early as 1959, William Russell and Rex Burch introduced the concept of “The Three R’s” or “Replacement, Reduction and Refinement” relating to research animals. “Replace,” the use of animals in research, “Reduce,” the number of animals used to gain information and “Refine,” the methods so pain, distress and suffering is alleviated or minimized and welfare is enhanced. As valid and important as their work was, it was far from universally accepted or applied. Today, we are in a welcome advent of ever increasing acknowledgement of animal sentience, cognition and growing awareness of the importance of good animal welfare. Current thinking has advanced more successful models such as “The Five Freedoms” and “The Five Domains” introduced in the early 1990’s.
A forerunner in the defining of animal welfare standards for intensive farming, “The Five Freedoms,” was published by John Webster in 1993. The standards outlined basic freedoms from negative states of “thirst, hunger, malnutrition, discomfort, exposure, pain, injury, disease, fear and distress” and “the freedom to express normal behavior” and the provisions to accomplish them: “By providing ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigour”, “an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area”, “prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment”, “ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering” and “sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind.” The Five Freedoms were revolutionary in detailing an animal’s subjective experience and need to express natural behavior along with signposts of how to accomplish welfare. And most significantly, they were widely embraced. The animal sheltering community used the system to illustrate what appropriate pet care looked like for prospective adopters. And while compliance was voluntary, rating systems and programs were instituted throughout the farming industry. A visit to a large natural foods chain store in theUnited Statesshows meat packages labeled with progressive “steps’ to evidence the conditions the animals are kept in. An issue with the system might be the lack of the consumers’ understanding of just what these steps signify.
At about the same time as The Five Freedoms were introduced, David Mellor and C. S. W. Reid published welfare standards designed for research animals in 1994. “The Five Domains Model,” outlined survival related factors such as 1) Nutrition, 2) Environment 3) Health and situation related factors such as 4) Behavior and affective experience domains such 5) Mental State. The Five Domains gave specific examples of negatives in each domain; e.g. “restricted water and food and poor food quality” for nutrition or “uncomfortable or unpleasant physical features or environment” along with positives such as “healthy, fit and/or injured” for health or “ability to express rewarding behaviours” for Behaviour. In this model overall welfare is determined by the animal’s mental state, with hopefully more positive experiences, which include “drinking pleasure,” “goal-directed engagement,” or “ affectionate sociability,” than negative experiences among those such as "chilling/overheating,” “Breathlessness,” or “Boredom/helplessness.”
No matter whether the Five Freedoms or Five Domains or a combination of both; practical standards that animal care workers apply can ensure good animal welfare provided we can practice, learn it and make it happen for animals. Again, it is not in the talking it is in the doing that we improve and enhance animal welfare. David Mellor reintroduced the Five Domains model in 2016 as a more effective one than the Five Freedoms due to its reliance on an animal’s feeling state as a basis for good welfare. John Webster’s response achingly reminds us that our actions where animals are concerned are the most significant:
“The Five Freedoms are much simpler (perhaps too simple for scientists) but are based on fundamental, timeless principles that do not need to be re-evaluated in the light of new research. They do not attempt to achieve an overall picture of mental state and welfare status. They are intended as no more than a memorable set of signposts to right action. Since, so far as the animals are concerned, it is not what we think or feel but what we do that counts, I suggest that they are likely to have more impact on, and be of more use to, everybody else—and that includes the animals.”
Research in animal welfare science continues to grow, progress, and evolve and offers more models, constructs, concepts, and measurements in caring for animals along with applied methodologies to accomplish it. Having science squarely on the side of good animal welfare is a brilliant thing but without having the humans formally educated as to foundational theories and trained in applying them we are back where we started with zoo keeping or very close to it.
Formally learning basic husbandry as it relates to different animals requires learning the natural history of each species, the process of domestication for each, their unique biology and how to supply those certain biological needs along with individual “umwelt” or how the animal experiences the world. Affection for animals in general is a good place to begin as long as this affection is for what we can do for animals in providing care: cleaning cages, changing water bottles, feeding at scheduled times, as opposed to our fondness for how animals make us feel, what they look like or what they can do for us. So is fascination for the subject matter of how different these species are from our own including recognition of how differently each animal experiences their own world and reacts to it. Working with companion animals may be thought of as easier than working with farm or research animals yet presents similar challenges. Individuals entering the pet care services field typically have an avid interest and desire to work with animals and may expect that working with companion animals is similar to their experience of caring for a familiar pet. The actual work of caring for any animal including companion animals is often not congruent with expectations. The work involves a good deal of manual labor in loud and odiferous environments and is not easy. Other people’s animals do not respond to groomers or handlers with ease, comfort or familiarity for any number of reasons, including being fearful of the stranger working with them along with the stranger’s lack of an informed approach.
There is an ever present danger in working with animals and expecting human responses from non-humans. For instance, moving animals from one place to another requires knowledge of both the mechanics of how they move and what motivates the movement which differs for dogs, horses, pigs, goats, chicken, etc. It also requires a degree of respect for the differences between species and catering to those differences. Anger and lashing out at scared pigs or frightened dogs that do not move when requested to do so may be due to the consequences of reductively thinking that they are after all only “pigs” and “dogs” with all the inherent misplaced hierarchal human judgment that can go along with that assessment. Human judgment goes into human animal relationships and has been shown to be impacted by both the biases we bring to animal work as well as learning. As David Mellor writes:
“Importantly, targeted cognitive-behavioural training can improve attitudes and behaviour towards animals, with consequent improvements in animal handling, welfare and, in the case of livestock, productivity . The promotions of “lives worth living” among animals in human care and control must therefore include consideration of these key features of human influence. Finally, an additional related factor which often has significant welfare benefits, especially with “hand- on” management of small numbers of animals such as occurs in zoos, in the home and as part of recreational sporting activities, is the development of a close human–animal bond.”
Again, interest in how very different these species are by contrast to our own helps to engage the worker, student of animal welfare and the researcher. Mostly, we are not talking about primates with their unique nutritional requirements, biology, physiology, behavior and dominant visual sense, despite any manifest similarities. Take cows and horses, both prey animals, herbivores who live in social groups but in this case, knowing where to stand and approach each so not to inadvertently threaten (such as, for a cow, behind them or a horse, on the side of them) comes from knowing basics of the animals sensory perception along with whether they kick straight back when threatened as a horse does or out to the side as a cow does, etc. We have to learn species specific differences, individual differences, needs, possible wants and feelings and the appropriate interaction/handling by humans. Caring for cattle is different from caring for chickens or caring for cats. Recognizing good welfare and how to provide it for different species and valuing it is not an intuitive process rather it is a learned one. Susan J. Hazel writes about teaching the importance of the applied (–what it looks like, how to do it) aspect of animal welfare in animal and veterinary sciences:
“When ensuring students are adequately prepared to work with animals, it is necessary to not only pay attention to what is taught, but also how it is taught. In the past teaching was considered simply a passive transfer of knowledge from an instructor to a student. However, it is now acknowledged deeper learning is required for professional graduates to be able to not only know, but also apply and use the information they have acquired. Traditional lectures allow more academic students to learn at this deeper level as they put in extra effort, but less academic students will only learn at a deeper level when teaching methods are optimised. Such optimisation includes active teaching methods, in which students must interpret and apply their new knowledge in the activity.”
Without formal training to empower animal care providers with the skill and knowledge to apply the latest advances in providing animal care we cannot expect good animal welfare for our animals; even in this brave, new world of defining, advancing and implementing science based animal welfare practices. Ironically, the greatest advances in our conversation and practice concerning animal welfare may be in intensive farming and research animal settings, neither industry is famed for its humane treatment of animals but there is in these industries the most hope simply because there is the most density and thereof the most attention. We lack empathy for our own captive zoo animals and companion animals if we do not turn similar attention to these and other comparable industries caring, servicing and keeping animals.
A look at the pet care services industries shows a multi billion dollar business where the suggestion rather than the requirement of good animal welfare practices keep it healthy and robust. Consider one of the largest cities with pet owning constituents, New York: The New York City Economic Development Corporation estimates 1.1 million pets in NYC, putting dogs at 600,000 and cats at 500,000. They note pet care services in the city have "experienced some of the fastest growth rates of any industry in both the city and the nation. From 2000 to 2010, employment in the pet-related industry grew by more than 30% locally and nationally, reflecting both growth in the pet population and increased spending per pet by households. We further estimate that spending in this industry in New York City exceeded $1.5 billion in 2010 or roughly $1,350 per pet."
Pet care services are a virtually unregulated, from food, retail products and services supplied by people to pets. In theUnited States, no training of any kind is required to work in any capacity with an animal, save as a veterinarian or veterinary technician. In NYC, the Health Department administers and requires a three day course in pet care and animal handling for a pet services establishment. Only one staff member who has taken the course is required to be on site. This means, multiple staff members may be working at any given time without any formal training. Further, there are no requirements as to how many dogs a pet care worker may work with at one time (e.g., a doggy day care may employ one handler to supervise 1 dog, 5 dogs or 30 dogs). Staffing ratios of handler to dogs are often dictated by profit concerns as opposed to how many handlers can reasonably work with a set number of dogs to insure the animal's safety and welfare.
Assuredly, pet owners who patronize dog groomers, trainers, doggy day cares, kennels and the like are by definition looking for services to insure the welfare of their pets. These businesses are often selected based on a perception that the service is the best available, at a reasonable price and in a convenient location. Part of what is being purchased is “peace of mind,” whether for the dog owner who might worry that a dog is bored, lonely or in need of a walk when the owner is away from home for 12 hours a day or for good grooming with stress free handling or effective force free training.
Field observations of the management of multiple dogs in day cares shows this is mostly accomplished through impoverished environments or barren, empty rooms which allow minimal interactions with other dogs and even less with objects in their environment. There is often little for the dogs to do in these spaces. Barking is often discouraged and play is often prevented simply because it is often not recognized by staff who mistake it for fighting. It is customary for one individual to work with up to 30 dogs and greatly utilize positive punishment to control the pets in their care. Boredom and overcrowding typically result in a number of stress related behaviors ranging from internalized stress to displacement behaviors which may include but not be limited to coprophagia (feces eating), fighting or repetitive mounting. It is not unusual for workers to spray dogs with water bottles, scruff them, roll them over, or place them in extended isolation (“time out”) in response. The use of ill timed force and punishment are the most frequently observed and utilized management techniques. Conversations with management in field observations have elicited responses as to the belief that these strategies are the most effective ones.
Dog trainers, groomers and pet sitters often learn handling techniques by trial, error and guesswork with no guarantee that there intuition is correct or welfare focused. Compulsion dog training with the use of force is experiencing a resurgence of popularity. Research into aversive methods of dog training show that dogs will typically exhibit fear based behaviors around trainers who use force. This fearful behavior in itself may be offered by these trainers that their methods proffer “results.” Individuals wanting to learn dog grooming at an actual brick and mortar school can complete a two or three month private school training course. However, due to the brevity of the training and lack of instruction on stress free restraint methodologies or handling protocols there is a resulting over reliance on restraint such as muzzles, ties and aversive handling. Stress of this sort may cause a dog to submit to a grooming session but will cause more defensive resistance on successive grooming sessions.
There is no accurate count of the number of individuals purchasing education services for animal centered learning although the steady and continued existence of multiple providers existing attests to continued demand. Multiple online courses available offer various interpretations of learning theory without an applied component; learners are referred to usually one single applied practical internship to complete a ”hands on” portion of training. While internships are traditionally where applied skills are developed and are most effective when training takes place in concert with educational standards and under licensed professionals, pet care workers who intern at a pet care facility often receive varied, inconsistent or incorrect training.
A virtual mish mash of multiple private self accrediting organizations grant certificates with no shared educational standards or government oversights when it comes to dog training, if a care provider even possesses such a “certificate”. An examination of what passes for preparation and training and a call for formal education for people employed in training working dogs comes not from theUnited Stateswith our hugely profitable pet industry but fromAustralia. Mia Cobb writes most eloquently:
“Currently, a significant and abiding weakness of the Australian Working Dog Industry, with significant implications for working dog welfare, is that its knowledge base resides predominantly at the level of the individual dog trainer. It has previously been stated that “much of the training of greyhounds is based on knowledge handed down over time, and often this methodology is out of date, flawed or unacceptable in today’s society” (Beer, Willson & Stephens, 2008). Given the maturity of information technology and information management systems, it is incumbent upon the industry itself to consolidate disparate learning resources into a shared knowledge base and provide opportunities for its dissemination. It is time that the Australian Working Dog Industry sought external validation of existing professional expertise. Such a process offers the opportunity for the existing skill base to be formally recognised.”
Pet owners patronizing pet care services establishments are typically not aware of any negative practices being utilized in concert with their animals. It is highly questionable as to whether they would continue to patronize establishments were they truly aware of the lack of welfare based practices. Lack of regulations and a profit driven market with the freedom to exploit what a pet owner might like to believe in is being delivered add to unintentional oversights from the pet owners and a boon for a private industry which can operate behind a closed curtain. Formalizing standards for animal welfare education for pet care service providers can support a higher standard of care for companion animals and more ably trained and educated workers in the field.
Establishing animal welfare science as a valid and robust field of inquiry supports better care for animals as a requirement for keeping animals from natural living environments and in built ones. Now we have to educate and train the humans to ably provide that care.
For More information:
Webster, J. (2004). Animal Welfare: Freedoms, Dominions and "A Life Worth Living." Animals, 6, 35
"In all of these environments we dictate every aspect of how these animals live from the physical space they get to live in whether it is a cage, pen, stall, room, yard or house. We dictate where they can rest and on what, concrete or soil, bedding f natural materials they themselves might choose in a natural environment or man made, cleaned and how often (or not). We dictate how comfortable and restorative that rest and sleep will be depending on whatever natural sleep/wake cycles they might have by controlling light and dark and the noises that surround them. We dictate what they eat and when they eat it, which animals they are next to, if they can socialize or not, whether they can rear their young, or pick their mates, the list goes on. And as we know or are learning, sometimes we do a better job of it for the animals in our care than others. Sometimes we care about that and sometimes we don’t."
shropshire telford tsb
“The Five Freedoms are much simpler (perhaps too simple for scientists) but are based on fundamental, timeless principles that do not need to be re-evaluated in the light of new research. They do not attempt to achieve an overall picture of mental state and welfare status. They are intended as no more than a memorable set of signposts to right action. Since, so far as the animals are concerned, it is not what we think or feel but what we do that counts, I suggest that they are likely to have more impact on, and be of more use to, everybody else—and that includes the animals.”-John Webster
"There is an ever present danger in working with animals and expecting human responses from non-humans. For instance, moving animals from one place to another requires knowledge of both the mechanics of how they move and what motivates the movement which differs for dogs, horses, pigs, goats, chicken, etc. It also requires a degree of respect for the differences between species and catering to those differences. Anger and lashing out at scared pigs or frightened dogs that do not move when requested to do so may be due to the consequences of reductively thinking that they are after all only “pigs” and “dogs” with all the inherent misplaced hierarchal human judgment that can go along with that assessment."
copyright Frania Shelley-Grielen
copyright Frania Shelley-Grielen