When you see the term “animal welfare” or “animal welfarePractices and policies that promote the well-being of nonhuman animals, specifically their health and comfort. science,” you may associate it with systems of exploitationExploitation is characterized by the abuse of a position of physical, psychological, emotional, social, or economic vulnerability to obtain agreement from someone (e.g., humans and nonhuman animals) or something (e.g, land and water) that is unable to reasonably refuse an offer or demand. It is also characterized by excessive self gain at the expense of something or someone else’s labor, well-being, and/or existence.. However, as we will cover in this resource, animal welfare and animal welfare science are not inherently harmful, although the roots of the field of animal welfare stem from a focus on better caring for animals that humans use. If you are involved in sanctuary caregiverSomeone who provides daily care, specifically for animal residents at an animal sanctuary, shelter, or rescue. work, animal welfare is already a part of your daily care routine. Whenever you observe residents to see how they are behaving or acting, make changes to their living areas, perform health exams, or offer enrichment, you show concern for and try to improve their welfare. Unfortunately, a lot of welfare science attempts to improve aspects of care to reduce suffering but often ultimately focuses on increased production or performance. Yet animal welfare, and measures of assessing it and improving it, is an important concept that has a place in compassionate sanctuary care.
While many studies demonstrate how animal welfare science is human-centric, there also exists animal-centered research, in which the primary goal is to consider the needs of the nonhuman animals involved and others like them that will benefit from the research. We have already used the word “welfare” above, and you likely have a good idea of what it means. In this resource, we will first define animal welfare and animal welfare science. We will then look at some examples of studies that explore the spectrum of research and discuss how animal welfare applies in a sanctuary context.
What Is Animal Welfare?
The definition of animal welfare varies depending on who you ask. At its core, animal welfare generally relates specifically to nonhuman animals in human-managed situations, though there is growing interest in the welfare of wild animals. However, even in the case of free-roaming wildlife, it often comes from how humans have or are affecting the wild populations through their behavior and practices. Animal welfare scientists and ethicists have had long discussions (and disagreements) on the definition of animal welfare.
Here are a few examples of definitions of animal welfare:
“Welfare defines the state of an animal as regards its[they] attempts to cope with its environment.” – Fraser and Broom
“The physical and mental state of an animal in relation to the conditions in which it [they] lives and dies.” – OIE Terrestrial Code
Animal welfare is defined by Marian Dawkins (scientist) through 2 questions: “Is the animal healthy?” “Do they have what they want?”
Now that we have defined animal welfare, let’s look a little deeper into what that entails. It is now (and has been for some time) generally agreed upon by scientists that three categories must be considered when assessing the welfare of animals:
- Health and Functioning
- Natural Behaviors
- Affective States
Before we look at some research examples of animal welfare science and how they vary significantly in terms of purpose and method, let’s look at a modern facet of animal welfare: The Five FreedomsAn animal welfare assessment, originally developed for farms in the United Kingdom, now adopted by other organizations. The Five Freedoms are: freedom from hunger and thirst; freedom from discomfort; freedom from pain, injury, and disease; freedom to express normal behavior, to a certain extent; and freedom from fear and distress..
The Five Freedoms
While we won’t delve deeply into the complex history of animal welfare, the Five Freedoms is an important element to understanding the modern concept of animal welfare. In the 1960s, the Farm AnimalA domesticated animal that is used by humans either for their body or what comes from their body. Farmed animals have fewer regulations governing their welfare than other species in many countries. Welfare Council refined concepts of animal welfare into The Five Freedoms. This stemmed from a report that explored issues with intensive farming that had become the norm. Since 1965, when the report (The Brambell Report) emerged, it has become a foundation of animal welfare policies in animal shelters, zoosOrganizations where animals, either rescued, bought, borrowed, or bred, are kept, typically for the benefit of human visitor interest., sanctuaries, and animal performance and work industries. It is even used in some conservation breeding programs. Let’s take a look at these freedoms:
- Freedom from Hunger and Thirst
- Freedom from Discomfort
- Freedom from Pain, Injury, or Disease
- Freedom to Express Normal Behavior
- Freedom from Fear and Distress
Critiques Of The Five Freedoms
The Five Freedoms has been critiqued due to its focus on freedom “from” something negative. Some have posited that focusing on “freedom to as opposed to freedom from” would be better and note that positive affective states should be promoted when it comes to ensuring good animal welfare. This is a concept most sanctuaries would agree with.
What Is Animal Welfare Science?
Animal Welfare Science is the study of the welfare of animals in human-controlled environments, using a variety of measures, including behavioral, physiological, and management-based measures, to learn about and improve the welfare of animals. Animal welfare assessments are the topic of many research papers and studies. An animal welfare assessment is a system that uses various welfare measures to detect an animal’s physical health, pain status, and mental and emotional state.
Critiques Of Animal Welfare Science
From an animal rights perspective, the most extensive critique of animal welfare science is that it is generally used through a human-centric lens, such as: “How can this ultimately benefit humans?” Or, “How can we exploit animals better?”
Studies, such as,
“Breeding for better welfare: genetic goals for broiler chickens and their parents,”
“Dairy cows welfare quality in tie-stall housing system with or without access to exercise,”
“Equine welfare issues within the showing and racing industries,” and
“Effects of visitor numbers on captive European red squirrels (Sciurus vulgaris) and impacts on visitor experience“
demonstrate both the use of animal welfare science in questioning the practices of humans and improving exploitative systems, but not condemning the oppressive system. Researchers may question the “suitability” of specific practices, suggesting further research into alternatives. However, at its foundation, animal welfare isn’t about abolishing exploitative systems altogether. Instead, it mainly focuses on changing the system to improve the animals’ welfare, often focusing on economic gains, successful breeding, human health, and so on. In short, it is generally used to perpetuate the use of animals.
Although much research is human-centric, a number of researchers question animal use in certain contexts or design their research to be animal-centric. There are even animal welfare scientists that are also animal rights activists, though fewer exist.
A Move To More Animal-Centered Science
Above, we have looked at examples of human-centric animal welfare research. However, not all studies are inherently exploitative. In some studies, we can see research that centers the animal and animals in general. Animals aren’t bred or kept for research purposes or subject to invasive procedures. A focus on observing animals in non-exploitative environments and using new non-invasive techniques to gather physiological data are more and more common. Studies are taking place that “ask” the animals their preferences, promote positive experiences, or minimize negative experiences. Many studies have taken place at animal sheltersOrganizations, either government-funded and maintained or not-for-profit and funded by charitable contributions, with a physical infrastructure in which homeless animals are cared for and offered for adoption., and even at animal sanctuaries, with the focus being both on the welfare of each individual involved in the study and on other animals that will benefit without harming anyone. In the methods sections of some studies, researchers discuss how the only animals involved are those who showed interest in being in the area, interacting with humans involved, or taking an individual out of the study because they showed signs of stress.
These are studies of animal welfare that, while not always necessarily pushing to abolish the systems that placed these individuals in their current situations (though some do), are more animal-centric (considering the needs of the animal more substantially) than human-centric.
“Rescued Goats At A Sanctuary Display Positive Mood After Former Neglect”
“…Therefore, our results show that after several years of good care, rescued goats displayed optimistic moods (females) or similar moods as controls (males). This suggests that goats probably recover from neglect and that sex differences in mood potentially exist.”
“Welfare Assessment In “Pet” Rabbits”
“One million petAn animal who spends regular time with humans in their home and life for companionship or human pleasure. Typically a small subset of animal species are considered to be pets by the general public. rabbits are kept in The Netherlands, but there are no data available on their behaviour and welfare. This study seeks to assess the welfare of pet rabbitsUnless explicitly mentioned, we are referring to domesticated rabbit breeds, not wild rabbits, who may have unique needs not covered by this resource. in Dutch households and is a first step in the development of a welfare assessment system. In an internet survey, housing systems, general up-keep and behaviour of pet rabbits were reported by their owners.”
“Implementation Of Animal Welfare In Tiger Sanctuary, Barumun Nagari Wildlife Sanctuary, North Sumatra, Indonesia”
“This study aimed to examine the aspects of welfare management and assess the level of welfare of the tigers kept in the sanctuary at the Barumun Nagari Wildlife Sanctuary (BNWS) in North Sumatra, Indonesia. The study was carried out from March to April 2019, while data collection was carried out by literature studies, field observation on implementation of five animal welfare parameters, and self-assessment by the manager of the sanctuary.”
“The Challenges For A Closed-To-The-Public Animal Sanctuary: Prioritizing Animal Welfare While engaging in educational community outreachAn activity or campaign to share information with the public or a specific group. Typically used in reference to an organization’s efforts to share their mission.”
“Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest is a small primate sanctuary in Cle Elum, Washington, and is presently home to seven chimpanzees who were retired from biomedical research. I used this sanctuary as a case study to find out how a closed-to-the-public sanctuary can engage in educational outreach without compromising the welfare of the residents. I employed a combination of semi-structured interviews with sanctuary personnel, ethnographic participant observation as a volunteer caregiver, and an online survey offered to the local community to help me understand the goals and limitations of sanctuaries. I also designed and conducted two educational programs for local area schools as beta tests for educational outreach program design.”
“Exploring Inter-Observer Reliability And Feasibility In Animal Welfare Measures At A Large Equine Rescue Facility“
“This paper seeks to identify reliable and feasible measures of animal welfare for a large horse rescue facility. A literature search was performed to identify previously validated equine welfare measures that were relevant in this population. The selected resource- and animal-based measures (17 total questions) were then incorporated into a new smartphone app for easier field assessment. Video footage was recorded of ten rescue horses held at a large equine rescue facility in southern Texas, USA. These horses were selected to represent a range of ages, sex, breed, and welfare state. Five trained employees (‘assessors’) at the same facility then performed the welfare assessment of each horse (via video) using the smartphone app. Assessors then filled out a 57-question survey on the ease of assessment, relevance, and ability of each welfare measure to capture the welfare states of horses at the rescue facility. The 17 main welfare measures were broken down into 29 measures for further analysis.”
In our science for sanctuaries series, we talk about how caregivers can use existing animal welfare science and even design compassionate sanctuary studies* that can improve the lives of individual residents when done carefully and correctly.
Animal Welfare In Sanctuary Settings
By now, you can see how animal welfare can be utilized in a non-exploitative sanctuary environment. The concept of animal welfare in and of itself is not in direct opposition to a sanctuary or animal rights perspective. There are many ways in which animal welfare science can and is used to improve the lives of animals without the goal of ultimately benefiting humans.
In the context of sanctuaries, animal welfare is about centering the needs of residents and considering and learning what elements can improve their physical, emotional, and mental health. We want our residents to thrive, not just survive. Ensuring residents thrive requires attention to their needs and finding ways to ensure these needs are met while providing opportunities for positive experiences. Animal welfare assessments could be particularly useful in a sanctuary setting, allowing caregivers to observe, monitor, and collect information on the welfare of individual residents.
We hope you have found this resource helpful and see how animal welfare as a concept isn’t in itself a justification for using animals for human benefit, but can be used as an essential aspect of sanctuary care. As more examples of animal-centric welfare science are published, we hope for an increase in compassionate thinking reflected in the research. We look forward to updating this and other resources with additional animal-centric sources in the future!
Methods of Assessment Of The Welfare Of Shelter Cats: A Review | Animals
The Five Freedoms | Association Of Shelter Veterinarians (Non-Compassionate Source)
Updating Animal Welfare Thinking: Moving Beyond The “Five Freedoms” Towards “A Life Worth Living” | Animals (Non-Compassionate Source)
Farm Animal Welfare in Great Britain: Past, Present And Future | Farm Animal Welfare Council (Non-Compassionate Source)
Animal Welfare | World Organization For Animal Health (Non-Compassionate Source)