Animal Welfare - A Human Rights Concern


By Raven Simons, Fall 2010

When considering the topic of human rights people often think of issues like gender equality, fair access for humans to all resources, health care for all, racial equality, non-exploitation of humans, and fair and kind treatment for all people.


 I don't recall ever hearing or reading about animal welfare being included in the issue of "human" rights. Why am I bringing this topic up? When you think about it, the way we treat animals has a lot to do with the way we treat each other.


 It has been discovered that children who torment and mistreat animals often grow up to abuse humans. Individuals who are violent to their family members are often cruel to their pets and use the threat of violence against the family pets as a way to coerce the abused. People who hoard animals are now known to suffer from mental illness and may impact society in a negative way. The inability to be empathetic to animals is often a sign of someone who is unable to have positive feelings for other people and may even be signs of someone with sociopathic tendencies. We, as humans, should be very concerned with how we treat animals and view this as part of our concern for humanity.

 The ability of people to treat all animals with kindness and be concerned with the way animals are treated can be a vital lesson in how to be connected with others. When we feel true connection to others we are less likely to cause harm to them. Depersonalization and stereotyping has been proven to help people behave in a criminal manner. If we empathize with others it becomes harder to hurt them. There are many people who start the process of empathy by feeling connected to a beloved pet.


 Children in particular can be taught kindness, caring, and compassion by sharing their lives with a pet. Many advocates for animal welfare trace their passion back to a childhood companion. Some also remember family values that emphasized the welfare of this animal. Positive pet ownership encourages healthier human relationships, a feeling of connection to the natural world, and respect. On the other hand children who are raised isolated from non-human animals can grow up to lack any empathy or caring for any animal besides humans. Sometimes this lack of caring extends to all of the natural world and has been come to be called "nature deficit disorder".

 Kindness to animals is a positive asset to humans. Sadly the animal rights movement has confused positive human/animal relationships and animal welfare with animal abuse. It is important to realize that there is a difference between animal "welfare" and animal "rights". The founders and leaders of the animal "rights" movement see human/animal relationships as ultimately detrimental to animals.


 They would like all animals to be wild and free, for people to quit eating meat, and stop owning pets. Considering the growth of human population, pressures on the natural world, and indicators that people who do not have good relationships with animals can have very real problems, I am puzzled by the animal "rights" agenda. Animal "welfare" is the very concern for treating animals kindly, with respect, and seeing that animal needs and care are being met.

 I am a pet owner. One of the types of pets I personally own are cats. My children were raised with pets and have gone on to raise their own children with pets. My extended family love animals and nature and share a respect for all life. They treat other people well. I believe this behavior to be directly related to their having grown up with pets and having me demonstrate caring and good treatment of all animals.

 Over the years I have had visitors in my home that have marveled at the personalities of my pets, especially my felines. People who have not been raised with cats in the home have many strange ideas about what a cat's personality is like. I have heard comments like, "Wow, I didn't know cats could be so friendly", and "I didn't know that cats had so much personality". Dog lovers are especially surprised. Of course, people who are totally unfamiliar with living with animals are amazed at all of my pets.


 I have Bengal and Savannah cats and I have encountered more than one visitor who has never seen such a creature. I've been asked, "Is that a wild animal?" and "Does it bite?" When they see how friendly these cats are and their curiosity is satisfied they are always impressed. To me these folks show their unfamiliarity with the natural world and the concepts of domestic vs. wild. What this also demonstrates is that pets can help people connect. When they meet an animal ambassador they can feel a connection and positive feelings for another creature which is related to their feelings of connection to humans.

 When issues are viewed as human rights a different 'more important to people' emphasis is usually given to the particular issue being examined. With the correlations between a human's ability to be kind to, care about, and be concerned with the welfare of animals and the same ability applied to humans, one might see the importance of including positive human/animal relationships within the umbrella of human rights. This makes animal welfare a human rights concern.

Raven Simons is a  professional member of the Cat Writer's Association. The article was first published in 'Bengals Illustrated' in the July, August, September 2010 issue, Vol.4 No. 3'


Photo Copyright 2010 REXANO, Deanna Croassmun, Kathy Baird and Kurt Beckelman

Content copyright 2010 by Raven Simons. All rights reserved.