Difference Between Animal Rights and Animal Welfare

Animal Rights and Animal Welfare

 

What’s the Difference Between Animal Rights and Animal Welfare — And Why Does It Matter?

 

Words matter. As dog lovers, we hear the words “Animal Rights” and “Animal Welfare” a lot. But have you given much thought to what the terms actually mean and their implications?

Online and in conversations, in popular media, and even among policymakers (especially around election time), these terms are commonly interchanged. This leads to a whole lot of confusion, but even worse, real danger for dog lovers and the future of our sport.

In fact, these terms represent diametrically opposing philosophical perspectives about the role that dogs and other animals should play in our lives. For dog enthusiasts, the debate is more than just philosophical; it’s about the value of science and our right to own, train, breed, and appropriately care for our beloved dogs. Every day, this battle is being fought in communities and in legislatures, and even in courtrooms around the country.

To protect the rights of breed enthusiasts and the future wellbeing of animals, this distinction between animal rights and animal welfare is simply too important to get wrong. Consider the following:

Animal Rights (AR) is a radical philosophy which posits that humans should not use or own animals in any way, even as companions, and seeks to ultimately make that grim agenda a reality.

For animal rights advocates, the ultimate goal is not to improve the wellbeing of animals, but to stopanimal breeding and, ultimately, even human interaction with animals. Animal rights groups typically utilize media to incrementally change perceptions about the humane use of animals and about legislation to advance the goal of ending animal use and ownership.

Animal Rights and Animal Welfare

The most radical animal rights groups advocate violence to achieve this goal. The federal government recognizes such activities as animal terrorism. The federal Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) (18 U.S.C. § 43) outlaws activities for the purpose of damaging or interfering with the operations of an animal enterprise (including educational, agricultural, breeding, and other activities) and causing damage or loss of real or personal property, or placing a person in reasonable fear of injury.

More commonly, animal rights takes the form of a political agenda, which uses legislation to advance its anti-animal/anti-breeder goals.

More commonly, animal rights takes the form of a political agenda, which uses legislation to advance its anti-animal/anti-breeder goals. As published in Animal People News in 1987, the 12-step agenda of the Animal Rights movement includes the following steps (abridged) taken directly related to our sport:

  • Enforcement of animal welfare legislation must be transferred from the Department of Agriculture to an agency created for the purpose of protecting animals and the environment;
  • Prohibit hunting, trapping, and fishing for sport;
  • Strongly discourage any further breeding of companion animals, including pedigreed or purebred dogs or cats;
  • End the use of animals in entertainment and sports;
  • Genetic manipulation of species to produce transgenic animals must be prohibited. (In 1987, genetic manipulation meant breeding.)

By contrast, Animal Welfare (AW) is pro-animal ownership. It recognizes the human-animal bond, recognizes the value of quality animal care and purposeful breeding, and supports advancing science to ensure the health and wellbeing of animals.

The American Kennel Club is a strong advocate for animal welfare. Animal welfare supports the practical and legal concept of animal ownership. In practice, owners love their animals, share their lives with them, and want to provide the best possible care for them. Legal “owners” of animals are responsible for their care and have the right to make appropriate care decisions for them. If a person does not legally own their animal, it undermines our legal system’s ability to address current issues such as pet theft, responsibility of care of an animal, and the right of an individual to make healthcare decisions for that animal.

The American Kennel Club is a strong advocate for animal welfare. Animal welfare supports the practical and legal concept of animal ownership. In practice, owners love their animals, share their lives with them, and want to provide the best possible care for them.

It is also important to recognize that reasonable, non-discriminatory laws acknowledge that the wellbeing of an animal is not tied to the number of animals a person has, but rather to the quality of conditions and the care provided. There are excellent owners of kennels of 100 dogs; and substandard owners of a single dog.

It’s common for animal rights activists in the US to advocate for closing down purposeful US dog breeders, and restricting the sourcing of pets to random or unknown sources (often mislabeled as “rescues” or rescue distributors). These efforts are commonly titled and promoted as legislation to end puppy mills or legislation to ban pet sales at retail pet stores.

In practice, such legislation only bans the sale of purpose-bred dogs and undermines consumer protection; while incentivizing substandard breeders who respond to market demand to sell pets online, or falsely market pets as “rescue” so that they can be sold at a pet shop.

A few examples of the over 2,000 bills nationwide impacting dog ownership and wellbeing that AKC Government Relations has monitored in the first quarter of 2022 include:

  • An animal bill of rights in California (AB 1881);
  • Bills to provide lawyers (animal advocates in court) for dogs in New Jersey, Florida, Kentucky, and Illinois;
  • Bills that would violate due process rights for dog owners and allow for permanent forfeiture of a dog if an owner missed a boarding payment during the trial, even if charges were dropped, or the individual was found not guilty (New Jersey, Iowa, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, South Carolina);
  • More restrictive dog breeder licensing and regulations. (More than 50 bills introduced in U.S. Congress, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Kansas, Tennessee, Virginia and elsewhere in states and localities throughout the country.)

Lawmakers typically get their information from the same sources as the general public. Like the general public, it’s not uncommon for lawmakers to be confused about the difference between animal rights and animal welfare too. Many lawmakers who introduce animal rights bills are well-meaning but uninformed. It is up to us to respectfully educate them about the difference between animal rights (increasingly being re-branded as animal protection) and
animal welfare.

The AKC Government Relations Department has a great team and great resources standing by to help you. Don’t hesitate to check out our resources at www.akcgr.org or contact AKC GR at doglaw@akc.org or 919-816-3720.

The future of our breeds is worth it.

What’s the Difference Between Animal Rights and Animal Welfare And Why Does It Matter?
By Sheila Goff

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

As Vice President, Government Relations for the American Kennel Club, Sheila Goffe leads the AKC’s efforts in public policy arena, including working to protect the rights of all dog owners and promote responsible dog ownership. She oversees AKC legislative policy strategy and AKC outreach at the federal, state and local levels. She also serves as AKC staff lead for the AKC Detection Dog Task Force, Service Dog Pass, and other key programs.

Sheila joined AKC 2006. Prior to working for the American Kennel Club, she was a Senior Legislative Analyst/Editor and Deputy Director of Editorial Product Development for Congressional Quarterly in Washington, DC. Previous experience included federal legislative staffing and advocacy, work as an editor and analyst for The Economist Intelligence Unit, and serving as an adjunct in Political Science/Comparative Politics at the State University of New York/Stony Brook. She also owns, breeds and shows Siberian Huskies.

 

  • Founded in 1884, the American Kennel Club is a not-for-profit organization, which maintains the largest registry of purebred dogs in the world and oversees the sport of purebred dogs in the United States. The AKC is dedicated to upholding the integrity of its registry, promoting the sport of purebred dogs and breeding for type and function. Along with its more than 5,000 licensed and member clubs and its affiliated organizations, the AKC advocates for the purebred dog as a family companion, advances canine health and well-being, works to protect the rights of all dog owners and promotes responsible dog ownership. More than 22,000 competitions for AKC-registered purebred and mixed breed dogs are held under AKC rules and regulations each year including conformation, agility, obedience, rally, tracking, herding, lure coursing, coonhound events, hunt tests, field and earthdog tests. Affiliate AKC organizations include the AKC Humane Fund, AKC Canine Health Foundation, AKC Reunite and the AKC Museum of the Dog. For more information, visit www.akc.org. AKC, American Kennel Club, the American Kennel Club seal and design, and all associated marks and logos are trademarks, registered trademarks and service marks of The American Kennel Club, Inc.

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