Animal Advocacy... What Does it Mean to You?

This article is only intended to cause the reader to think about the issues laid out here... there are no answers here, because these issues can be defined by every individual person in a different way, depending on that person's core values... what 'life' means to that individual person (notice that I didn't say 'human life').  That's why its so difficult to legislate these rights and responsibilities so that the individual animal is safe and protected.  In fact, legislation leaves a lot to be desired... legislation only covers the bare minimum standard that must be met in order to preserve life.  This means that 'proper care' as outlined by the legal system is often severely lacking, and only covers shelter, food, and water.

When you own a pet, it's important to understand what that means... it's not just that the pet lives with you.  It doesn't provide for its own health, either physically or mentally.  The American Veterinary Medical Association has this to say about responsible pet ownership :

Owning a pet is a privilege and should result in a mutually beneficial relationship. The benefits of pet ownership come with responsibilities. These include:

  • Lifelong care of the pet. This means committing to the relationship for your pet's entire life.

  • Selecting a pet that is suited to your home and lifestyle and avoiding impulsive decisions.

  • Recognizing that owning a pet(s) requires an investment of time and money.

  • Keeping only the type and number of pets for which you can provide an appropriate and safe environment. This includes appropriate food, water, shelter, health care and companionship.

  • Animals that spend extended periods of time outside require habitats that protect their health, safety, and welfare. Outdoor confinement of an animal should include provisions to minimize distress or discomfort to the animal, and assure access to appropriate food, water, and shelter from extreme weather conditions.

  • Ensuring pets are properly identified (i.e., tags, microchips, or tattoos) and that their registration information in associated databases is kept up-to-date

  • Adhering to local ordinances, including licensing and leash requirements.

  • Helping to manage overpopulation by controlling your pet(s)' reproduction through managed breeding, containment, or spay/neuter. Establishing and maintaining a veterinarian-client-patient relationship.

  • Providing preventive (e.g., vaccinations, parasite control) and therapeutic health care for the life of your pet(s) in consultation with, and as recommended by, your veterinarian.

  • Socialization and appropriate training for your pet(s) to facilitate their well-being and the well-being of other animals and people.

  • Preventing your pet(s) from negatively impacting other people, animals and the environment. This includes proper waste disposal, noise control, and not allowing pet(s) to stray or become feral.

  • Providing exercise and mental stimulation appropriate to your pet(s)' age, breed, and health status.

  • Include your pets in your planning for an emergency or disaster, including assembling an evacuation kit.

  • Making arrangements for the care of your pet when or if you are unable to do so.

  • Recognizing declines in your pet(s)' quality of life and making decisions in consultation with your veterinarian regarding appropriate end-of-life care (e.g., palliative care, hospice, euthanasia).

The word 'advocacy' means simply 'supporting a view'.  When you put 'advocacy' with another word, like 'animal advocacy', you have to define the terms according to your own ethics to make the term mean what you want it to mean.  So, basically, when you say that you're an 'advocate for animals', it means that you support and teach others about an animal's right to live without hunger, pain, or in any way that might lessen its quality of life.  For example, 'rights advocacy' means that you support a group's right to a certain set of inherent qualities, like 'life'.  In the case of these examples, I would term myself an 'animal welfare advocate', because I'm more interested in the *quality* of life than in the *length* of it.  

Toward this end, I teach owners to advocate for the welfare of their  pet animals.  As the 'owner', or 'guardian' of a pet, it's the responsibility of said guardian to ensure that the pet is able to find pleasure in its life... that its physical and emotional needs are being met.  The word 'physical' includes needs like food, water, shelter, and exercise.  The word 'emotional' is harder to define, but includes mental activity and bonding exercises.  Together, all of these pieces of the pie provide for trust, and safety.

As an animal welfare advocate,  it's important to teach others and promote humane treatment for all animals.   An advocate for animal welfare proposes ways to improve conditions for animals and teach the public about the proper care of animals.  I also think that it's important that I limit this article to pet animals, and discuss only advocacy as it relates to the pet population.   

In defining these terms for myself, I've come to understand that there are limits to what I consider an enjoyable existence, and that no one (including an animal) should have to endure an existence that doesn't provide for this enjoyment in some way.  Yes, the bare minimum requirements have to be met in order to keep the animal alive... there has to be adequate shelter from inclement weather, lots of clean fresh water, and food enough to meet the body's needs.  But responsible pet ownership goes much farther than that.  I'd love to see the responsibilities outlined by the AVMA adopted by pet owners everywhere... I can dream.

Brenda Rushman, CCBC

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