Animal Rights vs Animal Welfare: Where Do You Stand?

As a veterinarian and horse owner, I know my horses are happy giving up their "rights" for feed and shelter in exchange for some light work.
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As a veterinarian and horse owner, I know my horses are happy giving up their "rights" for feed and shelter in exchange for some light work.

Animal rights is a hot-button topic these days. I first came across the topic in the early ’80s when I was on a panel discussing “animal rights vs. animal welfare.” Even then, people were starting to draw lines in the sand.

Credit: Eldredge Dr. Eldredge's son jousting - his horse enjoyed it as much as he did.

Credit: Eldredge Dr. Eldredge's son jousting - his horse enjoyed it as much as he did.

Virtually everyone agrees on basic animal welfare. Animals deserve basic care – food, shelter, companionship (if they are social animals), room to move around, safety from abuse. We have numerous laws that regulate animal care – including in research and in food production. Those laws aren’t always enforced as well as they should be, but they exist.

Animal “rights” is a much trickier area. People have “rights.” Should animals? That question causes as much discord among animal lovers as anything. To be honest, I don’t feel animals need “rights” as long as they have “welfare.”

Let’s look at this from a horse owner’s point of view. Note I said “owner” – not guardian. Guardian conveys some legal suggestions that we really don’t want to get into. Horses straddle our animal partnerships. They (except in rare cases) aren’t true companion/pet animals who live in our homes. In most cases, they aren’t food animals either. They are livestock, in some cases, in that they are bred and often raised for a specific, useful purpose.

But the human/horse relationship goes beyond that of other livestock. It approaches true companion. Our horses develop relationships with us, with our other animals, with other horses. When we ride or drive, we trust them to a certain extent with our lives. They are our partners. That is how I think of my horses.

I think all of us believe in horse welfare. We feel horses should have good and adequate amounts of food. They deserve shelter – be it from sun, wind, rain or snow. Horses deserve and need basic veterinary care. Most horses are social and like companionship of some sort.

We take away our horses’ rights by making them carry us or pull us. We partner with them for these activities, but they’re done on our terms (most of the time anyway!). Treated and trained kindly and fairly, most horses enjoy work. Given the choice, most would prefer work over simply hanging out at the barn.

So here is where horse ownership gets tricky. Hard-core animal rights fanatics don’t feel that horses should be “owned.” Horses should not be ridden or driven or worked in any way. They should be set free on the plains and left to live out their lives naturally. If they die of starvation or in a freak blizzard or are eaten by a mountain lion, at least they died as “free beings.” Crazy, isn’t it? I know my horses have happily given up some “rights” to have shelter and food in return for light work.

Do you think animal rights fanatics only care about dogs, factory farming and animals in research? Don’t delude yourself. Their ultimate goal is no animals owned or used by humans. No “abusing” horses by forcing them to go riding them on trails, jumping obstacles or riding in an arena.

I highly suggest you read this blog http://www.articcross.com/2014/02/25/struggling-with-the-concept-of-animal-rights/ and think about where you stand. I know where I stand, and now, so do you.