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Animal Rights or Animal Welfare: which is it?

Today, despite the public’s rejection of animal rights as determined by evaluating their own use of animals, animal rights philosophy is a dominant factor in popular culture. This disconnect is caused in part because many people, even people who label themselves as animal rights supporters, don’t understand the true beliefs and goals of the animal rights movement.

To bring this topic into clearer focus, NAIA offers this quick tour of the differences between animal rights and animal welfare, two distinct philosophies.

Animal welfare celebrates the bond between animals and humans; animal rights seeks to sever that bond.

“It is time we demand an end to the misguided and abusive concept of animal ownership. The first step on this long, but just, road would be ending the concept of pet ownership.”
-Elliot Katz, President, In Defense of Animals, “In Defense of Animals,” Spring 1997

Animal welfare grows and improves as we learn more and more about animals, their behavior, and their management. Animal rights remains stagnant with its dogma of “no more animal use ever.”

“Let us allow the dog to disappear from our brick and concrete jungles–from our firesides, from the leather nooses and chains by which we enslave it.” – John Bryant, Fettered Kingdoms: An Examination of A Changing Ethic (Washington, DC: People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PeTA), 1982), p. 15.

Animal welfare is inclusive; its belief in stewardship of species and individual animals embraces a human connection to the Earth through interaction with animals. Animal rights is divisive; by separating the destiny of man from the destiny of animals, the movement shows it cares nothing for the Earth.

“…the animal rights movement is not concerned about species extinction. An elephant is no more or less important than a cow, just as a dolphin is no more important than a tuna…In fact, many animal rights advocates would argue that it is better for the chimpanzee to become extinct than to be exploited continually in laboratories, zoos and circuses.” (Barbara Biel, The Animals’ Agenda, Vol 15 #3.)

Animal welfare makes room for a broad spectrum of animal relationships that include raising and using animals for food, fiber, labor, and medical and behavioral research; managing animal populations by hunting; keeping animals in zoos and other educational venues; and enjoying animal sports and animals in movies, circuses, and on stage.

Animal rights opposes all traditional relationships with animals, from eating meat and wearing leather and wool to biomedical research, pet ownership, dog and cat breeding, circuses, zoos, hunting, trapping, ranching, fishing, and learning about animals by hands-on experience.

“If the death of one rat cured all diseases, it wouldn’t make any difference to me.” -Chris DeRose, director, Last Chance for Animals, as quoted in Elizabeth Venant and David Treadwell, “Biting Back,” Los Angeles Times, April 12, 1990, p. E12.

“My dream is that people will come to view eating an animal as cannibalism.” – Henry Spira, director, Animal Rights International, as quoted in Barnaby J. Feder, “Pressuring Purdue,” New York Times Magazine, November 26, 1989, p. 192.

“Founded in 1980, PETA operates under the simple principle that animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, or use for entertainment.” – PeTA’s website, August 2000

Animal welfare requires humane treatment of animals on farms and ranches, in circuses and rodeos, and in homes, kennels, catteries, laboratories, and wherever else animals are kept. Animal welfare endorses a quick death when death is inevitable and a scientific approach to commercial use and management of wild populations.

Animal rights works for the day when we will have no interactions with animals but will view them from afar.

“I don’t approve of the use of animals for any purpose that involves touching them – caging them” – Dr. Neal Barnard, Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine

“We don’t want cleaner cages, we want empty cages.” – Tom Regan, animal rights leader

In short, animal welfare works to enrich and celebrate human/animal interactions in an atmosphere of concern for animal well-being; animal rights yearns for the day when human life will be impoverished because we can no longer enjoy the company of non-human animals.

NAIA presents a sample animal welfare resolution to adapt for use in your state.

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