Animal welfare law was updated in the UK in 2007. Anyone who is cruel to an animal or does not provide for its welfare needs, may now be banned from owning animals, fined up to £20,000 and/or sent to prison. See www.defra.gov.uk for further details Not only is it still against the law to be cruel to an animal of course, but owners must now also ensure that all their animals’ welfare needs are met.
These include the need:
- for a suitable environment (place to live)
- for a suitable diet
- to be housed with or apart from other animals (if applicable)
- to be protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease and, crucially from COAPE’s standpoint,
- to exhibit normal behaviour patterns
The question is…how does an owner who loves and cares for their pet assess ‘normal behaviour patterns’? How can you make sure that you not only comply with the new law, but also that you do indeed care for your pet to very best of your ability though understanding its emotional, behavioural and physical needs.
The British Veterinary Association Animal Welfare Foundation (BVAAWF) have published a leaflet titled ‘What Makes my Pet Happy? (PDF)’ that offers help and advice in this area. But interestingly, this is controversial for many behaviourists and behavioural scientists, who do not always agree that animals have emotions at all!
Not so at COAPE. COAPE’s ethos and our education courses start with the fundamental premise that the success of all mammals (and birds as well) is absolutely dependent on their emotional sensitivity. The intrinsic association of how they feel and how they learn, or how they form social relationships with their own kind and with us, is in the very nature of animals, even though assessing exactly how happy, sad, anxious, fearful, frustrated, angry etc they feel at any point in time can be a difficult task.
The new animal welfare law however, now demands that all owners make that assessment and the BVAAWF leaflet is based on the very premise that your pets need to be happy.
The BVAAWF leaflet details 5 Freedoms to which pets are entitled in order to be happy:
THE FIVE FREEDOMS
- FREEDOM FROM HUNGER AND THIRST
- FREEDOM FROM PAIN, INJURY AND DISEASE
- FREEDOM FROM DISCOMFORT (BEDDING, TEMPERATURE, FLOOR SURFACES)
- FREEDOM TO EXPRESS NORMAL BEHAVIOUR
- FREEDOM FROM FEAR AND DISTRESS
The Five Freedoms make sure that you think of all the things that can affect how animals feel. For example, it’s not good to be well fed but in pain, nor to feel safe but too cold. Four of the five freedoms are easy to understand, but what is meant exactly by the ‘freedom to express normal behaviour’?
Well, if you spent your entire life without a chance to meet or speak to anybody, you could not be described as ‘happy’ even though you might live a long life?
So ‘freedom to express normal behaviour’ means ‘able to meet behavioural needs’.
Some types of behaviour are so important to animals that if they can’t perform them, they will suffer emotionally, and maybe even physically as well. These behaviours are called ‘behavioural needs’.
Exactly which behaviours are important depends on the species of the animal of course. Cats have different behavioural needs compared to those of dogs, or rabbits, or budgerigars, for example.
What Can Pet-Owners Do?
Assess your own pet’s quality of life by using the Five Freedoms as a check-list. If you think that you aren’t achieving one or more of the Five Freedoms, change the way you keep or look after your pet so that you can achieve them. If you’re not sure whether you’re achieving the Five Freedoms, or you’re not sure how to make changes for the better, ask your veterinary practice for help.
How Can COAPE Help?
COAPE Education Courses for Pet Owners COAPE has designed a range of Correspondence Courses listed below (make link to Education Courses) to help you understand your pet’s emotional and behavioural needs, (and their care and nutritional needs), and so help you fulfil your obligations to your pet’s welfare to the best of your ability.
- You and Your Cat
- You and Your Rescue Cat
- You and Your Dog
- You and Your Rescue Dog
- You and Your Horse
These courses are all written and tutored by COAPE tutors, who are among the UK’s leading animal behaviour experts. The courses are all independently accredited at Foundation Level by the Open College Network, Yorkshire and Humber Region; which is part of the Open College Network. However, you can choose whether you wish to have your work OCN accredited as part of your career path studies or to study just for fun. Either way, the courses are designed to help you improve your understanding of your current pets’ needs or those of the pet that you are planning to take on in future. If you are thinking of adopting a cat or dog from an animal welfare centre, specially designed courses are available in the range so that you can really prepare yourself, your family, and your home for your new cat or dog and accommodate their particular needs as ‘rescue animals’.