Animal Suffering: What Does It Mean?

You will find that many laws regarding animal welfare and animal abuse incorporate the word “suffering”. Animal abuse leads to animal suffering and therefore the word “suffering” has to be incorporated within these laws. The laws could be federal (nationwide) or at any other level including a city ordinance. It doesn’t matter, they are all part of the law and they are all concerned with animal welfare and preventing the suffering of animals. Therefore these laws concern crimes against animals.

When a person is prosecuted in the criminal courts under one of these laws, the prosecutor will, of necessity, have to refer to the law and to the meaning of the word “suffering”.

The best way to decide what it means is to construe the word in the ordinary common sense way based upon a dictionary and one of the most respected dictionaries in the English language is the Oxford English Dictionary. In law, this form of interpreting words in legal documents is quite common.

Meaning of the word suffering
Meaning of the word “suffering”
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In the Oxford English Dictionary the word suffering is described as “the bearing or undergoing of pain, distress or tribulation”.

In the UK, the RSPCA has adopted this definition in order to help them interpret the law concerning animal welfare as set down in the well-known Animal Welfare Act 2006, which does not provide a definition of the word “suffering” in the act itself as statutes often do.

A “statute” is law made at federal (nationwide) level by the country’s government, the legislature. In the USA, this is the United States Congress as I understand it. In the UK it is the “executive” otherwise known as the government. The government runs the country.

The enforcers of animal welfare laws sometimes argue in court over the meaning of the word “suffering” and therefore to specify that the word means what it says in the Oxford English Dictionary is useful for the sake of clarity.

Is also useful for veterinarians who have to provide evidence in the criminal prosecution of somebody who has been allegedly cruel to an animal. This is because a veterinarian will have to decide whether, in his opinion, the animal had suffered in any way under the circumstances described in the prosecution against the alleged criminal. To have an approved legal standard to which he/she can refer is obviously essential.

I hope this short article proves useful to anybody who is interested in cat abuse and cat welfare.

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