I’m going to refer to cats more than other animals but of course sentence applies to any animal. What is sentience? It is the ability to feel and experience emotions, both positive and negative. Cats and other animals can experience pain and joy. It is central to our relationship with animals and to the laws that we create to protect them and improve their welfare. It is the starting point, the foundation upon which animal welfare laws are built because through the recognition of animal sentience we are able to understand their needs.
Free of EU shackles
The UK government has embarked upon a programme of improvements to animal welfare and conservation at home and abroad now that the country is out of the European Union. Being free of the EU has allowed the government to go beyond EU directives and requirements and chart their own course by strengthening animal welfare standards and reinforcing its position as a global champion of animal rights.
Sentience a barrier to cruelty
Not everyone believes that animals are sentient creatures. When you don’t believe, it opens the door to animal cruelty. Sometimes people don’t even think about whether animals are sentient or not. This is a lack of education. A lack of education is at the core of animal abuse and cruelty. Once a person realises that animals are sentient it is a barrier to cruelty. But cruelty will still take place because such a person has been inured to the pain that they cause. That problem can only be overcome through education and retraining.
Process for improving animal welfare
So, the order of events is (1) the education of people who perpetrate animal cruelty, through strict legal requirements, to make it clear to them that animals are sentient creatures who can feel pain, contentment and have feelings and (2) rehabilitate those people through further education to unlearn what they’ve learnt in their ignorance and (3) spread the word and encourage these people to pass on their newly found knowledge to others. In that way we can improve animal welfare across the planet.
If like me you read the news media concerning cat welfare you see lots of wonderful human behaviour supporting animal welfare, and the opposite: rank cruelty through ignorance. Two acts of cruelty stand out in my mind which are firmly fixed in the culture of two divergent nations: declawing cats in America and to a certain extent in Canada still, and the brutal cat fur and cat meat trade in China and other Far Eastern Asian countries such as Vietnam. To the best of my knowledge these aspects of animal welfare are not being tackled by the UK government under this new program. That is disappointing because it simply can’t go on. Every day that goes by the pain suffered by these animals piles up. In the future humankind will look back on these obnoxious practices and ask themselves how it ever happened. It will be a stain on humankind’s history.
On 12 May 2021, the UK government published an action plan for animal welfare which they say will “revolutionise the treatment of animals in the UK and introduce rules to protect the welfare of animals abroad”. They call it the Action Plan for Animal Welfare and it is based on sentience. UK government believes that the country is a world leader in recognising animals as sentient beings in law. One of the great animal welfare laws is the Animal Welfare Act 2006.
The Government is introducing the new Animal Sentience Bill. It is going to help protect animals abroad by banning ivory and the importation of hunting trophies. Further, it will improve companion and wild animal welfare by:
- Addressing puppy smuggling;
- Introducing compulsory micro-chipping to cats;
- Tackling companion animal theft under a new government task force;
- Banning dog training through e-collars;
- Making it illegal to keep primates as pets;
- Cracking down on illegal hare coursing;
- Restricting the use of glue traps;
- Funding wildlife conservation projects at home and abroad;
- Ending the export of live animals for fattening and slaughter;
- Improving animal welfare during transportation;
- Providing the police with more powers to protect farm animals from dangerous and out-of-control dogs;
- Examining the use of cages for poultry and farrowing crates for pigs;
- Improving animal welfare during slaughter and;
- Incentivising farmers to improve animal health and welfare through improved farming policy.
In respect of animals abroad UK government intends to:
- As mentioned, ban the import of hunting trophies from endangered animals and
- ban the sale of ivory under the Ivory Act;
- Prohibit the import and export of detached shark fins to protect the species;
- Look at a possible ban on the sale of foie gras and
- Ban the advertisement in the UK of unacceptable low-welfare animal practices abroad such as elephant rides.
Cat domestication – a failure
Humankind must improve its relationship with animals. We currently fall far short of an acceptable relationship. Arguably, the domestication of the cat is a failure. People see it as a success because there are many wonderful relationships between humans and cats in millions of homes. We tend to forget the failures such as an equal number of feral cats to domestic cats in America. Every one of those feral cats represents a failure of humankind to discharge its responsibility towards cat companions. A failure of that magnitude totally undermines the project of cat domestication. There are far too many unwanted cats in animal rescue homes. We will be not able to say that cat domestication is a success until we radically reduce the number of feral cats on the planet and start closing cat rescue organisations.
We must thank Carrie Symonds for being influential in the introduction of these government steps to improve animal welfare. Carrie Symonds is a British political activist, conservationist, and the fiancée of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Boris Johnson.
Government tweet on sentience – excellent
Animals have feelings.
The Animal Welfare #SentienceBill will recognise in law that animals have feelings. This is central to improving their welfare.
— Defra UK (@DefraGovUK) May 13, 2021
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