Browsing tag: breeding

Marius the giraffe – right or wrong? The great divide

“Danish zoo kills healthy giraffe and feeds it to the lions”
The headlines are appalling, and the international outcry has been almost as dramatic as if the Danish zoo authorities had fed a human to the lions. Do the protesters have a point, or is the zoo simply being honest about an unfortunate but necessary situation?
The answer to this question highlights a major divide in the broad community of animal lovers: those who are in favour of animal rights, and those who believe in animal welfare.

Animal rights people believe that animals have similar rights to humans. Animals are sentient, living individuals, often referred to as “non-human persons”. They have a right to exist and to be granted the Five Freedoms – freedom from pain and disease, freedom from hunger and thirst, freedom from discomfort, freedom to express natural behaviours and freedom from fear and distress. They also believe that animals have the right to life, and that humans do not have the right to take that life away. People who believe in animal rights really  ought to be vegans, since they do not believe in the right of humans to exploit animals for meat or milk. They believe that animals should not be viewed as property, or used for food, clothing, research, entertainment or as beasts of burden. They believe that animals deserve equal consideration to humans: if animals are not given equal rights, this is “speciesism” which is as bad as racism. They believe that in the future, we will look back on our time and see our attitude to animals in the same way as we currently view human slavery.

Animal welfare people believe that  non-human animals are sentient and that efforts should be ensure their well-being, especially when they are under the care of humans. However they do not believe that animals have the same rights as humans. They also believe that animals deserve the Five Freedoms, but they believe that humans have the right to decide what happens to animals, which includes taking the animal’s life in a humane manner in some circumstances. They believe that it’s acceptable to farm animals for meat and milk, as long as the animals have a life worth living while they are farmed, and as long as the animal’s death takes place in a way that is free of fear and pain. They believe that it’s acceptable to use animals for food, clothing, research, entertainment or as beasts of burden as long as the Five Freedoms are not impaired. Animal welfare people do not believe that animals have a right to life, justice or freedom. This is the most widely held view in the Western world today: that it is morally and ethically acceptable for humans to use non-human animals, provided that adverse effects on animal welfare are kept to a minimum.

So what about Marius the giraffe?

The protesters about the zoo in Denmark are seeing the situation from an animal rights perspective, whereas the zoo defends their stance from an animal welfare point of view.

The animal rights stance would say that Marius the giraffe was a “non-human person”, and that it’s outrageous that his life was taken. They also believe that the zoo compounded the unfairness by butchering Marius in public (even with children looking on) and then feeding him to the lions. This showed lack of respect to Marius, and an uncaring attitude to an adorable creature.

The animal welfare stance would understand the perspective of the zoo, which has stated that the giraffe was surplus to its own requirements,and there was no simple alternative. The options that were available included rehoming to non-accredited wildlife parks and private sanctuaries, and the zoo was concerned that they would lose control of the giraffe, and that he might end up in an inappropriate situation where he was suffering. The zoo believed that quick, pain-free death was a better alternative for the giraffe than to take that risk. The zoo would say that millions of cattle, pigs and sheep are killed in the same way every day and nobody complains about them, so what’s the difference?

The problem is this: onlookers see the zoo’s attitude as disingenuous. Zoos are quick to humanise their animals when it suits them, such as when they ask the public to sponsor individual creatures, or when they advertise to encourage visitors. They are happy to create an animal-rights type illusion of the animals being “furry people”, and the public are happy to accept this. Most of us are animal rights believers at some level, especially when considering animals (such as our pets) that are well-known to us. And when an animal has been given a name, and has featured in attractive photographs, we also like to take an animal rights view on behalf of that creature.

Yet the reality is that zoos take an animal welfare stance, and so do most of us when we do not know the individual animals. How many of us are vegans? Perhaps 1%? If we put our money where our mouths are, then 99% of us are animal welfarists, not animal rights believers, at least when it comes to farm animals.

But we don’t like it when our pockets of animal rights belief (like Marius) are blatantly treated with animal welfare rules. The zoo has clearly not understood this, and their “practical” approach of publicly butchering the animal and feeding him to the lions has compounded their error.

Whether they are right or wrong, the zoo has created an image of uncaring arrogance which does not serve animals or the zoo’s purpose well. It’s a PR disaster. The zoo has lost a sea of international supporters and the animal rights argument against the continuing existence of zoos has moved one step forwards

 

 

Improving the health of future generations of dogs.

There has been a lot of discussion in the press and on television lately about the health of our purebred dogs, especially the number of inherited conditions which can affect them. Opinions are divided on whether dog shows are a good thing or whether they encourage breeders to place too much value on the appearance of dogs, compared with their health or temperament. With Cruft’s dog show taking place in March, we have all seen classes of pedigree dogs being judged according to a “breed standard” which states what the ideal size, shape, gait etc should be for each breed. Dogs which come closest to meeting this ideal standard will do best in the show ring.

If dogs were bred with only one objective in mind, namely winning prizes in the show ring, that could certainly have unfortunate consequences on their health. Good breeders will not only be concerned with the appearance of the puppies they produce, but also with making sure that they are free from any known inherited conditions and of good temperament.

Most breeds have associated health problems

Most breeds have associated health problems

Almost every breed has, unfortunately, some conditions which they are more prone to than other breeds. Some of these are known to be hereditary, so careful breeding could, over several generations, reduce or eliminate these conditions. These include problems affecting hips, elbows, knees, eyes, hearts, and skin, as well as some kinds of deafness, hernias and epilepsy, and many others. It is never advisable to breed from dogs which have any known inherited problems. In some cases there are screening tests which should be done before considering breeding from a dog or bitch. For example, the hip dysplasia scheme, which has been running for many years and has been successful in reducing the cases in several breeds. Hip dysplasia is a painful problem affecting many medium to large breeds, causing lameness and in some cases shortening lives. There are many other screening tests which can and should be carried out in particular breeds. These should be done whether breeding is on a large scale, or just one litter from a family pet. The decision to breed a litter of pups should never be taken lightly, because to do so properly involves commitment of both time and money.

In the past some breeders have attempted to “fix” the good points in their dogs by mating closely related animals to each other. Although known as line-breeding, this really amounts to in-breeding and will have the unfortunate side effect of also “fixing” any bad points such as inherited problems. The same applies to some characteristics which may define particular breeds such as short legs, big heads, long backs, wrinkly skin, or droopy eyes. These are often the features which we love most about a particular breed, but they can be taken to extremes and health can be threatened. It is far better to increase the size of the gene pool by mating only to unrelated or distantly related healthy dogs.

Boxer pups cropWhen buying a purebred puppy, we can all play our part by doing our homework first. Once we have decided which breed best suits our lifestyle (not always the same as the breed we most like the look of!), we need to find out what problems that breed might be prone to and whether there are any screening programmes available to detect these problems. This kind of information can be found by researching the breed in books, on the internet, from breed societies and from vets. Lots of different sources of information need to be considered to get a balanced view. Then when looking for a breeder we can ask if the parents have been screened, and what the results were. Some tests result in a numerical score being given, and it helps to know what would be considered a good or bad score for the particular breed.

Cross-bred puppies are likely to have a much smaller risk of inheriting some of these conditions because of their broader genetic origins. Unknown parentage might make a crossbred puppy an unknown quantity, but it does have advantages in terms of “hybrid vigour”. There is no guarantee that a cross-bred puppy will be healthier, but it stands a lower chance of inheriting a condition which is common in one particular breed.

As a result of recent controversy about the health of purebred dogs, the Kennel Club has commissioned a report by Sir Patrick Bateson into these and other related matters. The Kennel Club is also updating many of the breed standards against which show dogs are judged. Hopefully if breeders, owners, vets and the Kennel Club all work together, we can improve the health of purebred dogs.

If you are concerned about your dogs health, please contact your vet or use our interactive Dog Symptom Guide to help you decide what to do next.

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