What is welfare?

Welfare is a description of an animal, or human’s state of wellbeing and can therefore be either negative or positive.

Poor welfare is often described in terms of ‘cruelty’, ‘abuse’ or ‘neglect’. Meanwhile good welfare is associated with the needs of an animal, both psychological and physical, being met.

In fact, welfare is much wider and deeper than this. In essence it is a measure of how well an animal is coping with their life, their environment and the resources at their disposal enabling them to flourish, irrespective of species or their role. This changes over the lifetime of the animal depending on individual needs and environment alterations.

It can also be weighed up in terms of Quality of Life (Mellor, 2016)

The Five Domains Model

In 2015 a new model that emphasises the importance of positive physical states e.g. fitness and not just the absence of negative states as with the five freedoms and five needs was developed. 

This is steadily growing in popularity. It is not possible for a equine to have a positive welfare state if only its health needs are met so this model is also gaining popularity amongst equine owners and organisations who see that it is a human’s duty to the animal to ensure a good quality of life and not just to provide one that avoids negative experiences.

Animal Welfare Act Five Needs

Prior to the Animal Welfare Act 2006, people only had a duty to ensure that an animal didn’t suffer unnecessarily.  The Animal Welfare Act 2006 now imposes a broader ‘duty of care’ on anyone responsible for an animal.

Section 9 of the Animal Welfare Act defines five basic needs for an animal's welfare. An owner or keeper will commit an offence if they do not take such steps, as are reasonable in all circumstances, to ensure that the needs of a equine, for which they are responsible, are met to the extent required by good practice.  Breaching a provision of the code is not an offence in itself, however, if proceedings are brought against an owner or keeper for a welfare offence, the Court will look at whether or not they complied with the Code in deciding whether they have committed an offence under the Animal Welfare Act 2006.

The Act defines an animal’s needs as:

  • Its need for a suitable environment
  • Its need for a suitable diet
  • Its need to be able to exhibit normal behaviour patterns
  • Any need it has to be housed with, or apart from, other animals
  • Its need to be protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease
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