I have been a vegetarian since 1987, so have been interviewed in animal welfare and animal rights for decades. I stopped eating animal products because I love animals and didn’t want to eat them. So I was interested in reading this book and seeing what a vet’s opinions were on these kinds of topics.
He begins by comparing animals to humans scientifically, showing how our brains and bodies are very similarly constructed, which I found fascinating. People often say we have a right to use animals in various ways because we are “cleverer” than they are and this addresses that kind of comment very well.
I also really liked the idea that we each have “an animal welfare footprint” in the same way we have a carbon footprint, dependant on how we use animals – if we eat them, wear things made from animals, use medicines tested on animals, keep pets, etc.
It’s a thoughtful, and thought-provoking, book. Dr Sean Wensley writes parts of it like a memoir, so we see things through his experience. As a teenager, he worked in a pet shop and comments how animal lovers enjoyed seeing birds like budgies and finches in cages, but wonders if we would feel differently seeing sparrows and robins in cages in pet shops. This was an interesting point I had never thought of before, but he’s right. Why should some kinds of birds be allowed to fly free, while others spend their lives in cages as pets? This led to him conducting a study on Australian zebra finches, which is detailed in the book.
He covers topics including the lives of caged hens, rearing chickens, pig production and other animals used in farming. There’s a chapter on horses and one on domesticated pets. There are distressing statistics, but everything is presented scientifically, so we can make up our own minds about the rights and wrongs of these topics.
Throughout, references are made to the Five Freedoms, which are used to assess animal welfare – basically, the right for animals to not experience hunger or thirst, discomfort, pain or injury or disease, to be able to express normal behaviour and to prevent fear and distress. Various practices are judged against this criteria as we read the book.
Overall, I think this is an important book that we all need to read. It is written in a clear way with evidence to back up his arguments and it is a book which will leave you thinking long after you read the last page.