Animal cruelty is an unfortunate and widespread problem that has been around since the dawn of time. When animals are used for food, sport, entertainment, and fashion, their wellbeing is often overlooked, compromised, or altogether sacrificed for financial gain. Animal rights and animal welfare initiatives are committed to affecting change and speaking up for voiceless animals everywhere—but they need help. Learn the differences between these initiatives, and how you can help protect wild and domestic animals from senseless cruelty and abuse with this guide from Town and Country Animal Hospital. 

What is animal rights?

Animal rights is an initiative dedicated to ending human-inflicted animal cruelty and abuse by putting an end to animal-related industries. This philosophically driven approach often targets farming, research, fashion, zoos, entertainment, and puppy mills, and uses large or shocking demonstrations to increase public awareness to animal issues such as poor living conditions, inhumane slaughter, violent training, and the high volume of shelter euthanasias. 

Animal rights groups—sometimes referred to as animal liberation—emphasize free-choice and autonomy for all animals, including domestic pets. These advocates are often extreme, believing that any restriction on any animal—including crates, leashes, and indoor-living—infringes unnecessarily on their health and happiness.

What is animal welfare?

The animal welfare philosophy includes the same goal of ending animal cruelty, abuse, and suffering, but recognizes the practical need for food animals, medical research, and conservation, and the love for domestic pets. Animal welfare groups evaluate animal treatment and environment using a fact-based approach, and have created a standard for animal care across all commercial and private industries. The Five Provisions (i.e., Welfare Aims) used to measure an animal’s wellbeing include:

  • Nutrition
  • Environment
  • Health
  • Behavior
  • Positive mental experiences

Animal welfare organizations that find these provisions aren’t being sufficiently met, or witness abuse, can and do act on the animal’s behalf, and they save countless animals from dangerous situations (e.g., hoarding, poaching, neglect) every year.

How can I advocate for animals?

Because animal rights is often synonymous with large organizations, one person making a difference against animal cruelty seems unlikely. However, many simple everyday actions can raise awareness, inspire others, and create a ripple effect toward positive change for animals everywhere.

  • Responsible pet ownership — Chances are, you’re already practicing this step. Diligently caring for your pet—including veterinary care, training, and husbandry—can improve your pet’s life, decrease pet overpopulation, and encourage others to do the same. Spaying or neutering your pet, keeping your cat indoors, and leashing your dog can prevent unwanted litters and lost pets who may become victims of violence.
  • Volunteer at a shelter or a spay and neuter event Shelters and humane societies are a great way to give love to neglected dogs and cats, connect with like-minded animal lovers, and participate in public awareness campaigns.
  • Contact state or local representatives — December is officially Puppy Mill Awareness Month in Virginia, and while this gesture is a great start, more must be done to end the commercial breeding cycle. Take your concerns about online puppy sales, pet stores, and puppy mills to your local and state legislators, and make your voice be heard.
  • Do your research before donating — Before making a donation to animal rights or welfare organizations, use online resources such as Charity Navigator, HumaneWatch, and BBB Wise Giving Alliance to ensure your money will be spent appropriately on the animals.
  • Shop responsibly — Your pocketbook can make a strong statement about animal-tested and animal-derived products.
    • Health and beauty items are often tested on animals for negative reactions, such as allergic responses or toxicity. Check your favorite brands here, do some research, and shop for items that display the cruelty-free bunny on their label. 
    • Seek out synthetic materials in place of leather, goose down, fur, natural fiber, and other animal-derived goods. 
  • Eat less meat — In the United States, nearly 10 billion animals are raised and slaughtered for human consumption, and most are raised on factory farms. Reducing or eliminating meat from your diet is a powerful way to push back against commercial farming, help the planet, and improve your health. Plant-based meat alternatives make switching easier than ever. However, if you’re not ready to go vegetarian or vegan, try a smaller challenge such as Meatless Mondays

For devoted pet lovers, thinking about the magnitude of animal suffering and cruelty worldwide can be overwhelming. But, take heart—one tiny change can spark a revolution, and leading by example as a responsible pet owner and animal advocate in your personal circles makes the world a better place. As part of your responsible pet ownership, contact Town and Country Animal Hospital to schedule your pet’s next annual wellness appointment.