World Animal Day: ‘Let us celebrate the many ways in which animals serve us!’

Posted on October 09, 2020

Dr Quixi Sonntag, veterinary behaviourist practitioner and lecturer in the Faculty of Veterinary Sciences, makes an appeal.

We use animals in so many ways that we often take for granted – as trusted and loyal companions, as a mode of transport, for entertainment, to help us enjoy the natural world, as production animals to feed and clothe us, to assist people with disabilities as service animals, to bring joy into the life of those with illnesses as therapy animals, and to educate us in a variety of contexts. Let us celebrate the many ways in which animals serve us!

The mission of World Animal Day, observed on 4 October, is to raise the status of animals and improve their welfare. While there are separate days reserved for various groups of animals like rhinos and homeless dogs, this day is for all animals – from those living in the sea, and animals that are used for food or other products to wildlife, pets and many more. All animals deserve a good life and World Animal Day aims to achieve this by increasing awareness of the plight of animals.

Only in the past few decades has the emphasis shifted from merely acknowledging the usefulness of animals to people, to understanding how we impact animals in the ways we use them.

Animal welfare science is one of the fastest-growing fields in science today. Through animal welfare studies, we are able to “ask” animals what they prefer – for example, whether a sow prefers to be housed alone in a small restricted sow stall or in a larger area with other sows, or whether a shelter dog prefers sleeping indoors or outdoors. Laying hens consider access to a nesting site more important than access to food. Dairy cows prefer rubber mat surfaces to concrete, but thick straw is even better.

We have learned ways of measuring the level of well-being of animals in a variety of contexts and know, for example, that behaviour such as allogrooming (animals licking each other) is a sign of friendship in many species, including cattle and cats, and is thus an indicator of good welfare. Animal welfare scientists have even identified subtle signs of stress in horses and dogs that are used as therapy animals. This knowledge enables us to recognise when they are no longer enjoying the engagement so that we can end the work sessions while they are still having fun. 

As we learn more about animals, we are also able to recognise more similarities between our species, such as the ability to feel pain and emotion, and the need for social connection. This should make us realise that animals deserve to be treated with dignity and respect just as people do. True compassion incorporates empathy towards both people and animals. Compassion for humans and compassion for animals are not mutually exclusive concepts, as healthy and happy animals usually equate to healthy and happy humans. On World Animal Day, we ask that we reflect on our relationship with animals and undertake to extend our kindness to them, not just in celebration of their service to us, but also simply because they are living creatures that deserve to be cared for.

Let us make the world a kinder place for animals.


- Author Dr Quixi Sonntag, veterinary behaviourist practitioner and lecturer in Faculty of Veterinary Sciences

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