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Is it ethical to keep pets and other animals? It depends on where you keep them

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Cats can be happy in apartments, but the space needs features that enable their natural desire to climb, jump, hide and scratch. www.shuterstock.com New York City’s comprehensive new code for animal welfare restricts when horse-drawn carriages can operate and bans the sale of the fatty liver of a force-fed duck, foie gras. Washington state just adopted a new law that will enhance the life of egg-laying chickens , requiring that they live in an environment with “enrichments” like scratch areas, perches, nest boxes and areas to take the dust baths chickens so enjoy. These bills, both passed this year, are part of an ongoing effort to codify the rights of animals , an area of the law I have studied and written about for 30 years. My next book, which will be published in 2020, develops a group of seven legal rights that I believe an ethical society should adopt to protect animals. Freedom from cruelty of course makes the list. U.S. law has required this since New York first passed an anti-animal cruelty law in 1867 . Today, all U.S. states have laws that prohibit the infliction of unnecessary pain and suffering . Modern law also protects the physical well-being of animals in human care by requiring they receive food, water and often veterinary care . But a full life requires more than basic survival , so I propose some new rights for animals in my book. Perhaps most importantly, I argue that animals need a “right of place” – that is, access to sufficient physical space to live a natural life. To be comfortable, content and to find their place in a social hierarchy , animals require space. Conversely, if an animal has too little space, then its home becomes a jail, a stressor, a frustrating moment that continues indefinitely. On the right of place Living on a farm with five different species, including chickens and dogs, has convinced me of an animal’s right to place, too. This space has two components. First, there’s its size – is it big enough to suit an animal’s needs? Second, there’s the content of that space – what’s inside that space that the animal can make use of? Different animals have different space needs. Consider, for example, a Great Pyrenees dog – a breed genetically predisposed to guarding . For over a decade, my family’s farm has been watched over by five of these large, amazing dogs. The Great Pyrenees dog is bred to guard territory and flocks. www.shutterstock.com When on guard, the Great Pyrenees have the regal look of white lion. On a given day on our farm, they will independently wander over 30 fenced acres. Without fences, I am sure these dogs could patrol an even greater range, but letting the Great Pyrenees wander her maximum range is usually not desirable. Natural and human-made hazards pose a risk to the uncontained dog, and the dog might pose a risk to others. An optimum option for the Great Pyrenees is several acres of fenced-in land, which allows the dog to investigate its natural features while guarding against intruders. If that same amount of land were paved in concrete and surrounded by a brick wall, it wouldn’t suffice. To exercise her natural capabilities, the Great Pyrenees needs trees that provide shade, plants to sniff, perhaps a place to dig and things to watch. Nor would confinement in a city apartment give this animal the room or features she needs to exercise her instincts. A place for farm animals Pigs are at least as complex an animal as dogs , studies show. Ideally they would live in open fields of many acres with other pigs . Instead, many are kept in the cement and iron confinement of industrial agriculture , in stalls the size of their physical body . The vast majority of commercial chickens, too, lack the space in which to live natural lives . For their entire useful life, egg-laying chickens are often kept in battery cages that holds six hens in a four-square-foot space. As the free-range movement has brought to light, it is possible to give egg-laying chickens a better life without significantly increasing cost. Chickens don’t actually require much space. Some of the chickens on my farm have total free range and yet seldom wander more than 100 yards from the barn where they are fed and go to roost at night. Washington state passed a law requiring commercial egg-laying chickens to be removed from cages. AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File But, as Washington state lawmakers recently acknowledged, chickens do need a space that meets their needs . Washington’s quietly created bill, which was signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee in May, effectively guarantees a chicken’s right of place. Companion animals So what about your pet, you ask? Are you respecting its right of place? It all depends on the pet. Our family has had a number of poodles, and we’ve found that young standard poodles, being a smart and high-energy dog, will want the opportunity to run like the wind and be challenged mentally . An elderly miniature poodle, however, may be content in an apartment with daily walks. House cats, meanwhile, are often thought to be satisfied with apartment life, as long as they have places to climb, hide, perch and scratch . But a confined habitat may actually cripple some felines’ instinct to hunt . Behavioral scientists haven’t studied cats enough to fully understand their needs. Frankly, people don’t yet know how yet to satisfy every individual animal’s right of place. We need more information from science . Nor is it clear, beyond the most egregious cases, when the law should intervene to ensure that pet owners are meeting their animals’ needs. This, I contend, is the next frontier of animal rights law . People bring these animals into existence. So I believe people owe them a dignified life, a right of place on this Earth. [ Get the best of The Conversation, every weekend. Sign up for our weekly newsletter . ] David Favre is the author of the forthcoming book, "Rethinking the Future of Animal Law" (Edward Elgar Publications, 2020). He has no funding or affiliation conflicts relevant to the topic of this article.

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Is your cat in pain? Its facial expression could hold a clue

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Unfortunately it's much more subtle than Grumpy Cat. But knowing your cat's 'resting face' could help. JStone/Shutterstock They say that eyes are windows to the soul. Indeed, research suggests this might also be true for our four-legged friends. Since the days of our most celebrated natural historian, Charles Darwin , humans have been interested in how animals communicate via their facial expressions, and how different species might express themselves in similar ways. However, it wasn’t until relatively recently that scientists began to study animal faces systematically, to understand what this might tell us about their specific feelings or intentions. Most of this research has focused on trying to understand how their faces look when in pain, using “grimace scales”. Grimace scales include a series of images that show how facial expressions change when animals experience no, moderate and severe pain. While mice were the original “guinea pigs” for these studies, similar scales have now been developed for a range of domesticated animals including horses ,rabbits , ferrets , piglets , sheep , rats and also cats . Interestingly, for many of these species, their faces seem to change in a similar manner when in pain. For example, their eyes become squinted, tension appears in their nose, mouth and cheeks, and their ears may look a bit flattened or drawn back. Interpreting the findings While these findings help us understand the inner world of animals, we are still a long way off from possessing the so-called King Solomon’s ring – the power to speak to animals. One of the limitations to our understanding of animals’ expressions is that we have tended to extrapolate from what we already know about human faces, even though animals often have quite different facial musculature and use this in different ways to us. We often try to understand animals through what we know about humans. Andrey_Kuzmin/Shutterstock There is also a potential issue when trying to identify the same expressions in species with very different looking faces; for example, a flat, round-faced Persian cat looks very different to a large-eared, long-nosed Siamese. Some animals, especially cats, may also hold their cards close to their chests. Cat’s closest ancestors are solitary, territorial and potentially prey for larger mammals, so they are unlikely to want to advertise when they are in pain or generally feeling a bit off. Indeed, pain in cats is notoriously difficult to assess . Many cats might just become a little quiet, go off and hide, or even seemingly carry on as normal. Their expressions are therefore subtle and can be difficult for humans to identify. Trying to assess pain by studying slight differences in facial expressions can quite literally be a pain-staking operation – it’s not always easy to do in real time and requires training. For these reasons, there has been growing interest in the use of machine learning to automate the process of analysing facial expressions in both humans and other animals . What’s generally been missing is less human-based, and more species-specific, biologically relevant systems for animals. This was the motivation for the recent development of an approach focusing on cats which lays the foundation for future objective, automatic detection of facial expressions. Applying a technique usually reserved for measuring bones , we annotated almost a thousand pictures of cats’ faces based on the relative position of their underlying facial muscles and knowledge of how their faces change shape as their muscles contract and relax. Differences in their faces before and after routine surgery were then compared to identify expressions associated with pain. We detected several key features linked to pain: Taking those plot points. Lauren Finka, Author provided (i) Ears narrowed and further apart from each other (ii-iv) Mouth and cheek areas appear smaller and drawn in towards the nose and up towards the eyes (v) Eyes slightly narrowed or a bit more “squinty” (vi) Subtle differences in the shape of the cat’s outer ears, with their right ear a little narrower and further down the side of their face (vii) Nose positioned downwards towards the mouth, away from the eyes, angled a little more to the left side of their face. While these changes in expression may be obvious in individual cats, at a population level these were quite subtle, probably due to the general variability in the appearance of different cats’ faces. This suggests that in every day, practical situations, such as when at the vet, pain expressions could be easily missed, especially if the vet doesn’t know what the cat’s face usually looks like (their “resting cat face”). The good news is, though, that owners may be better at detecting these subtle changes, and one day there might even be an app available to help us determine if our cats are likely to be in pain or not. This novel approach could also be developed to assess a range of other expressions and emotions, and in a range of other species. So we might soon actually have something that helps us communicate better with our pets, at the tips of our fingers. Lauren Finka Works as a specialist consultant for Battersea Dogs and Cats Home.

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How we plan for animals in emergencies

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Residents evacuate themselves and their animals to a park in Old Bar, NSW, Saturday, November 9, 2019. AAP Image/Darren Pateman Animals are desperately vulnerable to natural disasters. An estimated 350 koalas have died during catastrophic bushfire conditions across eastern Australia and reports of injured animals continue to pour in . It’s not just wildlife at risk. February’s Townsville floods claimed the lives of some 600,000 cattle . People are often injured while attempting to rescue pets, and the thought of leaving a dependent animal to face fire alone is devastating. Read more: Drought and climate change were the kindling, and now the east coast is ablaze The good news is there are already disaster management plans for animals in some states in Australia. Knowing about these plans can help you reduce the risk to your loved ones – human and otherwise. Know your state’s rules Since the 2009 Royal Commission into Victorian bushfires, New South Wales , Victoria , Western Australia and South Australia have adopted animal welfare plans for pets, livestock and wildlife. Animal disaster management plans try to anticipate how the needs of animals will be managed in the event of a disaster. They assign roles to government agencies and non-government organisations to administer relief for animals. During a disaster, however, animal owners remain responsible for them. A legal duty of care remains, although what that demands obviously changes during an emergency. What about pets? In NSW, people are advised to keep their pets with them in an emergency. Contained animals, such as dogs on a leash or cats in a carrier, may be taken to “animal friendly” evacuation centres. Likewise, the Victorian plan directs councils either to ensure evacuation centres are equipped for animals or to advise people of alternative arrangements. Unfortunately, SA and WA do not allow pets in evacuation centres (with the exception of assistance animals), meaning they must be housed outside or at a different location. Animal management plans in these states cite fairly vague “health and safety” reasons for the exclusion. If you’re at any risk of future evacuation it’s vital you check whether your nearest relief centre can accommodate your pet. Even if you’re planning to stay with friends or family, unexpected circumstances may force you to spend some time at a relief centre. Your disaster kit should contain pet food, registration and vaccination details, bedding, and any other equipment and medicine. You should also have a recent photo of your animal on your phone or printed out (puppy photos will not be useful in tracking down your adult dog). State guidelines also urge pet owners to make sure your animals are properly vaccinated, microchipped, and wearing identification tags. Local councils, veterinarians, the RSPCA and Animal Welfare League are often designated points of contact when companion animals become lost in a disaster. Livestock and horses Livestock and large companion animals are obviously harder to manage than small pets. Disaster management guidelines recommend contacting relocation sites well before an emergency happens to arrange accommodation, and ensuring you have access to suitable transport ahead of time. If you are unable to make advance arrangements – or if your plans have been disrupted – you can generally take large animals, such as horses, to your local evacuation centre for advice on your options. If your animals cannot be moved off your property, the guidelines call for owners to move the animals to a low-risk area stocked with food and water for several days. Even if you plan to evacuate your horses or livestock, it’s a good idea to identify a suitable spot just in case. Planning and guidance documents also stress that horses should be microchipped. The National Livestock Identification System may be used to track certain agricultural animals. They also arrange the distribution of emergency fodder following disasters. Wildlife Wild animals face unique challenges in disasters. They cannot be systematically evacuated and are highly dependent on natural habitat for their survival. Animal emergency plans and guidance therefore tend to focus on providing relief to wild animals affected by disaster, relying on the contribution of charitable organisations. The NSW plan identifies several partner wildlife rescue organisations, including WIRES, which is the state’s principal avenue for reporting injured wildlife. In SA, animal welfare organisations also lead relief efforts, whereas in Victoria, the government coordinates rescue and triage actions with support from volunteers. In addition to relief services, holistic planning requires measures for preserving habitat and wildlife corridors. These reduce the risk of animal populations becoming isolated, and improve the availability of viable alternative habitat. Read more: Bushfires can make kids scared and anxious: here are 5 steps to help them cope While some states have made good progress, every jurisdiction needs clear processes for managing animal welfare during emergencies. As our fire season continues, make sure you’re familiar with your state or territory and local council animal welfare plans. Ashleigh Best is member of the NSW Young Lawyers Animal Law Committee and WIRES. She receives an Australian Government Research Training Program Scholarship.

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Dogs really can chase away loneliness

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Who's a good doggie? New dog owners benefit from cuddles, meeting other dog owners and more physical exercise. from www.shutterstock.com Feeling lonely? A dog may help. Our research out today confirms what many dog owners already know: dogs are great companions that can help you to feel less lonely. Cuddles and slobbery kisses, meeting other dog owners in the park and a general lift in mood all likely help. But our study, published today in BMC Public Health , found dogs didn’t affect psychological distress, the type seen in depression and anxiety. Read more: 1 in 3 young adults is lonely – and it affects their mental health Why are we studying this? Almost two in five Australian households own a dog . And although most dog owners will assure you, in no uncertain terms, their dog is a source of sheer happiness, scientific evidence is lacking. Most previous studies have compared the mental well-being of dog owners to non-owners at a single point in time. The problem with these studies is they cannot tell if dogs actually make us happier, less lonely or less stressed. They also cannot tell us if dog owners are simply in a more positive state of mind in the first place. So, in this study, we measured mental well-being at three points in time: before owning a dog, three months after owning a dog and eight months after owning a dog. Read more: Man's stressed friend: how your mental health can affect your dog What did we do? Our study , known as the PAWS trial, involved 71 Sydney adults who were separated into three groups: people who bought a dog within one month of starting the studypeople who were interested in getting a dog in the near future but agreed not to get one during the study, andpeople who had no interest in getting a dog. People filled out surveys to measure their mood, loneliness and symptoms of psychological distress at the three different time-points. We then compared the mental well-being of the groups at the beginning of the study, to the mid-point and to the end-point. Read more: Curious Kids: is it true dogs don't like to travel? Here’s what we found New dog owners felt less lonely after they got a dog compared to the other two groups. The effect happened quite quickly, within three months of acquiring a dog. There was no further decrease in loneliness between three months and eight months. Aww. The joy of a new dog eased loneliness within the first few months. from www.shutterstock.com We also found some evidence that dog owners had fewer negative emotions, such as nervousness or distress, within three months of getting a new dog but this finding was not as clear cut. We found that symptoms of depression and anxiety were unchanged after acquiring a dog. Maybe the dog owners in our study already had low levels of psychological distress before they got a dog, so dog ownership didn’t lower these levels any further. What does it all mean? There are lots of possible reasons dogs can help to lessen feelings of loneliness. We know having a quick cuddle with a dog boosts people’s mood in the short-term . Maybe daily dog cuddles can also boost owners’ mood in the long-term which could help to lower feelings of loneliness. Dog owners may also meet new people through their dog as people are more likely to talk strangers if they are accompanied by a dog . In our study, dog owners also said they had met new people in their neighbourhood because of their dog. Read more: Is your dog happy? Ten common misconceptions about dog behaviour So far, there have only been two similar studies to look at mental well-being in new dog owners, one of which was conducted almost 30 years ago. Of these studies, one found dog owners had fewer symptoms of psychiatric disorders after they acquired a dog. The other study found no difference in loneliness after people brought a new dog home. Dogs may also improve our physical health , by reducing blood pressure, improving cardiovascular health and increasing the amount of physical activity their owners perform. But, as is the case with mental well-being, the scientific evidence is still limited. So, what happens next? One of the things our study cannot determine is how dogs affect men’s mental well-being. By chance, all the new dog owners in our study were women. So, we don’t know whether dogs affect men’s mental well-being in a different way to women’s. Read more: Whose best friend? How gender and stereotypes can shape our relationship with dogs Our next step is to look at mental well-being in a much bigger group of new dog owners to confirm these findings. A bigger study could also provide more insight into the relationship between dog ownership and mental illness, such as depression and anxiety. If this article has raised issues for you, or if you’re concerned about someone you know, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. Lauren Powell is employed by the RSPCA NSW. Emmanuel Stamatakis receives funding from the US-based Human-Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI). The Physical and Affective Wellbeing Study of dog owners (PAWS) was funded through a donation by Ms Lynne Cattel.

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Half a billion on Halloween pet costumes is latest sign of America's out-of-control consumerism

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Halloween spending is out of control. Americans are expected to spend US$8.8 billion on candy, costumes and decorations this year – or $86 for every person who plans to celebrate. That includes a half a billion dollars on costumes that Americans are buying for their pets, which is double the amount they spent a decade ago. Pumpkins and hot dogs are the favorites. How did a holiday that began as a way to honor the dead morph into just another ritual of over-the-top American consumption? As a relatively frugal person who has reused the same Halloween costumes for years, I found the $86 figure shocking. But I’m hardly the first economist to moan about out-of-control consumerism. Day of the decadent Halloween started as a Celtic holiday honoring the dead. It was then adopted by the Catholic Church as a time to remember saints. One research paper described Halloween as an “evolving American consumption ritual ,” but a better description might be an over-the-top spending ritual. To put the $8.8 billion being spent on Halloween in context, the budget for the entire National Park Service is only $4 billion. The U.S. spends less than $2 billion on flu vaccines . The $86 average may not give us an accurate look at per-person spending. Only about two-thirds of respondents to the National Retail Federation’s annual survey of Halloween spending said they were celebrating the holiday. And while some spend nothing, others go overboard. As just one example, the Palo Alto neighborhood where Silicon Valley’s tech stars live is a sight to behold as local moguls try to outdo each other on Halloween decorations, candy and bands. Why people spend like crazy In the late 1890s, an economist named Thorstein Veblen looked at spending in society and wrote an influential book called “The Theory of the Leisure Class ,” which explained reasons why people spend. It laid out the idea that some goods and services are bought simply for conspicuous consumption. Conspicuous consumption is designed to show others you are rich, smart or important. In Veblen’s mind, conspicuous consumption was spending more money on items than they are really worth. Veblen pointed out that people buy homes with rooms that are rarely used, just to show off the owner’s wealth. If Veblen were writing about the world today, he would probably not focus on real estate. Instead, he might be using examples of people trying to attract attention on Instagram by dressing their pets in expensive costumes . Understanding how much people spend on holidays like Halloween and other activities is important because this shows what society values. And apparently, we value what others can see us consume. [ Like what you’ve read? Want more? Sign up for The Conversation’s daily newsletter . ] Jay L. Zagorsky does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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