Animal Rights vs. Animal Welfare: What's the Difference?

By Angela Tague in Helping Hands

To say that I adore animals is an understatement. I built toys for my pet parrots as a child, became a vegetarian as a teenager, and scrutinize product labels for animal-friendly certifications as an adult. I've also spoken publicly at city council meetings to help overturn a dog breed ban in my community and have no problem paying top dollar for quality foods for my pets.

Animal welfare and rights have always been important to me, but what does that really mean? Today, I'm letting the cat out of the bag on the differences between animal rights vs. animal welfare.

kissing a horse

What Is Animal Welfare?

As animals have become domesticated and kept as pets in our homes or showed up as entertainers on our television screens, we've grown to care for them and their needs. The Animal Welfare Council explains that animal welfare encompasses all aspects of an animal's well-being and basic needs, including veterinary care, safe housing, humane handling, and proper management.

When someone says they advocate for the welfare of animals, they're taking action to promote the sound treatment, care, and handling of animals. For example, you might see your groomer advocate for flea and tick control for your cat to promote skin health. Or, an activist group may peacefully protest for proper housing of circus animals while they are traveling for shows to ensure humane treatment.

Animal welfare extends beyond house pets to also include animals used in sports (think horse racing), entertainment, recreation, or industry.

What Are Animal Rights?

Some people feel that animals should have the same or similar rights as humans, according to the Animal Welfare Council. Some animal rights groups believe humans shouldn't "use" animals in any form, whether that's as pets or in industry or entertainment. Other advocates are selective and feel animals shouldn't be part of certain sectors of society, such as laboratory testing or as pack animals hauling supplies in steep canyons.

It's common for animal rights groups to educate the public about laws and regulations relating to the use of animals. This might take the form of a peaceful protest outside a rodeo, writing an editorial about vegan lifestyle choices for a newspaper, or encouraging friends and family to avoid petting zoos.

Overall, animal rights activists believe animals belong in the wild, period. They feel animals have no place in our society as pets, food sources, or entertainers.

petting stingrays at the aquarium

Animal Rights vs. Animal Welfare

Personally, I'm 100 percent behind animal welfare initiatives. If something is best for the animal according to a veterinarian or other animal specialist that knows more about animal wellness than I do, it's a good choice in my opinion.

When it comes to animal rights, I tend to pick and choose what I support. For me, if animal welfare is at the forefront of an animal rights concern, I'm likely to be supportive. For example, I will visit zoos if the animals have natural habitats with areas to roam and graze as they would in their native environments. It's when I see animals locked in small cages with no mental stimulation, improper care, and sad demeanors that I speak up and ask the staff what they're doing to ensure the welfare of the animals.

Can you think about a situation where you evaluated an animal's welfare or rights? Use that experience to help you dig deeper into your own values and feelings about these important issues. Then, get involved!

How Can I Help Animals?

The smallest steps matter. The choices you make, where you spend your dollars, and how you engage with animals all back your moral choices regarding animal welfare and rights. And when you do what feels right to you, you're setting examples for your children, friends, family, and neighbors.

Animal Welfare Advocacy

Do you have a pet? Then, animal welfare starts at home. The American Kennel Club reminds us, "Legally, as 'owners' of animals we are responsible for their care, and we have the right to make appropriate care decisions for them." Ensure your pets have the proper housing and care they need. Does your pet gecko have adequate humidity and species-appropriate food? Could you start taking your dog on daily walks for mental stimulation and exercise in lieu of quick potty breaks in the yard? Brainstorm how you can make the lives of your pets better. Ask your veterinarian for care tips and advice when needed.

If you don't have pets, look to your community. For example, if you witness animal mistreatment, report it to your city's local animal control officer. Or maybe, you can kindly reach out to a neighbor about ensuring their dog has water available outside on a hot summer day. Be the voice for animals that you notice in need of better daily treatment and wellness.

Animal Rights Advocacy

Whether you believe no animals should be used in a domesticated way or you choose issues you support, you can make a difference. I find that identifying my assumptions, doing research into how animals really are treated in a specific situation, then taking action gives me peace of mind.

For example, I'm an advocate against animal cruelty and experimentation. One way I am supportive of these animal rights is by choosing to purchase cruelty-free products. You could do the same. Or, get involved in a local animal rights activist group in your city that advocates for the rights you wish to support. You might help by passing out flyers at an event, writing for a blog, or attending legislative meetings to speak about animal rights.

Are you inspired to get more involved with issues that fuel your moral values and beliefs, such as donating to a food pantry or working on an election? For ideas, follow the We Are Tom's board from @tomsofmaine on Pinterest!

Images Source: Angela Tague

The views and opinions expressed in any guest post featured on our site are those of the guest author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of Tom's of Maine.


Why It's Good

If you love animals, focus that energy into advocacy. Whether you take steps to ensure better care and wellness for pets in your community, or take a broader stance for the rights of animals at large and how they're involved in our society — kudos to you! Animals need our wisdom and words to ensure their needs are met. You can be their voice through action and purchasing choices.