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The “Utilization with Welfare Safeguards” Model

Given this settled conviction, welfare concerns can enter the scene as a proviso on this prerogative, what I call the “utilization with welfare safeguards” model. Such a proviso can come in weaker and stronger forms.

In his book Rain without Thunder, Gary Francione refers to “welfarists” whose main goal is “to ensure that animals, who are regarded as property under the law, are treated ‘humanely’ and not subjected to ‘unnecessary’ suffering” while still being used (1996, 2). He insightfully explains the disastrous moral implications of this approach (and why so many so-called animal rights activists have taken this same welfarist approach, at least for the foreseeable future).

This is a fairly weak form of the welfare clause, since accessing the various uses the animals serve takes precedence over eliminating welfare violations, although the violations are to be minimized. In this chapter, though, I will consider what seems to be a stronger and morally safer proviso, where animals can be used only if their full welfare (or, at least, as much as is within human reach) is sustained. It goes beyond reducing welfare infringement to the minimum needed in order to use the animal. Our longstanding practice of using animals continues, but now it must be morally combined with ensuring their welfare.

Selecting this approach for comment may seem odd when thinking of companion animals, but the model is more relevant than it first appears. I will consider “companion animals” in a broad sense, where the basic requirement is that the dog or cat lives with humans in a “home setting” at least most of the time.5

“Utilizing animals (with safeguards)” is a self-i nterested project; humans expect to gain from it. To phrase it more gently, there are benefits involved, but when we move from the language of “using” to that of “benefits,” the heavily empirical disciplines (including medicine) contain plenty of material on “the benefits of having pets.” When we add in a pervasive assumption in the same literature that these benefits are why we have “pets,” we then have the self-interested motive that completes the package: we have the “utilization with safeguards” model applied to companion animals, but in the gentler form of “seeking benefits while ensuring welfare.” In one fairly representative empirical study of pets, Sheila Bonas, June McNicholas, and Glyn M. Collis write,

This high level of pet ownership [about 50%] persists despite many potential costs. In addition to the financial costs of food, veterinary care and other pet products, disadvantages of pet ownership can include: time spent caring for the pet; restrictions on lifestyle; daily hassles resulting from caring for and cleaning up after pets; worry due to destructive or anti-social behaviour of pets; emotional distress, e.g., on the death of a pet; and risks such as bites, allergic reactions and other zoo-noses... . Given this long list of potential costs, and that relatively few pets are working animals ‘earning their keep’ in a practical way, owners presumably perceive substantial benefits from pets to persuade so many to keep them. (Bonas, McNicholas, and Collis 2000, 209)

Since, it is claimed, having a pet must be in the human’s interest, the benefits must outweigh the costs. What are these benefits ?

Pets may have functional roles ... such as impression management (e.g. dogs as fashion accessories, or acquisition of a fierce dog to fit a macho image), or avocation (the pet as a diversion or hobby, e.g. those kept for breeding or competing in shows). However, most accounts of positive aspects of pet ownership focus on pet ownership as a social relationship with advantages arising from relationship-based concepts such as support and attachment ... and protection against loneliness. (Bonas, McNicholas, and Collis 2000, 209)

Another empirical study emphasizes, in its list of benefits, promoting calmness, relaxation, and social interaction, but “above all, a pet provides an outlet for nur- turant and care-giving behaviour. Through its various gestures of attachment, affiliation, and dependence, it provides its owner with a powerful sense of being valued and needed” (Council for Science and Society 1988, 37). In the report as a whole, the underlying framework is clearly the “utilization with safeguards” model. For example, the report’s authors observe, “It is one of the moral assumptions of our society (and of many others) that a duty exists to protect the interests of animals, thereby setting limits on what may be done to them in order to satisfy human needs and desires” (Council for Science and Society 1988, 64). “It is evident from this study that the keeping of companion animals ... satisfies human interests; it is not ordinarily contrary to the social or public interest and, in the absence of abuse, is not in itself contrary to animal interests” (Council for Science and Society 1988, 69).

Other examples in the social science literature are readily found. The “utilization with safeguards” model, then, can be captured in the gentler language of “seeking benefits while ensuring welfare,” and it can be exemplified in various practical forms, depending on what the “use” (or “benefit”) involves. There are, of course, many benefits to be gained by humans when this model is applied to companion animals in the broad sense specified earlier. The welfare of the dogs and cats is apparently ensured as well. However, the comments below point to a less rosy view of the model.

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