Murphy: Finally — A Feel-Good Moment

An Australian veterinarian has something to say about the difference between animal welfare and animal rights. ( iStock )

In the midst of battles over labeling, the barrage of condemnation accusing livestock of ruining the planet and the negative news about meat-eating that flows with the regularity of the tides onto thousands of websites each day, it’s time for some uplifting news: A moderate, logical, common sense take on animal welfare.

It’s necessary to travel halfway around the world to find such a spokesperson, but his perspective, published as an opinion column in the Sydney Morning Herald, is worth reviewing.

The author is a retired veterinarian, Dr. David Leyonhjelmm, and in his commentary, “Proposed pet crackdown confused animal welfare with animal rights,” he made a crucial distinction between animal welfare and animal rights — exactly the kind of nuance activists in this country always attempt to blur.

“As a former veterinarian, now owned by three very spoilt (sic) cats, I place a high priority on animal welfare,” Dr. Leyonhjelmm wrote. “I do not allow my cats to hunt birds, and when they occasionally catch a lizard they are firmly scruffed and the lizard saved.”

He went on to make the key point: “However, I do not afford [pets] rights. If they steal food, there is no jury trial. They have no right of association (they would fight with the neighbors), no freedom of movement, no equality before the law and no free speech that I know of.”

All that seems totally plausible, yet it’s one of the few instances that I’ve discovered where somebody was able to articulate the basic principle that animals are animals, and people are people.

Unwarranted Regulation
The development that promoted Dr. Leyonhjelmm to share his thoughts after a career providing care for all manner of pets, was a draft of proposed changes to current legislation in the Australian state of New South Wales governing the definition of cruelty to animals.

The changes under consideration proposed that rules crafted for commercial pet shops and breeders should be extended to anyone who sells or gives away animals, including dogs, cats, rabbits, mice, fish, birds and reptiles.

The principle underlying the move is very straightforward: animals have rights, even if they’re bred and sold by private citizens, as opposed to for-profit operators.

But as Dr. Leyonhjelmm wrote, “There is an important distinction between animal welfare and animal rights. One is about treating animals humanely, because we are civilized people. The other is about assigning rights and protections to animals on comparable terms to humans.”

By attempting to override that principle, animal activists want to justify not just regulatory oversight, but eventually a ban on many other “uses” of animal — for recreation, riding or racing, as examples — that they deem to be a violation of animals’ inalienable rights.

“The proposition that animals have rights leads to claims that we shouldn’t use animals for our own benefit,” the commentary continued. “It means not eating them, not using their skins for shoes, not using them for recreational purposes and not keeping them as pets. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals makes no secret of this agenda.”

Tougher rules on hobby breeders is merely one step on a journey whose destination, in Australia, in this case, would be a ban on exports of live food animals, followed by onerous rules on handling and transport, followed by restrictions on animal agriculture that would render the business wholly unprofitable.

As the good vet noted, these proposed new rules governing pet breeding and sales are based on “the assumption that the breeding and selling of pets is inherently immoral and should therefore be heavily regulated.”

There absolutely needs to be continued government oversight to assure the well-being of all pets — but mainly by enforcing regulations that punish owners who mistreat or abandon their pets or animals in their care.

That’s where animal welfare starts, and that’s where it needs to stop.

My only regret in reading this story from Down Under? It’s a shame that Dr. Leyonhjelmm is retired.

We could use a couple hundred more practicing veterinarians like him who are willing — and able — to speak out on the folly of the animal rights movement.

Editor’s Note: The opinions in this commentary are those of Dan Murphy, a veteran journalist and commentator.

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