Veterinarians And The Human-Animal Bond
People form strong bonds with their companion animals, and few people are witness to the instances where that bond is tested as veterinarians. Vets see examples of the human-animal bond every day, evidenced in the many difficult decisions that people need to make about the health of their companion animals. On the flipside of the coin, vets also see situations when people’s emotional dependence on their companions can result in situations where their expectations “may be unrealistic or not place the animal’s welfare interests at the heart of considerations.” In all cases, vets need to walk a tightrope of expectations on one side and welfare considerations on the other, and balance the equation when one side conflicts with the other.
This article from 2008 looks at these dynamics, and attempts to offer a range of advice for vets wishing to promote good welfare amongst animals to which their “clients” are closely bonded. The authors note that, relatedly, the veterinary profession has received a good deal of criticism for “equating good welfare with good physical health,” but that tide has been turning. They suggest that one framework for ensuring a more holistic approach is the one set forth by the Farm Animal Welfare Committe (FAWC) of the U.K., the “Five Freedoms,” which could serve as a good starting point. In addition to considering such frameworks, however, the authors provide a list of recommendations for teaching prospective vets. In vet school, students need to learn not to dismiss or belittle the human-animal bond; vets need to learn to competently and scientifically assess both physical and mental welfare of companions; and vets should be taught ethics and ethical reasoning in order to be able to challenge “long-standing or traditional practices that do not provide for good animal welfare.”
For companion animal advocates, the article gives a range of things to think about, and most importantly, explores that tricky intersection where the human-animal bond conflicts with animal welfare. The discussion found within will be sure to generate discussion among advocates that read it.