Animal Welfare Program, Faculty of Land and Food Systems, University of British Columbia
For some years, the term “One Health” has been used to recognize “that human health and animal health are interdependent and bound to the health of the ecosystems in which they exist” (1), often with an emphasis on infectious diseases that can pass between humans and other species. More recently, the term “One Welfare” has been used to emphasize the many other links between animal welfare and human welfare, and to acknowledge that both depend on a well-functioning ecological environment (2, 3). But what exactly are these links?
Improving Animal Welfare to Improve Human Welfare and Vice Versa
The most obvious connection is that improving animal welfare is often a way to improve human welfare, and vice versa.
In the case of draft animals, for example, simple steps to improve animal welfare include using well-designed harnesses that do not cause injuries, providing adequate nutrition, and using more efficient carts so that energy is not wasted. One expert estimated that paying attention to these issues could greatly increase the working power of the animals and thus improve the owners’ livelihood (4).
Other examples come from programs of animal and human rehabilitation that involve cooperation between animal shelters and prisons. In a typical case, dogs that are deemed unadoptable because of serious behaviour problems are assigned to carefully selected prisoners who work intensively to calm, train and socialize the dogs so that they can be adopted or even become assistance animals. In addition to benefiting the dogs, the program is said to be very beneficial for the prisoners by helping them develop responsibility, patience, tolerance and empathy, and gain a sense of satisfaction through service.
With food-producing animals, there are many cases where improving animal welfare brings benefits to people. For example, good handling methods can improve growth and reproduction by reducing animal stress; good nutrition can improve the efficiency of growth; and safe, comfortable environments can prevent injuries (5).
Moreover, the reverse is also true: When people suffer from drought, famine or poverty, they are often unable to provide well for their animals, so improving the welfare of people can be a crucial step in allowing them to provide good welfare for their animals.
The Need for Coordinated Action
One Welfare also underlines the need for veterinary and animal protection services to be coordinated with human health and related services to achieve better outcomes for both animal and human welfare.
Decades of research have shown that people who are violent toward animals are often violent to other people. For example, a study of over 100 women escaping from violent partners found that these women were nearly 11 times more likely to report that their partner had hurt or killed pets than a comparison group of women, and in some cases the threat of harm to the animals was so severe that women delayed escaping from violent partners because of fears for the animals’ safety (6). Thus, animal welfare, domestic violence and child welfare agencies need to cooperate because the first person to see an abused child may be an animal welfare inspector acting on a complaint, and if a domestic-violence shelter does not partner with a shelter for pets, then victims may not use their services.
A topic that has received much less research is the neglect of animals and the role of human mental health (7, 8). As one example, a study in Ireland followed thirteen people who had been charged with neglect. It found that in five cases, the underlying problem was failing health or senility, and another four cases involved depression or other mental distress resulting from divorce or other personal difficulties (8). The conclusion was that in the majority of cases, we need to bring together animal welfare and human welfare agencies in order to solve the problems.
The hoarding of animals is another serious animal welfare problem with strong links to human mental health. Veterinarian Gary Patronek has identified classic hoarders as people who accumulate a large number of animals that overwhelm their ability to provide even minimal care, fail to acknowledge the deteriorating condition of the animals and the environment, and fail to recognize the negative effect on their own health and wellbeing.
Such hoarding is now seen as a distinct form of mental illness (“Hoarding Disorder”) that often involves other conditions including depression, social phobia and generalized anxiety. The clear message is that to address this problem of animal welfare requires attention also to the mental health of the offender. If the animal welfare intervention is not accompanied by mental health intervention, the problem is likely to be repeated.
The need to coordinate animal welfare and human welfare is also clear in disaster relief. During Hurricane Katrina, for example, many people refused to evacuate from danger unless they could assure the safety of their pets. This became such an issue during Hurricane Katrina that the USA now has protocols in place for rescue of pets in disaster relief.
Protecting the Environment is Fundamental to Both Human and Animal Welfare
Finally, protecting the environment is fundamental for both human and animal welfare.
For example, the introduction of invasive species into places where they cannot be absorbed into a functioning ecological system can cause enormous economic loss and other hardship for people, combined with incalculable hardship for the native animals that often die of disease, starvation or extreme competition.
Pollution also affects human and animal welfare. For example, a review of coastal dead zones—areas of ocean where nutrient loading leads to a lack of oxygen and suffocation of fish—concluded that dead zones now affect a total area of more than 245,000 square kilometers and cause mass mortality to aquatic animals (9), often with severe effects on local fisheries.
Similarly, climate change and associated extreme weather affect people and animals alike. Indeed, the effects of climate change are predicted to be so severe as to drive a significant percentage of the world’s wild species to extinction (10).
The above problems—ecological collapse, pollution and extinction of species - are often viewed as problems of conservation, not animal welfare. Indeed, animal welfare and conservation have traditionally functioned as different spheres of activity, and sometimes they come into conflict, for example over predator control.
But as these examples show, many harms to the environment are major threats to both conservation and animal welfare, and the two movements need to work together to address them. In fact, I believe we are now in a century when protecting the life-sustaining processes of nature is a major challenge for both human and animal welfare.
As a concept, One Welfare serves as a call to recognize the many interconnections between human welfare, animal welfare and the integrity of the environment. In practical terms, it is also a call to improve animal welfare in order to improve human welfare and vice versa, to co-ordinate actions between veterinary and human medical services, and to protect the environment in order to promote both human and animal welfare.
1. World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) (2013). One health. OIE, Paris. Available at: http://www.oie.inwww.oie.int/en/for-themedia/onehealtht/en/for-themedia/onehealth (accessed on 15 October 2016).
2. Colonius, T.J. & Earley, R.W. (2013). One welfare: a call to develop a broader framework of thought and action. J Amer Vet Med Assoc, 242, 309–10.
3. Garcia Pinillos, R., Appleby, M.C., Manteca, X., Scott-Park, F., Smith, C. & Velarde, A. (2016). One Welfare – a platform for improving human and animal welfare. Vet. Rec, 179, 412–413.
4. Ramaswamy, N.S. (1994). Draught animals and welfare. Rev Sci Tech Off Int Epiz, 13, 195–216.
5. Fraser, D., Kharb, R.M., McCrindle, C.M.E., Mench, J., Paranhos da Costa, M.J.R., Promchan, K., Song, W., Sundrum, A., Thornber P. & Whittington P. (2009). Capacity Building to Implement Good Animal Welfare Practices. FAO, Rome.
6. Ascione, F., Weber, C., Thompson, T., Heath, J., Maruyama, M. & Hayashi, K. (2007). Battered pets and domestic violence: animal abuse reported by women experiencing intimate violence and by nonabused women. Violence Against Women, 13, 354–373.
7. Andrade, S. B. & Anneberg, I. (2014). Farmers under pressure. Analysis of the social conditions of cases of animal neglect. J Agric Environ. Ethics 27, 103–126.
8. Devitt, C., Kelly, P., Blake, M., Hanlon, A. & More, S.J. (2015). An investigation into the human element of on-farm animal welfare incidents in Ireland. Sociologia Ruralis, 55, 400–416.
9. Diaz, R.J., & Rosenberg, R. (2008). Spreading dead zones and consequences for marine ecosystems. Science, 321, 926–929.
10. Thomas, C.D., Cameron, A., Green, R.E., Bakkenes, M., Beaumont, L.J., Collingham, Y.C., Erasmus, B.F.N., de Siqueira, M.F., Grainger, A., Hannah, L., Hughes, L., Huntley, B., van Jaarsveld, A.S., Midgley, G.F., Miles, L., Ortega-Huerta, M.A., Peterson, A.T., Phillips, O.L. & Williams, S.E. (2004). Extinction risk from climate change. Nature, 427, 145–148.