U.K. is recognizing animal sentience
Dear readers: It would be good to see animal sentience recognized under United States law, as is beginning to happen in the U.K. An initiative there is being questioned in the parliamentary division of the House of Lords, which was reported by the British Veterinary Association (of which I am a member) in its Veterinary Record journal.
Below is the response I sent after these proceedings:
“The Veterinary Record quotes by some peers in the House of Lords, concerning government plans to recognize animal sentience, reveals degrees of sentience and sapience within that august body.
“Sentience is defined in the Cambridge English Dictionary as ‘the quality of being able to experience feelings.’ According to Antonio Damasio’s ‘Fundamental Feelings’ journal article (Nature, October 2001), sentience is a minimalistic way of defining consciousness . ...
“Accepting that sentience can vary individually within and between species, it is surely incumbent upon any civilized, humane society to acknowledge the existential reality of animal sentience — a quality of all sensate life forms that was once denied to members of our own species, captured and sold into slavery.
“While some of the peers voiced opposition from various perspectives — fearing anthropomorphism, increased bureaucracy and personnel costs and even the moral foundation of society — simply acknowledging animal sentience will help move society toward seeking humane alternatives, such as artificial fishing lures rather than live worms and minnows on hooks. And, as Lord Benyon stated, ‘We owe a duty of care to the animal kingdom.’
“Expert committees debating and defining degrees of sentience in different species are a poor substitute for promoting compassionate regard for all sentient life.”
Dear Dr. Fox: As a member of many international rescue groups, I have deep concerns about a statement in a recent column of yours. You wrote:
“I do worry about foreign diseases arriving with dogs from far-off places; not all organizations have adequate procedures for quarantining, monitoring and vaccinating the animals prior to importing them. Also, without concerted spay/neuter and anti-rabies vaccination programs worldwide, the ‘dog problem’ of overpopulation will continue unabated.”
Is the AKC in your back pocket, too? — G.K., Palm Springs, California
Dear G.K.: I am not the only veterinarian to express concern about dogs being brought to Canada and the U.S. and bringing in heartworm and other diseases.
For example: My wife and I adopted a dog from Alabama (brought north by the Animal Humane Society of Minnesota) who was released to us, after we paid over $400, still testing positive for and shedding whipworm, hookworm and giardia. If I had not had fecal tests redone, she could have infected other dogs, as well as people, at our local dog park.