In November 2016, NPC chaired a roundtable discussion on our recent report Animal welfare in Scotland: A guide for funders, commissioned by R S Macdonald Charitable Trust. The event brought together charities and funders who had contributed to the research, as well as other experts in the field. Attendees explored the report’s key findings: the current trends, priority needs, solutions and interventions, and recommendations for the sector’s response.
The debate that ensued at the roundtable revolved primarily around the question of owner education as a means to prevent the abuse of animals. Those in attendance agreed that education is the most important solution in the advancement of animal welfare, including domestic, farm and wild animals in Scotland. Though this is a newer, and more ‘systems change’ approach, it is hard in practice to redirect funding away from rescue into prevention. In part, this is because rescue programmes work directly with an identifiable animal in need, while preventative programmes work instead to reduce that need.
The yearly PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) reports regularly show that around half of the needs of pets aren’t being met. Two extremes were discussed in the roundtable: those owners who treat their pets like ‘furry babies,’ anthropomorphising dogs and cats to the extent that their health is compromised, and those who treat pets badly—their pets might not be registered with the vet and so not receiving health care. Many pets suffer from obesity and dental problems, they are often kept alive longer than they should be and owners can be suspicious of vaccinations. Here the impact of educating children was agreed to be significant, with children as advocates in the home having an impact on the entire family—as well as growing up to be responsible pet owners.
At present, many pets are not registered with vets, and often owners cannot afford the cost of pet insurance or veterinary fees. Reaching this community of perhaps less engaged owners through education was agreed to be a more significant challenge, and attendees discussed the potential for collaboration with the social work profession in meeting the needs of more troubled households. It is important that the individuals giving advice and education on animal welfare are trusted by the owner, and so there is a need to diversify the range of figures delivering education to meet harder to reach communities.
Though pet shops have a huge market and could be a route in to reaching those unregistered with the vet, the online market is a significant problem. One roundtable attendee described the desire for ‘instant gratification’ amongst pet owners; ‘they want to be able to own any sort of animal they desire, and they want to be able to get rid of it when they get bored’. The main risk to education as a solution is the internet, where anyone can buy pets cheap and find false information and advice.
With better education of children and adults, the roundtable attendees agreed that there is the potential to reduce the number of animals suffering abuse in Scotland. Many animal welfare charities in Scotland have large reserves, and there is therefore the potential to invest in innovative education programmes to change the culture of pet owning and the treatment of animals.
Grace Wyld, NPC—Grace works in the Research & consulting team at NPC, helping charities and funders improve, measure and communicate their impact.