Animal Rights Awareness Week is recognized annually during the third week in June. The weeklong campaign was originally developed by In Defense of Animals, an animal welfare organization dedicated to protecting the lives, habitat, and wellbeing of animals worldwide. Unfortunately, the animal rights initiative is often confused with animal welfare. While these two causes sound similar, their missions are different. And, when they misunderstand these causes, pet lovers may accidentally support a program that ultimately aims to restrict—or abolish—pet ownership.

We break down the general differences, so you can make informed decisions while making a positive impact on animal care and protection worldwide. 

What are animal rights?

Animal rights is a collection of philosophical beliefs centered around the idea that animals should live as autonomous beings—or free agents—over their own lives, never used in service for human benefit, or exploited in any way (e.g., research, food, education, entertainment, sport, or as pets). Animal rights advocates aim to protect animals from cruelty, abuse, and neglect by appointing them value and free-will near or equal to that of human beings. This idea is rooted in compassion (i.e., the elimination of animal cruelty and suffering), but is often perceived as extreme, because the philosophy overlooks the human and animal-related safety issues of allowing animals complete free will in all circumstances, and discounts the many centuries-long mutually beneficial partnerships between animals and people.

What is animal welfare?

Animal welfare is a set of practices dedicated to ensuring quality of life for animals in all circumstances, and is based on factual understanding of animals and observation-based knowledge on animal suffering. Unlike animal rights, animal welfare is not opposed to using animals for food, research, education, or entertainment, so long as the animals are treated humanely. Humane care and quality of life are measured using the “five domains,” which include:

  • Nutrition  — Access to clean water and a species-appropriate diet
  • Environment — A safe, comfortable environment that provides the animals with the appropriate temperature, substrate, air, space, noise, and predictability
  • Health — An environment and level of care that reduce or prevent disease, injury, and impairment, and encourage fitness
  • Behavior — Allowing the animal to engage in species-appropriate behavior that informs and engages the senses and natural instincts (e.g., predatory behavior)
  • Mental state — Environmental factors that create a positive, stress-free environment without negative states, such as pain, anxiety, or fear

Animal welfare standards are employed in a number of industries where wild, captive, or domesticated animals are housed or used for various purposes, including:

  • Veterinary care
  • Humane societies and shelters
  • Education and conservation
  • Entertainment
  • Food and farming
  • Research

Why are animal rights controversial?

Animal rights organizations are often called into question for their allocation of donor money and occasional dramatic—often disturbing or dangerous—public displays and protests. While no animal lover disagrees with a desire to end cruelty, suffering, and inhumane living conditions, some animal rights groups also suggest that keeping domestic animals as pets is cruel, restrictive, and unethical. They also consider crating (i.e., a safe and effective training technique that draws on dogs’ instinctive behavior) “imprisonment.” 

How can I help prevent animal cruelty and suffering?

Decisions about animal rights and animal welfare are personal choices, but knowing all the facts is essential. Heart-wrenching fundraising campaigns can make knowing whether an organization is reputable almost impossible—one look at those sad animal eyes and the sorrowful music, and you’re pulling out your credit card.

While we would never discourage supporting an animal-related cause, we want to ensure your actions and efforts reach the animals as you intend. Here are a few practical tips on how to effectively and confidently speak for those who have no voice:

  • Lead by example — Simply providing a high level of care for your pet can help others see a model for responsible pet ownership. By making good choices for your pet’s health and safety (e.g., spaying or neutering, leashing your dog, keeping your cat indoors) you can inspire others to do the same.
  • Shop smart — Replace animal-derived goods with synthetic products. Look for a certified cruelty-free label on health and beauty items—or look up your favorite brands here.  
  • Do your research — If you’re interested in contributing to an animal rights or animal welfare organization—large or small—conduct your own research. Read their mission statement, values, and current and past projects. Check sites such as Humane Watch and Charity Navigator for unbiased information on each group’s use of donor gifts.
  • Eat less meat — Reducing your meat and dairy consumption, or seeking local products made at small family farms, is a great way to push back against factory farming. 
  • Don’t support puppy mills or pet stores — The next time you’re seeking a new furry companion, consider adopting a pet from a shelter or rescue group. If you’re searching for a specific breed, reach out to reputable preservation breeders who are members of their breed’s parent club

As animal lovers, we know you want to make conscientious and impactful decisions about your pets, as well as animals worldwide. Locally speaking, if your beloved companion needs veterinary care, the Columbia Pike Animal Hospital team is ready to help with our 24/7/365 emergency care and full-service general practice. Whether your pet’s issue is large or small, contact us for expert diagnostics and compassionate care.