Humans can do much more to help animals in their care thrive, rather than just survive, says animal welfare scientist David Mellor of the Institute of Veterinary, Animal and Biomedical Sciences at the University of Massey in New Zealand.

Mellor is giving a public talk Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Atlantic Veterinary College offering what he calls "a fresh perspective on animal welfare." He wants farmers and companion animal owners to look at their animals to see what improvements they could easily, practically and economically introduce.

'Just one or two things that we can do straight away that may give them more positive experiences.' — David Mellor

Animals' lives can be enhanced by enjoying their food, bonding with other animals, playing, engaging with their young and sexual activity, he said. 

"The focus of thriving is to give them opportunities to have at least some of those experiences in addition to maintaining them simply for survival," Mellor told CBC Radio: Mainstreet's Angela Walker.  

How do we know if our companion animal is thriving? 

"We can look at their behaviour — their behaviour is the main thing that will tell us whether or not they're engaged," he said. "Ever seen a free-range hen that is half-hearted about eating? They're really engaged by pecking and scratching."

No need for alarm

Farmers do sometimes get alarmed when they hear Mellor talk about improving animals' lives, he said.

"They say 'We couldn't do all of this! This is impossible to introduce straight away!'" Mellor said — but he insists that isn't his objective. 

"We have to be practical and pragmatic about this," Mellor said. 

Some farmers have already introduced what Mellor calls "positive opportunities" such as group housing of sows and giving them straw bedding, and larger spaces for hens including colony cages. Variety of tastes, smells and textures in food is another pleasure animals enjoy, he noted. 

"Think even about just one or two things that we can do straight away that may give them more positive experiences," he said.

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story referred to David Mellor as a veterinarian. In fact, he is an animal welfare scientist.
    Oct 20, 2017 6:33 PM AT
With files from CBC Radio: Mainstreet PEI