Several times every year I am asked, “Who owns the donkeys?”. And every time I answer that, ‘Noone does. They are under the care of the DSC”. As often as not, the questioners will have a somewhat surprised look on their faces because, evidently, the answer was unexpected.
This concept of ownership, of animals as so much property, is prevalent throughout our society. It is embedded in our Criminal Code, Crimes Against Animals Section which, by the way, has undergone woefully few amendments since it was first passed in 1892. We have persisted, in spite of myriad scientific advances with regard to our comprehension of animal consciousness, sensation and emotional intelligence, to have as the basic assumption in our legal code that animals are just so much property. With that comes the assumption that the ‘owner’ has the right to treat that animal as he or she would treat any kind of property. Emotions and responses of feeling are simply not part of the definition of treatment of the ‘object’ involved.
The animal welfare movement recognizes that animals are ‘sentient beings’ and that their conditions of life should be assessed according to the Five Freedoms (Farm Animal Welfare Council 2003):
Freedom from hunger and thirst
Freedom from discomfort
Freedom from pain, injury and disease
Freedom from distress
Freedom to express normal behaviour
The statement of these Five Freedoms marks a significant step along the road to better, more humane animal care. It seems to me, though, that general acceptance of these conditions will come only after it is realized that we are animal care-givers and not animal owners. The concept of ownership should be applicable to cars, sweaters and houses. It has no place being used to describe our relationship with other be-ings. It is a fact of life that the other animals are under human control but this does not mean that, in the process, we should render them without perceptions and feelings.
The concept of “giving or taking care” of another creature brings with it an awesome responsibility, one that demands of us that we bring an awareness at all times of the sentience of the animal involved. In this twenty first century, it is time that we move the ‘ownership’ of animals into the history books where it belongs. We are guardians. We are caregivers.
Sandra Pady, Founder