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Researcher talks 'positive knock-on effect' to animal welfare keeping us and our pets happy

Animal professional advocates and scientists are in Auckland for the 2018 Animal Welfare Conference.

Animal Welfare Conference organiser Professor Natalie Waran spoke to TVNZ’s Breakfast this morning about the links between human and animal welfare, and how treating animals well can help improve our lives and the lives of our beloved pets.

Professor Waran says her research in 'one welfare', which focuses on "exploring the links between human and animal welfare", particularly in "parts of the world where we’ve got enormous human welfare concerns and lots of competing human agendas".

She says the idea is about "really trying to emphasise the fact that you’re not just focusing on the animal end of the story, but you're also trying to make the reasons why we need to improve our animal welfare relevant to those people".

"The way that you make things relevant to humans is looking at it through a human lens and saying, 'If you improve things for animals, you will also have a knock-on effect – a positive knock-on effect – from improving the world for humans."

Professor Waran says one example is in developing countries, where you "can see that you have animals that are being kept in quite horrible conditions in many places of the world".

"You also find that you've got humans living alongside those who are dependent upon those animals, [and] dependent on those being productive. But actually, because of the way those animals are being kept, they're stressed, their immune systems are not great, they're more susceptible to disease, have higher welfare problems, and that then means that they don't produce as much food for those humans.

She says while it may appear like a 'chicken or the egg' situation, it also depends on a number of contributing factors which aren't always readily apparent.

"Although we're very familiar with what animal welfare is, in many parts of the world, there isn't even a word for animal welfare.

"There's not a real history or a culture of real care for animals, so you’re trying to make animal welfare relevant to people, and so, yes, you are going to end up with competing human agendas, but you also have to recognise that you provide the evidence, you provide the mechanisms through human behaviour change to show people how they can improve things for animals and why that matters for their welfare."

However, she acknowledges that the shift in thinking can be "very difficult, like boiling an ocean".

"It is a huge effort and lots and lots of different animal welfare charities around the world and in New Zealand - lots of government agencies - spend quite a lot of time trying to work out how to do this.

"I think just saying that people are cruel to animals is really not the story at all. What the truth is is that many people don't know how to improve animal welfare for animals, they don't know why it's important and it's up to us to look at ways that we can change the lens that they're looking through – change their behaviour so that they can see why it's important to improve conditions for animals."

Animal Welfare Conference speaker Professor Natalie Waran spoke to Breakfast about changing our approach to animal welfare to improve the lives of our pets. Source: Breakfast