Animal Rights And Animal Welfare – Do You Know The Difference?

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Well, I’m often not afraid to take on the tough subjects and this is certainly one of them.  I think most of us that get along from day to day have little concept of the differences between ‘animal rights’ and ‘animal welfare.’  If you’re like me you grew up naturally assuming that most people would treat their animals with loving kindness and care.  That groups like this are even deemed necessary wouldn’t have crossed my mind.

But we all have to grow up and leave fantasyland at some point in time.  As I became more involved in horse ownership, puppymill dogs, rescue groups, and ferrel dog packs I butted heads with both points of view. It became evident that I needed to find out the differences and similarities of both.  My knee jerk reaction was to simply agree that animal rights is a good thing.  But when you dig deeper into the subject there are some very elementary differences between rights and welfare that, as a person who has companion animals, are difficult to swallow.

Let’s consider the actual definition of each:

Animal Rights

To end all human “exploitation” of animals –
this includes, but is not limited to, raising 
and slaughtering of livestock for human or
animal consumption, eating meat, hunting, 
using animals for any medical or veterinary 
research, zoos (regardless of how well
managed), circuses, rodeos, horseshows, 
dog shows, animals performing in TV 
commercials, shows or movies (regardless 
of how well treated any of the above are), 
guide-dogs for the blind, police dogs, search
& rescue dogs, and the practice of owning pets.

Animal Welfare

To prevent suffering and cruelty to animals.  And to 
provide care and good homes for pets in need.  This 
often includes, but is not limited to, the funding and 
running of animal shelters (to provide a sanctuary for 
abandoned, abused, homeless, or unwanted pets, and
 to place them in good homes where possible, provide 
painless euthanasia for those that cannot be adopted, 
and to educate the public about the need for
 spaying/neutering their pets to prevent more surplus 
animals ending up in shelters), enforcement of 
anti-cruelty statutes (where their authority permits),
initiating, lobbying for, and monitoring enforcement 
of legislation to ensure more humane standards of 
care for livestock, laboratory animals, performing
 animals, and pets.

 When you actually take the time to read the differences between the two it becomes clearly evident that these are very disparate opinions and both bring up many issues that people have been fighting to change in our overall view of animals and their rights in this world.  I highlighted the end of the Animal Rights definition for a reason.  Most of us reading this column have companion animals.  What would our lives be without them?  But more significantly if pets/companion animals were no longer allowed what would that do to entire species of animals?  How can anyone endorse animal rights if they proport to advocate the entire annihilation of species?  More than that, it’s well documented that animals and humans form a very special bond that is loving for both.  Why should this be deemed wrong or illegal?

To quote one of the national directors of PETA:


“Pet ownership is an absolutely 
abysmal situation brought 
about by human manipulation.” 
— Ingrid Newkirk, national director, 
People for the Ethical Treatment of 
Animals  (PeTA), Just Like Us? 
Toward a Nation of Animal Rights”
(symposium), Harper’s, August 1988, 
p. 50.


What are the other fundamental differences between these two groups?  Is there anyplace in-between the two philosophies that we can navigate?  Must we be one or the other?  And what are the actions taken by these groups that either endear people to them or drive them away?  And how does the gigantic animal products industry in this nation play a part?  Stay tuned for part two – where we talk about the differences between companion animals and livestock, the treatment of both, the inhumanity of man, the craziness that is out there and just how we find our way through this quagmire.  I’m certain there will be people on both sides of this issue that speak out!

56 thoughts on “Animal Rights And Animal Welfare – Do You Know The Difference?”

  1. What is increasingly frequent and very very disturbing is that animal welfare advocates are being disrespected and marginalized with accusations lumping them with the more hard-core animal rights groups such as PETA. People in rescues, for example, are facing taunting on the internet and in person by those who consider animals to be without any need for decent food, water, shelter and medical treatment. Unfortunately law enforcement and other governmental authorities will act disrespectful while maybe not verbally specifically accusing someone of being a PETA type but they will still not work to uphold the few laws that do advocate for animal welfare. Increasingly, our country seems hopelessly divided between those who deeply love and care for/about animals and those who reject that caring utterly and as a means of dismissing the issue just label them as part of radical groups not to be taken seriously by the majority. I’m old enough to remember the 60’s and 70’s, the same thing happened when people organized for racial equality and when they organized anti-war protests. When critical mass is reached, the issues tip over into the mainstream, so the moral of the story is each one of us needs to be very strongly pro-active on the animal WELFARE front as I believe most of us who visit are on this page already – the more radical types don’t generally come here. Every one of us who cares about animal welfare needs to speak up and speak out every single day, and never miss a single opportunity to educate and discuss, save and rescue, wherever possible.

    • Amen, Jenifer and thank you for your story Susan. I look forward to reading your future segments. I look forward to partnering – joining forces with those who speak for the voiceless.

    • Amen, Jennifer. And the disrespect of which you speak is in evidence in comments here, below.

      Like you, I am sick and tired of being accused of being “radical”, “activist”, “emotional”, “brainwashed”, and similar by people who claim to be “for animal welfare”, yet who NEVER lift a finger to help protect the animals whose welfare they claim to care about.

  2. Hmmmmm…. about that last part of Animal Rights … who made that “definition” ? I believe that livestock were put here by a higher power, God, if I may say … to help man with his work, and transportation… but that doesn’t mean that they have to be mistreated … I believe that dogs were “domesticated” from their wild ancestors, to be just that … COMPANION animals. They need human AND animal interaction to remain a social creature …. again, they are not to be mistreated in ANY way, shape or form. I believe that Animal Welfare and Animal Rights can coexist peacefully, right next to each other …..

  3. I knew about how PETA feels about companion animals and how it thinks we enslave them by owning them. I didn’t know they felt it also included police dogs and guide dogs. I think their radical way of thinking alienates moderate people and their stunts of throwing blood on fur coat wearers, being naked at protests and so on makes them seem like loonies. And I pay no attention to them. Period.

    • What I don’t understand is how people .that love animals, like I assume the above commenter does…. can dismiss the unbelievable GOOD that PETA has done for animals. Even though I DEARLY love my companion animals I see how their unlucky brethren ARE used and abused and sadistically tortured by ‘owners’ every single day. Thus in a perfect world, I agree that humans would have no power over other sentient beings. Maybe it is because humans are SO immensely flawed, or perhaps it is the power itself over helplessness that is the corrupting power that we see in so many horrendous cases of animal abuse. Many cases, where most of us reading this would be outraged, shocked and sickened, are passed off by others as simply ‘dominion’ over animals that is ‘God given’ – in their minds – which makes OUR shock and anger equally shocking and angering TO them. Thus PETA’s stance that animals are better off without humans is not only understandable.. in a Utopia… but probably completely true. IF a virus wipes out humanity on the EARTH, and the animal world is untouched, the species and diversity on this planet would go back to how God – to use their own justification against them – intended it BEFORE humans, for whatever reason, decided animals were OURS to BE used and abused for our own gain. Setting all that aside? PETA is and has been THE most EFFECTIVE organization which took on the thankless job of shining the light on cruelty and horrors hiding in the darkest of places, where none of us have to SEE and maybe don’t WANT to see. Their very brave and unbelievably dedicated volunteers who live and work in those dark places for extended periods, putting their own safety and yes, their own lives at risk for no gain to themselves but ONLY to shine the light where no one else has dared to direct it. How many of YOU, who dare to sneer and complain and ridicule PETA, would dare to live and work and personally bear witness to the horrors that their video cameras expose to the world. They do this NOT for the sake of the animals that they cannot help and have to WATCH suffer, but for the sake of all the others that WILL suffer in the future without their intervention. But for their courage and perseverance and dedication to do whatever it takes to illuminate those dark places and to expose the dark soulless people that perpetrate violence on innocents when they feel they are ‘hidden’ from disapproving eyes, the violence and sadistic acts will continue against generation after generation of helpless victims. I applaud those volunteers; I pray for those volunteers; and yes, I donate to their organization because they do so much that I only wish I COULD do… for the animals’ sake.

      • Thank you, Nanci, for so eloquently demonstrating the fallacy of stereotypes. As you say, this is not a perfect world, and humans are not perfect. In a perfect world, there would be no need to protect animals, because humans would already be doing right by them. I couldn’t agree with you more.

  4. Thank you Susan for such a great post! Just having the two definitions next to each other will clear up most of the confusion, I bet. People assume that as animal lovers, we are animal rights’ activists – it sounds nice. I am not. I am a tiny bit obsessed with animal welfare though 🙂

  5. What many people don’t realize is that animal rights groups like PETA, in many cases, actually have done real and considerable harm to animals. Like “liberating” typhus-infected rats from a research lab — rats that were bred for research and had lived their lives with food, water, and shelter provided to them and were therefore ill-equipped to live in the wild. And that’s just one of many examples.

    Ultimately, the animal rights folks have a political agenda and no real interest in doing what’s best for animals.

    • Exactly!!! PETA eutanizes over 90% of the animlas it takes in. I live very near their main headquarters and because of this I am subject to hear more horror stories about them than the general public does! They don’t care for animals at all, instead they are people haters. They want to see the end to all animal ownership, period, that is their main agenda. Saving animals is a front that they hide behind. They use this to pull at the publics heartstrings and to take their money, which in turn makes them very powerful.
      For those that don’t believe, there was an investigation done after reports came in about their high euthanasia record. When the officials went to PETA’s site and found a very large commercial sized freezer full of the dead bodies of dogs and cats, they asked for an explaination of why there were so many. The response was that all of the animals were beyond being helped so had to be destroyed. The officials had a very hard time swallowing this as most of the bodies were that of young dogs and kittens! They wanted to know how the young lives of so many puppies and kittens were beyond being able to be helped? PETA also wanted all of Michael Vicks dogs to be destroyed, PETA wanted them all and wanted to end their suffering, they said they were beyond being able to be helped. PETA wouldn’t even give these dogs a chance, thank goodness someone saw fit to get these dogs into the right hands and that was determined NOT to be PETA! Well, last time I checked only 2 of those dogs lost their lives, one was due to extreme injuries and the other was too aggressive, ALL of the others have found thier way into loving homes or are in breed related rescues and are doing just fine. And one of the worst stories that happened in this area was that PETA sent a couple of their workers to a shelter to retrieve some dogs. This interview was on TV! They went to the shelter director and told him that they would help to place some of the dogs into homes, since this shelter had high numbers of unwanted pets. The shelter director, at that time, was thankful for the assistance and let them have 7 dogs, the bodies of those 7 dogs were found very shortly after, dead and dumped in a dumpster. PETA admitted doing this in court and was not the least bit upset, nor were they apologetic. In fact the only thing they apologized about was not doing the job good enough to avoid being caught! And, believe me, there are many more stories that happen with this group that the rest of the country just doesn’t ever get to hear about. How about the one where PETA was supposed to have a video of dogs being used for the fur industry. Peta showed this video, it was of a dog being held by it’s tail with it’s head being bashed into the concrete over and over again. The fur industry cannot give any kind of tranquilizer to the dogs that are to have thier hides stripped because the drugs will cause the hair to fall out and alter the hide. So, these dogs are brutally murdered, some are alive when their hides are stripped. There was a question as to how PETA was able to get this video and after much research, it was found that PETA did this themselves to this poor dog. This way they had a video, they could use it to show how bad this trade is and again they could pull at the heartstrings of the public and pull the money out of their wallets! This is one sick organization people, if you support them then you are supporting animal abuse in it’s most severe form! Which makes you an accomplice!
      ANYONE who believes in PETA is either a member of this radical group or has their head buried so deeply in the sand………….well, ignorance is NO excuse!

  6. Hi Susan,

    Is there a connection between PETA and Wayne Pacelle, President of the HSUS? It seems to me that there is some manipulation going on…I heard Wayne Pacelle does not even own an animal (dog), no…not even a rescue.

    Also, what percentage of donations actually go towards the welfare of animals in need, not just promoting “animal rights”?


  7. Yep, couldn’t have said it better. I have known for a long time what PETA is all about and it disgusts me. Their thinking is so wrong headed it’s not funny. It makes those of us that actually CARE about animals look like the lunatics they are. As was said – we all get lumped together. They wanted all the Vick dogs euthanized because in their eyes they weren’t worth it. The money could have been spend on animals that could actually be adopted (which is actually against what they preach, isn’t it??). Well, not only have several been adopted, at least one is a certified therapy dog! (but then that’s against what they preach too, isn’t it? OY.) PETA needs to go away!

    I have always loved animals and as a child hated seeing any animal treated badly. I rescued a guinea pig from a kid we knew who thought it was a riot to scare the bejeebus out of the poor thing and watch it jump and squeal. We took in many abandoned cats over the years including one thrown from a window.

    As an adult, I became involved in animal welfare a few years ago when the Port Authority at JFK airport where I work suddenly decided the cats that were very well cared for in our parking lot and others throughout the airport were suddenly a threat to aviation, after being there for decades! To me it was just an excuse to “clean up” the airport. They made it sound like cats were running wild on the runways and attracting birds there as well. The former PA head gave us permission to set up shelters and do TNR at our lot. They were well cared for and bothered no one. We were also miles from the runways. As for food attracting the birds, well if it was, it was AWAY from the runways and hell, it was gone before the birds could get to it anyway. We never saw more that a few sparrows and an occasional pigeon. How about the fact that the airport is build on MARSHLAND that is the natural habitat of a hundred species of creatures, including who knows how many birds???

    Well, they came in and in two days at our lot rounded up as many as they could, despite the uproar by animal rescue groups, and left. They rounded up cats all through the airport. They threatened to take our Port ID’s if we continued to feed and took away all the shelters and such we had set up. I gave them a double middle finger salute and continued to feed, but also one by one trapped and relocated the ones that were left. Two I brought home and love very much. The others were too feral and were relocated to a colony where they’re doing great.

    I also became the self appointed, unofficial animal advocate at work. I speak for those that have no voice. I carry tie straps with me and whenever I see a kennel that is not properly secured, I fix it and try to educate the owner and agent about the importance of it. Airlines have gotten a terrible reputation for losing animals and I try to do my part to educate everyone on the importance of taking care of the animals while in the airline’s control and for the owner to make sure that the kennel they provide is safe and secure. Latches are VERY easy to pop open, which is why tie straps are so important. No tie straps? Tape that sucker up! Nothing is more devastating than losing a beloved pet.

    So, animal activist? NO. Animal welfare advocate? Hell yeah!


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