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The Role of Emotional Harm in Animal Cruelty

When thinking about animal cruelty, it is the negative experiences that are considered, such as pain or thirst. But they can also relate to the animal’s feelings of fear or panic due to the perception of a threat.

ZAZIE TODD: ‘In the last few years, there have been several convictions of animal cruelty in Canada based on the emotional harm caused to a dog. The recognition that animals’ emotional states can be taken into account in cruelty cases is based on scientific research on animal sentience and updates to models of animal welfare… In the past, approaches to animal welfare were based on the biological state of the animal and were largely focused on preventing negative states…

In contrast, it is now recognized that animals are sentient beings; in other words, they experience things through their senses and can have positive and negative experiences, such as happiness and pain. Research in what’s known as affective neuroscience has investigated the neural pathways in the brain that are linked to emotions in animals. So we know that animals do actually experience both positive and negative emotions, and this is now widely recognized…

When thinking about animal cruelty, it is the negative experiences that are considered. Animals can have negative experiences that relate to their internal states, such as feeling pain or thirst. But negative experiences can also relate to the animal’s perceptions of their situation: for example, feelings of fear or panic due to the perception of a threat.

Examples of neglect of and cruelty to dogs… include drowning, dog fights, shooting, burning, prolonged tethering, being caught in a trap, and lack of veterinary care. Physical harm is not a defining characteristic. The list also includes “exposure to social threats without physical harm,” which applies to “Interactions with humans that involve yelling, shouting, and other forms of intimidation, as may occur during training and restraint; threatening interactions with other dogs”…

The wording of the law is important. In jurisdictions where it refers to suffering (or a similar negative state) as well as pain, then emotional suffering can be considered by the courts… The recognition that animal cruelty can involve emotional as well as physical harm is an important step in protecting animals from abuse’. SOURCE…

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