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Forensic Use of the Five Domains Model for Assessing Suffering in Cases of Animal Cruelty

Animal Welfare and Behaviour Consulting, P.O. Box 72012, Sasamat RPO, Vancouver, BC V6R 4P2, Canada
Animal Welfare Science and Bioethics Centre, School of Veterinary Science, Massey University, Palmerston North 4474, New Zealand
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Animals 2018, 8(7), 101;
Received: 28 May 2018 / Revised: 18 June 2018 / Accepted: 18 June 2018 / Published: 25 June 2018
Courts hearing cases about alleged ill-treatment of animals frequently utilise expert opinions which evaluate the nature and seriousness of reported negative welfare impacts. For several decades the Courts have required statements about such impacts to be supported mainly by physical and/or clinical evidence, usually regarding commentary about animals’ subjective experiences as being scientifically unsupported anthropomorphic speculation. This approach is well aligned with a view of animal welfare developed in the 1980s which emphasised scientifically validated features of “biological functioning” and, at an extreme, rejected any reference to subjective experiences that animals might have. However, subjective experiences, which include emotions, feelings, moods, and motivations, technically known as affects or affective states, became an increasing focus for animal behaviour scientists from the 1990s. This is now known as the “affective state” conceptual framework and it has been strengthened during the last two decades by integrating the findings of animal behaviour scientists and neuroscientists who explored brain processes that generate affective experiences. This provided cogent scientific support both for the existence of specific affects and the use of animals’ behaviour and some physiological responses to identify them. Two outcomes are noteworthy: first, that an animal’s welfare state is now very widely regarded by animal welfare scientists to reflect all of its affects experienced at any particular time, i.e., what the animal is experiencing subjectively; and second, that the extensive scientific understanding of the brain processes underlying affective experiences now convincingly negates spurious accusations of anthropomorphic speculation. These and other matters are considered here. It is concluded that the Courts’ current heavy reliance on physical and/or clinical evidence of ill-treatment should be modified. Instead, Courts should now recognise—as validly based—expert opinions that provide cogent evidence of untoward affective outcomes caused by ill-treatment, supplemented where appropriate by any relevant physical and/or clinical evidence if that is available.
Conceptual frameworks for understanding animal welfare scientifically are widely influential. An early “biological functioning” framework still influences expert opinions prepared for Courts hearing animal cruelty cases, despite deficiencies in it being revealed by the later emergence and wide scientific adoption of an “affective state” framework. According to “biological functioning” precepts, indices of negative welfare states should predominantly be physical and/or clinical and any that refer to animals’ supposed subjective experiences, i.e., their “affective states”, should be excluded. However, “affective state” precepts, which have secure affective neuroscience and aligned animal behaviour science foundations, show that behavioural indices may be utilised to credibly identify negative welfare outcomes in terms of negative subjective experiences, or affects. It is noted that the now very wide scientific acceptance of the “affective state” framework is entirely consistent with the current extensive international recognition that animals of welfare significance are “sentient” beings. A long list of negative affects is discussed and each one is described as a prelude to updating the concept of “suffering” or “distress”, often referred to in animal welfare legislation and prosecutions for alleged ill-treatment of animals. The Five Domains Model for assessing and grading animal welfare compromise is then discussed, highlighting that it incorporates a coherent amalgamation of “biological functioning” and “affective state” precepts into its operational features. That is followed by examples of severe-to-very-severe ill-treatment of dogs. These include inescapable psychological and/or physical abuse or mistreatment, excessively restrictive or otherwise detrimental housing or holding conditions, and/or seriously inadequate provision of the necessities of life, in each case drawing attention to specific affects that such ill-treatment generates. It is concluded that experts should frame their opinions in ways that include negative affective outcomes. Moreover, the cogency of such analyses should be drawn to the attention of the Judiciary when they are deliberating on suffering in animals, thereby providing a basis for them to move from a current heavy reliance on physical and/or clinical indices of cruelty or neglect towards including in their decisions careful evaluations of animals’ negative affective experiences. View Full-Text
Keywords: abuse; cruelty; neglect; ill-treatment; expert opinions; persuasive arguments; sentience; negative affective experiences; suffering; Five Domains Model; canine examples; recommendations abuse; cruelty; neglect; ill-treatment; expert opinions; persuasive arguments; sentience; negative affective experiences; suffering; Five Domains Model; canine examples; recommendations
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Ledger, R.A.; Mellor, D.J. Forensic Use of the Five Domains Model for Assessing Suffering in Cases of Animal Cruelty. Animals 2018, 8, 101.

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