June 3, 2021

We All Know It

Many years ago, when I was a schoolboy, I was taught that there were two fundamental differences between humans and animals: the use of tools and sentience.

Now, of course, we recognize at least three errors in this teaching. Humans are animals, and since the time I was in school, many other species have been observed to use tools. The third error, sentience, has been harder to correct. Powerful interests are vested in not recognizing sentience in non-human species. This recognition would undermine the interests of agriculture, research, entertainment and other industries.

Sentience is commonly defined as the capacity to experience feelings and sensations or the capability to experience suffering, both at physical and psychological levels.

An adult pig has a comparative intelligence to a three-year-old human child. Dolphins have a complex language and can recognize themselves in the mirror, proving self-awareness. Elephants have complex social groups, display empathy and grief, and have an outstanding memory.

Anyone with pets knows that many show signs of forms of empathy and loyalty — perhaps not fully human forms, but something recognizable. Here at the Ottawa Humane Society, we have rolled out a program called Fear Free which aims to reduce fear and stress in the animals in our care, clearly recognizing that the animals can and do experience both.

Recently, the United Kingdom has joined a number of other jurisdictions to recognize that animals are sentient beings in legislation covering both livestock and pets. This recognition has certain positive knock-on effects for animal welfare, such as banning live animal exports.

Let’s face it, animals are sentient. You know it. I know it. The UK government knows it. We all know it. It seems there are only a few hundred people in Canada who don’t seem to know. Unfortunately, they all sit in Parliament and legislatures across the country.

Bruce Roney
President & CEO