Wrong to Build a Veterinary Hospital?

11th September 2009

News that the University of Glasgow has opened a new small animal hospital – at the expense of £15 million – has awoken the old debate about whether money spent on animals betokens a lack of priorities.

Invited by the BBC to respond to this loaded question: “Is it right to have these facilities for animals while humans face waiting lists?” – I try to put the issue in some perspective:

Humans are a selfish species – we breed and domesticate millions of animals for our own purposes of companionship and control, and then we complain if “too much” money is spent on their medical treatment. It doesn’t seem too much to have one state of the art veterinary centre for animals serving the whole of the UK.

All modern medical treatment is expensive. £15m is a lot of money, but it pales in comparison with the annual NHS budget, which will reach £110bn by 2010.

The widespread assumption that all companion animals live in luxury is without foundation. Some animals are over-indulged, but RSPCA records of cruelty to domestic animals are at an all-time high.

We abandon, neglect, maltreat, and euthanise (for our own convenience) hundreds of thousands every year. Our use of companion animals comes at a high cost to them in terms of their welfare and premature death.

It only seems reasonable that we should pay something back for all their love and devotion. We need to bear in mind that these creatures wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for us.

We make money out of breeding them (often in sub-standard conditions), selling them, and then discard them when they are surplus to our requirements.

We make them emotionally dependent upon us by separating them from their own families and most of their kin. By creating and exploiting their dependence on us, we incur considerable moral obligations.

And one obligation especially: to look after them properly and to care for them when they are ill.

Human beings in their arrogance think they are the only species of value in the world, so I am asked to respond to this loaded question: “Is it right to have these facilities for animals while humans face waiting lists?” instead of asking the really important question, which is: “Why are humans so slow to recognize their responsibilities to the very animals they exploit for science, sport, farming and – not least of all – for companionship?”

We could equally ask this loaded question: “Is it right to spend an annual NHS budget of £110bn on humans when other sentient species, equally capable of suffering pain, fear, distress, anxiety, terror – domestic animals which we have brought into being and to whom we have a duty of care – are only given a tiny fraction of the medical care they require?”

In fact, all suffering beings, human or animal, deserve our care.

To view the full exchange on the BBC website see here.

Andrew Linzey