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The real-life Dr Dolittle?


It may seem outlandish to some, but claims by a leading animal welfare researcher that animals can ‘communicate’ directly with their owners ring true for me. 

Professor Ian Duncan says that pets including goldfish and even farm animals can tell their owners if they are happy with their lot. Duncan has devised a system that allows humans to ask animals questions about their happiness and welfare. The scientist who is based at the renowned Guelph University in Canada has already helped bring about changes to the welfare of battery farmed hens and pigs in the 1990s.

Duncan devises tests where the animals are offered a choice and if they make the same choice repeatedly it shows what they want from us. 

He explained: “It used to be thought that animals were ‘dumb’, driven by programmed instincts and responses, but now it is clear they live a much richer life than we ever realised and can remember the past and the future. We can use that knowledge to ask questions about their care and then improve it.”

Quite rightly, Duncan has hit out against the barbaric practices of halal and kosher slaughter of animals; practices which have been condemned as cruel by John Blackwell, President-elect of the British Veterinary Association (BVA.)

Duncan also says that farmed fish like trout and salmon are as sentient as livestock and should be subject to similar welfare rules. “We need to communicate with them to find better ways to care for them,” he says.

Anyone who has ever had an animal in their life knows that they are far from being ‘dumb’. Our pets are sentient and intelligent creatures who can surprise us by their mental acuity. I am sure that my Cavalier King Charles Sophie has gone even further than most humans in perfecting the art of mind control. This remarkable ability comes in extremely useful when I have said a firm ‘no’ to more doggie choc drops…

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