Although animal rights and animal welfare are closely related they are not at all the same thing. While it is possible to support both, most people fall into the category of being animal welfare supporters. Animal rights itself is easily confusing because some people are more hard core into animal rights, than others. To make a quick difference, the Humane Society, and SPCA, are animal welfare groups, PETA is an animal rights group (but there are even more extreme animal rights groups than PETA).
Animal welfare is not as extreme as animal rights. Animal welfare groups not only allow for animals to be kept as pets, but they are also of the understanding that animals are used as livestock, for clothing, as laboratory animals, and so on. Animal welfare groups simply want to make sure these animals do not suffer any undue stress.
Animal welfare wants to educate, and have laws, about the care animals receive. For example animals must have food, water, and a certain amount of space. Many times it is the animal welfare groups who push to have living conditions of animals improved. Different animal welfare groups exist world wide but all have a similar agenda and many agree on the Five Freedoms animals should have, these include:
- Freedom from thirst and hunger.
- Freedom from discomfort.
- Freedom from pain, injury, and disease.
- Freedom to express normal behavior.
- Freedom from fear and distress.
It is the job of the animal welfare group to educate the public about cruelty and neglect of pets and how to care for animals better to reduce undue suffering. Animal welfare groups often have animal shelters to keep stray pets off the streets.
Animal welfare allows for keeping pets and livestock, as long as they are well cared for.
Animal welfare groups are not as extreme as animal rights groups, but are often as equally misunderstood. Because animal welfare groups allow pet ownership, and the slaughter of livestock, they are often seen as enemies to the animal rights groups. Because they push for changes in the livestock, and pet industries, they are also often seen as enemies by those who make their money in those industries.
Animal welfare would like to see improvements in the livestock industry, such as banning battery hen cages (some countries have done this). They would like to improve the living conditions of animals in feedlots, and so forth.
Many animal welfare groups are concerned with undue suffering in some entertainment industries, such as the rodeo, and try to educate the public not to support such events. While some animal welfare groups protest such events others groups work with them in order to reduce the chances of accidental injury or suffering to the animals involved. As with animal rights there is sometimes a fine line in regards to what each group believes.
Many animal welfare groups have animal shelters where the public can adopt pets. They work with the public to ensure the pets go to good homes and try to educate the people accordingly. Some animal welfare groups are specific to helping only pets, others help pets and livestock, while only a few focus more on the concerns of wildlife, particularly zoo animals and endangered animals.
In general you should think of animal welfare groups as being advocates for good pet ownership, and fair treatment of animals in the livestock industry.