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Best friends

Animals have feelings; they're not simply objects for our leisure.

New Zealand's Animal Welfare Bill was amended in early 2015 to acknowledge that animals, like humans, are "sentient" beings – that is, they can experience both positive and negative emotions, including pain and distress. Animal welfare is, therefore, a basic right.

This reflects that views on pets are changing – they are more central to society rather than a frivolous luxury and, increasingly, pets like dogs are considered a member of the human family.

University of Otago Associate Professor Neil Carr (Tourism) is analysing the nature of this changing relationship with domesticated animals, humans and leisure. At its core is that pets are beings with rights, rather than objects.

Carr is keen to encourage conversation on what is now right and wrong, something that's not always clear-cut.

For instance, is racing animals inhumane, as greyhound-racing opponents suggest, when the dogs are well cared for? What would happen to them in an unregulated environment if racing was banned and went “underground”?

Is humanising a pet, such as movie star Paris Hilton's “handbag pooch” acceptable or projecting unfair expectations of human behaviour?

Are dogs treated as an object of leisure time – have you considered its rights in activities such as walking?

What are the rights of other cultures who view dogs differently and use them for hunting, working and, sometimes, even eating?

Carr's recently published book Dogs in the Leisure Experience and his edited book Domestic Animals and Leisure discusses some of these issues.

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