Through A Vet's Eyes - a Q&A with Dr Sean Wensley about his inspiring and compassionate memoir

Through a Vet's Eyes by Dr Sean Wensley, with a foreword by Miranda Krestovnikoff is an inspiring compassionate memoir that offers informed and practical insights into how to reduce animal welfare footprint. This is a book packed with compassion, a thoroughly enlightening read that will arm readers with insights into how to keep and eat animals more responsibly.

We are thrilled to have the opportunity to talk to Dr Sean Wensley and ask him some questions about Through a Vet's Eyes. So, without further ado...

1. What’s the blurb for this book, how do you describe it to people you meet?

Through A Vet’s Eyes is an eye-opening account of our relationship with animals, from the chickens we eat to the pets we keep. It’s a polemic with elements of memoir and nature writing – it takes readers through the years in which I trained to become a vet and shares my first-hand experience of how animals are treated and used for our benefit. It interrogates the different levels of welfare afforded to them and reveals how we, the consumers, can reduce our animal welfare footprint through the choices we make every day.

2. You are an award-winning vet and lifelong naturalist, what prompted you to write this, your debut book?

I wanted to reveal, from a vet’s first-hand experience, how animals are faring under human stewardship; specifically, those being farmed for food, used for sport and companionship, and wild animals impacted by human activity.

This involved describing persisting animal welfare problems, but I also wanted to provide the underpinning evidence of how we know what these problems feel like from the animals’ perspectives. To do that, I give an accessible account of animal welfare science – a relatively new branch of science, that is helping us understand how animals experience the world and what they need and want.

Additionally, I wanted to make the case for why animal welfare is important to consider now – there are many pressing sustainability challenges, but it’s critical that the welfare of sentient animals is incorporated into the global sustainability agenda and isn’t overlooked.

3. The book is about how we can choose a better life for animals, from the chickens we eat to the pets we keep. We are getting it so wrong aren’t we, what are a few things we can do to fix it?

I give examples of steps that we can take, and are being taken, throughout the book, but also give an overview in the final chapter 'The Power of One'. Individual actions include things like looking for certain on-packet logos – conveying animal welfare assurances - when we’re shopping for meat and dairy products, and I promote a ‘less and better’ approach to purchasing these foods. We can make sure that we’re fully informed about how to meet a pet’s welfare needs before acquiring a pet, to give them the best chance of being healthy and happy. We can avoid participating in, or betting on, sporting events using animals if we are concerned about the animals’ welfare. We can vote for politicians and parties who include animal welfare commitments in their manifestos and we can support charities and others who are acting on our concerns. If we are fortunate to have a garden, we can make it wildlife-friendly.

4. The humanisation of our pets is a risk to their welfare; with 60% of UK dogs being overweight or obese. Are we effectively killing them with kindness? What would you say to pet owners out there?

Firstly, that I recognise that very few pet animals are overweight or obese because of deliberate or wilful overfeeding. This is a problem that requires awareness-raising and understanding of what can commonly go wrong with a pet’s diet and exercise. We should be clear about the potential consequences of overweight and obesity – that these conditions predispose, as in people, to certain associated diseases such as diabetes and arthritis; that they reduce an animal’s quality of life; and that they reduce life expectancy. Successful and safe weight loss can be achieved with the help of your local veterinary practice, most of whom offer weight clinics (typically at little or no charge). They will give practical advice and encouragement, tailored to your individual pet and pet type (e.g. cat vs dog). Do seek that help and don’t be afraid to ask about your pet’s weight. Prevention is also really important, so conversations about healthy weight should begin when you are taking your puppy or kitten for vet checks.

5. What’s the most shocking thing you have seen as you have contributed to animal welfare and conservation projects all over the world?

I have seen eye surgery undertaken on a dog without adequate pain relief in the US. I have seen animals being used for research purposes housed in impoverished, stainless steel boxes in the Caribbean. I have seen street dogs with fly strike – having their flesh eaten by maggots – in Goa. The incident I describe in Chapter 10 Hummingbirds and Horses was also shocking – when a male horse-owner punched his foal in the face, then told me “Sometimes you’ve gotta treat your women like that, too”. I use that story to explain the known Link between abuse of animals and abuse of vulnerable people, and the work that is being done to foster effective inter-agency working to tackle that abuse.

6. What do you hope to achieve with this book, and why do people need to read it?

I hope readers will reflect on their own animal welfare footprint and on how the choices and decisions they make impact on the quality of animals’ lives. 

Historically, some people have sought to dismiss or diminish concern for animal welfare by stating it is anthropomorphic – a misplaced and unwarranted (in their view) projection of human feelings on to animals. By explaining how animal welfare science now underpins our intuitive concerns, I hope the book can help achieve a total rejection of any claim that animal welfare concern is based solely on anthropomorphism.

People need to read the book to understand that the health and wellbeing of people, animals and our shared environment are inter-linked, and that our future health and prosperity will depend on treating our fellow sentient animals more humanely and respectfully. That must be central to our ongoing global endeavours to be more sustainable – economically, environmentally and ethically.

7. What books are on your to-be-read pile right now? Which writers inspire you to read and write?

I am looking forward to reading Being a Human by Charles Foster – I very much admire and enjoy his expansive and eccentric style. I enjoy nature writing, by authors such as Tim Dee and Sir John Lister-Kaye, and I have also enjoyed reading books by the late Sir Peter Scott, describing his work in the early days of the conservation movement.

8. Can we expect more books from you?

I would never say never! I enjoy the process of writing about things that I feel passionately about and crafting the words into a form that you are proud of. But, as a debut author, I intend to focus on Through A Vet’s Eyes for now, using it to make the case for treating animals better, for our sake and theirs, and then perhaps explore other ideas in the future.

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