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Why painting animals is serious welfare issue

Officials from the Donkey Sanctuary Kenya in Meru. [Darlington Manyara, Standard]

Last weekend there was uproar on social media after certain politicians were spotted with painted animals.

The said sheep which was painted in a certain party’s colours, attracted mixed reactions, especially from animal welfare activists.

My friend Dr Kelvin Momanyi of World Animal Protection condemned the act terming it utter animal welfare abuse.

Dr Benson Kibore and Dr Miheso Mulembani of Union of Veterinary Practitioners Kenya issued a press release and reminded Kenyans to be cognisant of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act Cap 360 of the Kenyan laws.

They appealed for quick passage of the Animal Welfare and Protection Bill into law which prescribes stringent penalties for acts that go against animal welfare.

My friend Queerenuse Pacho a vet paraprofessional saw no animal welfare abuse therein being a staunch supporter of the political wing in question. Here is my take on this debate.

Historical Perspectives

This is not the first time we are seeing animals used to advance a political course.

In 2013 civil society activists angered by the ferocious appetite by our parliamentarians to increase their salaries and allowances delivered truckloads of pigs painted “Mpigs” and delivered them within Parliament.

Police threw teargas to disperse the crowds and the pigs were left on their own. A debate ensued on whether it was right to pursue a human rights issue while at the same time abusing the animals’ rights.

There is a politician who has consistently advocated for bullfighting. This is against the law. Animal welfare refers to how an animal is coping with the conditions within which it lives.

An animal should be in good health, comfortable, well-nourished and able to express its natural behaviour.

An animal should be treated humanely, through good animal husbandry practices and food animals should be slaughtered humanely.

Animal welfare is a human responsibility that is enshrined in national and global laws. Religion also promotes animal welfare.

Why painting irks animal welfare lobbyists

Most paints contain lead and lead poisoning is a common condition in dogs, cats, cattle and poultry. Animals will generally lick themselves to groom or to ease irritation, a natural behaviour that constitutes animal welfare.

Minimising access to lead-containing products like gasoline, paint, and old car batteries is a preventive measure against lead poisoning.

Painting the whole body of an animal might just provide an ad-lib source of lead and subsequent discomfort since the animal is not in its natural form.

Dangers of lead

When ingested lead is quickly absorbed into soft tissues and bones. It causes damage to blood capillaries and results in internal bleeding and irritation in the digestive system.

Common clinical signs of lead poisoning include excess salivation, constipation followed by diarrhoea, head pressing, twitching of eyelids, muscle tremors, stomach pains, and convulsions.

My humble call is for us to observe animal welfare at all times because just like you and I animals too are sentient beings with emotions.

[Dr Othieno is a veterinary surgeon and currently the head of communications at the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations Kenya. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of FAO but his own]

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