What's the difference between the animal welfare movement and the animal rights movement?

The animal welfare movement began in the mid-19th century to address the cruelty inflicted on horses in urban areas of the UK and the US .  It's goal was quite limited: to improve the treatment of animals who were being utilized by humans without changing the basic nature of the human-animal relationship.  That relationship was and still is largely based on ownership and exploitation.  The animal welfarists had no problem with that basic relationship, but only with the worst of the cruelties, like whipping, inflicted on animals being exploited for the benefit of humans.  Animal shelters grew out of the animal welfare movement and, given the movement's limited objectives, it is not surprising that shelters routinely engaged, as some still do, in simply killing animals that served no use to humans. 

The animal rights movement started in 1975 with the publication of philosopher Peter Singer's groundbreaking book "Animal Liberation."  Unlike the animal welfare movement, the animal rights movement recognized that there is no way that humans can own and exploit animals without cruelty as the very acts of ownership and exploitation invariably lead to horrific abuses and deny animals the natural lives that their species were intended to lead.  Thus, the animal rights movement seeks nothing less than the complete transformation of our relationship with other species from one based on ownership and exploitation to one based on a guardianship model in which all human relationships with animals must be based on what is in the best interest of the animals, not humans.  The guardianship model for animals is itself based on the guardianship model used for children and it recognized that animals, like children, cannot protect themselves from many harms and need special protections.  Thus, the animal rights movement seeks to create legal protections for animals, not as an end to themselves, which is the goal of animal welfare, but as stepping stones on the way to the total liberation of animals from the ancient model based on ownership and exploitation.

These days, the attitudes and goals of the animal rights movement have had a big influence on the animal welfare movement, but there are still many folks who cling to the old and antiquated idea that simply improving the lives of exploited and abused animals, without ending the exploitation, is progress enough.  Thus, animal welfarists continue to exploit animals for their own benefit while pretending that they really care about the welfare of the animals whom they exploit. 

Fortunately, the animal rights movement's influence in the animal welfare community seems to be growing every year with more and more animal welfare organizations, like the Humane Society of the U.S., adopting animal liberation goals including the most important to our transformation to a more humane human species: vegetarianism.   Thanks to animal rights groups like PETA, Farm Sanctuary and the League for Earth & Animal Protection, we can look forward to the day when the animal welfare movement will be relegated to the dust bin of history, where it belongs, to be replaced by true animal liberation.