Can You Hear Me Now? The Conversation

An Intraprofessional Conversation About Animal Welfare

 November 14-15, 2013 in Rosemont, Illinois

 

Can You Hear Me Now? The Conversation

 

         
The AVMA has gradually invested more resources in making veterinarians better scientific advisors and advocates for animal welfare.  In 1981, an Animal Welfare Committee was created. Between 2004 and 2006, animal welfare was identified as a strategic priority for the veterinary profession, animal welfare volunteer governance was revamped, and a Division of Animal Welfare was created.  In 2012, the American College of Animal Welfare earned provisional recognition from the AVMA, clearing the way for veterinarians to earn credentials as specialists in animal welfare.  However, progress in this area has not been easy for the AVMA.  Veterinarians’ varied roles within the profession, including differences in their client base, have led to differences in veterinarians’ approaches toward animal welfare. The complex nature of assessments, deeply held beliefs about what is and what is not appropriate animal use and care, and business demands all contribute to challenges in reaching consensus.
 
On November 14-15, 2013, the AVMA hosted an intraprofessional conversation about animal welfare that was attended by approximately 175 veterinarians representing the diversity of the profession. The goals of the workshop were to have “better informed and more broadly shared conversations about animals’ use and care (that) will encourage and better equip us to fully embrace our role not only as experts in animal health, but as primary protectors of animals’ welfare and advocates for sound public policy at all levels.”
 
During the morning of the first day, lectures were presented by experts in the field to enhance attendees' philosophical and technical knowledge about animal welfare and decision-making.
 
Title
Speaker
Changing attitudes toward animals and their welfare.
James Serpell,
University of Pennsylvania
What does scientific evaluation of an animal’s welfare look like?
Janice Siegford,
Michigan State University
What is sentience and why do we care?
Ian J. H. Duncan, University of Guelph
Welfare in the ethical and social context – from farm to family.
Peter SandØe,
University of Copenhagen
Assuring animals’ good welfare – the roles of laws and markets.
Janice Swanson,
Michigan State University
Providing resources, evaluating outcomes—Making assurance doubly sure.
Joy Mench,
University of California – Davis
 
 
Following the lectures, members of a panel who represented the diversity of services provided by the profession, presented “Challenges for Veterinarians.”
 
Speaker
Topic
Terry Whiting, Manitoba Agriculture and Food
Society’s and veterinarians’ perceptions of food animals
Steven Niemi, Harvard University
The “unfinished business” of laboratory animal medicine: humane endpoints, affective neuroscience for measuring psychological distress, and the “hands off” approach toward animals under experimentation.
Martha Smith-Blackmore, Animal Rescue League of Boston
The issues of shelter medicine: kill/no kill (aka open admission/limited admission); sterilizations in the shelter vs. at private practitioners; feral cats, trap neuter release; breed “profiling”; veterinary care for the underserved;  and convenience euthanasia.
Terry Maple, San Francisco Zoo
Opportunities for enhancement of animals’ welfare in zoos
Thomas Lenz, Zoetis
Issues in equine medicine: soring, unwanted horses, catastrophic breakdowns in racing, seeking uniformity of acceptable drugs used in racing, and the challenges of managing wild and feral horses on government lands in the West. 
 
On the second day of the workshop, attendees were assigned to discussion groups. The groups were comprised to represent a microcosm of the diversity of experiences within the veterinary profession. Group members were provided with information about animals in a specific situation that presented welfare challenges and asked to evaluate two or three proposed solutions.
 
First, a standard assessment method involving three interacting elements was used to scientifically evaluate the animals’ welfare:  1) health and physiological function (Body), 2) affective or psychological state (Mind), and 3) naturalness (Nature). Next, the groups were asked to consider their scientific assessments as part of the mix within a “social filter” that includes consideration of economics, human health and safety, applicable traditions, environmental impact, regulations, and societal/cultural ethics, to arrive at a final recommendation.
 
Practical challenges considered included elephants in captivity, humane endpoints in a mouse model of multiple sclerosis, selecting appropriate housing for layer hens, and management strategies for freely roaming cats and feral horses.  Experts provided their assessments and recommendations following presentations by representatives of the discussion groups. 
 
Facilitators were present to encourage attendees to be a part of The Conversation, and to help discussion groups progress through their assessments of the scenarios.  While much common ground was identified, there were also positions that were not accepted and met with counterarguments.  
 
Based on comments from attendees, the dialogue and interaction that occurred at this workshop opened more than a few minds to the complexity of the veterinarian’s role in animal welfare.
 
To develop a strategy that builds upon experiences from the workshop, a similarly diverse Working Group has been selected from among attendees. They are currently exploring ideas to expand “The Conversation” more broadly within the profession.