June 01, 2008


 Committee's purpose revisited

Posted May 15, 2008

The Executive Board in April disapproved contrasting recommendations relating to the mission and future of the AVMA Committee on the Human-Animal Bond.

First the board addressed recommendations from the committee itself calling for changes in its entity description and charge, and for allocation of funds for materials and expenses to meet the proposed new charge.

Since its 1982 formation, the committee has been charged with establishing goals for the profession with regard to teaching, research, and service relating to the health benefits of the human-animal bond. The seven implementing objectives include reviewing and cataloging recent published material, and developing position papers.

Opinions have been mixed as to whether the charge justifies a standing committee. Some believe the Animal Welfare Division, created in 2006, should assume the committee's work. Others question the direction the committee has taken.

Last fall, the committee was directed to evaluate its charge and suggest modifications that would be "more overarching and less task-oriented." After conducting a self-review, the committee submitted its recommendations, but the board did not concur with the revisions and in April disapproved the recommendations.

Later in the meeting, a board member reactivated the dialogue by introducing a recommendation calling for the committee's sunset at the end of the 2009 Association year (July). In his background, Dr. David McCrystle, District X, stated the time frame would allow for committee members to complete current projects and for the Animal Welfare Division to assume the committee's work by the end of 2009 when fully staffed.

Board members exchanged views and gave Emi Eaton (ILL '09), president-elect of the Student AVMA, an opportunity to speak. "Welfare issues are completely intertwined with the human-animal bond," she said as she underscored the importance of SAVMA's own Animal Welfare-Human Animal Bond Committee. "Our human-animal bond committee is what we present to the community." SAVMA also has representatives on the AVMA human-animal bond and welfare committees.

When the board turned to Dr. Gail C. Golab, director of the Animal Welfare Division, for comment, she made the distinction that the Committee on the Human-Animal Bond's niche is the "human end" of the leash, in contrast with the Animal Welfare Committee's focus on the animal end. She said the committee first raised the guardian/owner issue back in 1996 and looked at compensatory values for animals at the same time. Dr. Golab said they also developed guidelines for the use of animals in health care facilities; have been at the forefront of the AVMA's extremely well-regarded efforts on dog bite injury prevention; provided guidance on pet selection and pet loss and grief; and have responded to inquiries regarding benefits and concerns associated with the establishment of pet trusts.

Dr. Golab said the committee is currently looking critically into the relationship between animal abuse and domestic violence to understand what connections actually exist and what connections may be misstated or overstated.

"If you don't have a group looking at human attitudes and attachments to animals and how those are translated into actions, you're not going to get ahead of the curve when it comes to addressing animal welfare. Understanding human-animal relationships is critical to effectively managing animal welfare issues," she concluded.

Given these insights, Dr. Janver Krehbiel, District V, said, "It's not clear to me that we can justify simply sunsetting the committee." Dr. McCrystle agreed, saying that what Dr. Golab related would have constituted a (worthwhile) committee charge.