Contest raises student awareness of animal welfare issues

Published on September 01, 2016
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Animal Welfare Judging & Assessment ContestKatelyn Sheppard and her University of Florida teammates earned some bragging rights among classmates and colleagues when their team took fourth place out of 12 teams in the Veterinary Division of the 2015 Animal Welfare Judging/Assessment Contest (AWJAC).

A self-described “agriculture advocacy junkie,” Sheppard, a member of the 2018 class at UF CVM, immediately flashed back to her undergraduate days on the horse-judging team when she first heard about the contest. She recruited three of her first-year classmates to form the first-ever UF team to enter the competition, each bringing their own strengths and experiences. Each member had large-animal experience, and the scenarios involving llamas, horses and dairy heifers provided some familiarity.

“We were all over the llama case,” she said.

“It can be surprising”

An elephant scenario, however, was outside their comfort zone. The scenario compared elephants in a zoo versus elephants in a sanctuary, and challenged the students to look at the overall situation and avoid rushing to judgment. “It may look one way at first, but when you evaluate all of the factors involved in the animals’ welfare in each situation, it can be surprising,” Sheppard said. ”You may find that your first gut instincts were wrong.”

The contest teaches students to assess the welfare of animals in a variety of settings using science-based methods and reasoning. Students are given the opportunity to weigh evidence and present sound arguments to justify their evaluations.

Participating in AWJAC not only opens participants’ eyes to the welfare needs of a range of species, but also provides them an opportunity to hone critical analytical thinking skills and oral presentation skills that will help them throughout the rest of their education and their careers. “We were super excited about all of the things we wanted to say in our oral presentation, but the time limit forced us to focus on efficiently communicating what was most important. You can never practice that enough,” Sheppard said.

The contest is held annually with AVMA sponsorship, and the2016 competition will be hosted by The Ohio State University on November 12-13. It will include scenarios involving laboratory guinea pigs, meat sheep, purebred dogs and laying hens. Students should visit the contest website at for the schedule and information on how to enter.

New! Opportunity for AVMA members to participate

This year, for the first time, AVMA members also have the opportunity to take part in the contest. Although the competition historically has been limited to veterinary students, we've set aside llama-medfive spots for AVMA members to participate. The entry fee will be waived for member participants, and the AVMA will cover the cost of travel up to $1,000 for each member participant. If you're interested in participating, please complete the member application form and submit it by October 1. We'll notify you by October 15 if you're selected to participate.

Interested in getting a taste of the animal welfare assessment process? Take the quiz based on the 2015 llama scenario to see how you do. Look for additional quizzes later in the year.


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