Protecting animal welfare: Empowering our next generation

Published on October 06, 2020
AVMA president's column: Dr. Doug Kratt

Animal welfare is a very important issue for us as veterinarians and for me personally. We embrace our role as compassionate stewards for the health and welfare of animals—whether it’s providing care for animals; conducting animal welfare research; providing guidance on housing, nutrition, humane handling, and management; or exercising our responsibility to animals during their final stage of life.

One of the AVMA’s most important responsibilities is to help the next generation of veterinarians make informed decisions that protect and enhance animal welfare. 

The annual AVMA Animal Welfare Assessment Contest (AWJAC) helps us do just that. This event allows participants to assess animal welfare in a variety of settings using science-based methods and reasoning, and it gives them the opportunity to weigh evidence and present sound evaluations and recommendations to others.

Up to 50 AVMA member veterinarians will be able to register as noncompetitive participants.

The competition is organized by a volunteer advisory board and coordinating committee with support from AVMA staff. Participants’ knowledge is tested across a range of species and scenarios, and the contest enhances their awareness and understanding of welfare issues that impact animals used for human purposes. The welfare assessments made by participants and their oral presentation of those assessments are scored by a panel of experts.

Online format means more opportunity

Now in its 20th year, the 2020 contest will be held virtually for the first time ever on November 21-22 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s open to veterinary students, undergraduates, and graduate students, and up to 50 AVMA member veterinarians will be able to register as noncompetitive participants to further their own understanding and practical knowledge of animal welfare. Veterinarians who participate will be eligible to earn 5 hours of CE credit

We believe the virtual format will allow for greater participation by domestic and international students, as well as veterinarians who may not have had an opportunity to attend in the past. This year’s online event will include educational lectures, a poster session, and a virtual version of the contest’s very popular networking reception.

The two species that will be featured in this year’s contest are cheetahs in captivity and domesticated turkeys used in food production. Participants will be asked to assess welfare across multiple aspects of these animals’ lives. These may include transport, housing, health, personnel training, retirement, production, humane endings, and more.

A new addition to this year’s contest will be a virtual poster hall featuring animal welfare research conducted by attendees. 

What do participants do?

Each day of the contest will begin with short educational presentations. One lecture will focus on a new animal welfare residency program offered at North Carolina State University, which was to be the location of this year’s in-person contest before the decision was made to go virtual. 

Students came away from the experience with a heightened awareness of animal welfare science.

There also will be a lecture about diversity, equity, and inclusion in animal welfare education given by Dr. Raphael Malbrue, a clinical laboratory animal veterinarian for The Abigail Wexner Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.

The contest continues to achieve its intended goal. A survey of veterinary students participating in the contest from 2014 through 2017 that was published in the January 15 issue of JAVMA, indicated the students came away from the experience with a heightened awareness of animal welfare science. They also saw the event as an opportunity to expand their communication and critical thinking skills, as well as their professional networks.

Register by October 23

We’re excited that this event continues to draw increased participation every year. It's a great indication of the leadership role veterinarians play—and will continue to play—in protecting and promoting the welfare of animals. 

We know these dedicated future veterinarians and animal scientists work hard to prepare for this contest, and the things they learn and the connections they make will help position them for great success in their future careers.

I encourage you to participate in this unique educational experience. Registration for the Animal Welfare Assessment Contest closes October 23, 2020.

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