AVMA creates Animal Welfare Division

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The AVMA will establish a division dedicated to animal welfare that will monitor the science of animal welfare and assist the Association in proactively addressing developing issues of animal well-being.

The Executive Board also designated animal welfare as one of the AVMA's top five strategic issues for the next one to three years. Economic viability, veterinary manpower, veterinary education, and veterinary services were also designated as strategic priorities. Next, the board will develop goals for each issue.

Establishing an Animal Welfare Division was a centerpiece of Dr. Bonnie V. Beaver's agenda as incoming AVMA president and one of several welfare-related proposals she submitted to the board in November.

Last July in Philadelphia, Dr. Beaver told the AVMA House of Delegates that the public and animal industries expect veterinarians to be the leaders in animal welfare—a role the AVMA has tended to resist. "It's time to get our heads out of the sand," declared Dr. Beaver of College Station, Texas.

An Animal Welfare Division, she explained in July, would devote the necessary resources for the AVMA to be fully engaged in the controversial debate about animals' role in society and how they should be treated (see JAVMA, Sept. 1, 2004).

The Executive Board approved Dr. Beaver's plan allocating up to $346,000 for creating five staff positions in the division, at least two of which will be filled by veterinarians with a broad range of veterinary-related animal welfare expertise. In addition to a division director, there will be an administrative assistant, public relations position, research analyst, and research writer.

During the board's deliberations, it was noted that feedback from AVMA members was overwhelmingly positive about a division dedicated to animal welfare. The Animal Welfare Committee supports the initiative. "The AWC enthusiastically supports Dr. Beaver's recommendation and believes that creating this division is critical to the AVMA's success in addressing related issues," the committee wrote to the board.

The division "sends a message that the AVMA is indeed serious about its commitment to animal welfare by putting a 'face' on it that is readily identifiable," the committee continued. It also "provides a mechanism by which gaps in knowledge can be addressed by individuals whose job it is to do so and whose background facilitates their ability to do so."

The committee noted AWC members and other volunteers have limited time to monitor welfare issues and perform important research. "If the AVMA is to be successful, these limits must be addressed," the committee concluded.

Welfare forum ended 

The board voted to discontinue the annual AVMA Animal Welfare Forum, beginning in 2005. Dr. Beaver recommended the forum's discontinuation, saying that in recent years, the forum had failed to garner enough media attention.

"As the AVMA works to be proactive in areas of animal welfare, the forum may not be the right vehicle to provide the scientific debate on controversial subjects," Dr. Beaver wrote in her recommendation. "The topic selection for the Animal Welfare Forum is becoming too little, too late."

Dr. Beaver noted that a year from topic selection to program presentation is too long to attract media attention. There are more cost- and time-effective ways to draw attention to welfare matters, such as symposiums that can be held where and when needed. By discontinuing the forum, the AVMA will save more than $84,000 in costs related to promotion, publicity, and publishing the proceedings in the JAVMA.

Since the forum will no longer be held, the board approved a separate, related recommendation to begin presenting the AVMA Animal Welfare Award at the annual AVMA convention. 

Awards to be offered

The AVMA will present two annual awards to the media for excellence in veterinary- or animal-related stories. One award will be presented to the broadcast media, the other to print media.

In addition, the Association will present up to three annual Animal Hall of Fame awards.AVMA President Bonnie V. Beaver

In her recommendation, Dr. Beaver explained how animal stories are media favorites, and although they are not always accurate, they often cite veterinarians, or paint veterinarians in a good light. Awarding high quality veterinary- or animal-related stories will encourage additional coverage while increasing the visibility of the AVMA and veterinarians.

Nominations for the media awards are to be made by state and allied organizations, the director of the AVMA Communications Division, and Executive Board members. The Council on Public Relations will select the recipients.

As to the Animal Hall of Fame awards, one would be presented for an animal hero, one for a service animal that performed a heroic feat beyond its training, and another for a uniformed service animal officer for an act of heroism.

Nominations for these awards will be submitted by state and allied organizations, with the Committee on the Human-Animal Bond selecting the recipients.