Animal welfare specialty up for consideration

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The question of veterinarians' role in animal welfare comes up often in discussion. After all, three phrases in the veterinary oath directly relate to animal welfare—protection of animal health, relief of animal suffering, and conservation of animal resources.

Dr. Beaver
Dr. Bonnie V. Beaver

Yet, even among animal health professionals, uncertainty remains on what defines good welfare practices. Most practitioners are not knowledgeable on the multitude of animal welfare topics, making it difficult to dispute mistruths, said Dr. Bonnie V. Beaver, a professor at Texas A&M University's College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, and former AVMA president.

Dr. Beaver addressed the crowed at the Joint International Educational Symposium on Animal Welfare, which was sponsored by the AVMA and Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges. She is heading an organizing committee working on founding the American College of Animal Welfare. The effort has been three years or so in the making. This past fall, the 28-member committee sent a 200-plus-page petition to the AVMA American Board of Veterinary Specialties for consideration of the ACAW's inclusion among its ranks. A decision is expected by February 2011.

The ABVS currently oversees 20 recognized veterinary specialty organizations. Two new organizations are being considered, one of which is animal welfare.

Dr. Beaver said a specialty organization's purpose is to promote advanced competence in specific areas, ensuring a high minimum degree of expertise. It also enhances veterinary service to the public and raises the standard of veterinary education—something she'd like to see for the realm of animal welfare.

"The public expects veterinarians to take the lead," said Dr. Beaver, who is also executive director of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists.

Practitioners are conduits of information to the public, industry, and researchers. Veterinarians who specialize in animal welfare, she noted, would be equipped to tackle ethical issues that become part of the debate and shape public policy.

Not everyone agrees it's solely up to veterinarians to find solutions to animal welfare problems.

Janice Siegford, PhD, is an assistant professor in the Animal Behavior and Welfare Group in the Department of Animal Science at Michigan State University. She said in the future, the development of additional certification and continuing education options will give a broader range of opportunities to veterinarians. She just hopes they won't forget other voices in the animal welfare debate.

"I hope as the veterinary profession moves forward, you don't forget animal scientists' expertise," Dr. Siegford said. "We want to work with you guys to make animal welfare common knowledge and a multidisciplinary effort."

Joy A. Mench, PhD, professor at the University of California-Davis, said the next generation of animal welfare researchers also will play a critical role in deciding how animals in all sectors are viewed, used, treated, housed, and managed in the United States.

"The people in this room who are educators will determine how well those individuals are prepared to take on this responsibility," Dr. Mench said.