Animal welfare recognized as veterinary specialty

American College of Animal Welfare readies for first exam
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The recent AVMA Executive Board vote granting the American College of Animal Welfare provisional recognition clears the way for prospective members to become diplomates of the nation’s newest veterinary specialty organization.

The Aug. 1 vote was the culmination of an approximately seven-year journey that in recent months saw the AVMA Board of Governors overturn an AVMA Council on Education decision opposing recognition of the American College of Animal Welfare. For Dr. Bonnie V. Beaver, a member of ACAW’s organizing committee, the AVMA action was a long time coming.

“As with all other disciplines within the veterinary profession, there are multiple levels of expertise, and it’s important for the profession to have individuals who are highly trained in the broad aspects of animal welfare and who understand the related science,” said Dr. Beaver, a professor at the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences and former AVMA president.

ACAW is only the fourth organization in the world that certifies animal welfare specialists. The other entities are in the United Kingdom, Europe, and Australia-New Zealand.

The scientific study of animal welfare has grown exponentially in the past two decades, causing the field to evolve into a distinct discipline within veterinary medicine, according to Dr. Beaver. ACAW diplomates will have received advanced training in all aspects of animal welfare science, including ethics, so they can offer the public, general veterinary practitioners, and other stakeholders accurate information and advice.

American College of Animal Welfare representatives initially submitted a letter of intent to the American Board of Veterinary Specialties in 2006. Three years later, the college submitted a petition for recognition to the ABVS Committee on New Specialties, and the petition was then opened to public comment. In 2011, the committee forwarded the petition and comments to the ABVS for consideration. The ABVS submitted the documents to the COE with a recommendation for recognition for the new specialty organization.

The council conducted an initial review at its March 2011 meeting but postponed a decision pending a review by a specially appointed subcommittee. Following a report by the subcommittee and presentation by ACAW representatives, the council did not recommend provisional recognition. ACAW petitioned the COE for reconsideration. After further review, the COE found insufficient evidence to reverse its decision during a January conference call.

Under the General Appellate Procedures of the AVMA, ACAW appealed to the Board of Governors, which comprises the AVMA president, president-elect, and Executive Board chair. On May 1, the BOG overturned the COE decision, resulting in the council’s recommendation to the Executive Board granting ACAW provisional recognition.

“The Board of Governors felt that the ACAW had met all the requirements for provisional recognition,” said Dr. Ted Cohn, former Executive Board chair and BOG member.

The council would not comment about its objections to the new organization, but Dr. Beaver thinks some council members questioned whether animal welfare qualifies as a specialty practice within veterinary medicine. “It is often difficult to appreciate what you don’t know unless you are exposed to the breadth of the science,” she said.

“When we sent the petition to ABVS, we felt we had not only met but exceeded all the requirements,” Dr. Beaver added. “Many of us on the organizing committee have been involved in other specialties and participated in ABVS, so we had a good understanding of what was required.”

Among the 27 charter diplomates of ACAW are AVMA staff members Drs. Gail Golab and Sheilah Robertson, director and assistant director of the Animal Welfare Division, respectively.

ACAW is preparing to offer its first credentialing examination. The application deadline is Nov. 1, and the test will be given in July 2013. For more information about the American College of Animal Welfare and the credentialing process, go to