History from the eyes of the future

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In celebration of the AVMA’s 150th anniversary and the American Veterinary Medical Foundation’s 50th, 10 veterinary students were awarded scholarships by the AVMF for their reports on the history of the veterinary profession. The students presented their reports at a symposium July 20 during the AVMA Annual Convention in Chicago.

Shira Rubin began her history of feline medicine in America with the horse, the most valuable animal at the turn of the 20th century. The advent of cars forced the veterinary profession to reimagine its focus, she said. Rubin (COR ‘13), now a veterinarian, cited Dr. Susan D. Jones’ book “Valuing Animals: Veterinarians and Their Patients in Modern America” for eloquently capturing the way the profession made the shift toward valuing animals not just for their practical value but also for their emotional worth. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s treatment of their pets as family members and the rise of the animal protection and antivivisection movements contributed to this new view.

The shift in focus was from horses to dogs, rather than cats, which Dr. Rubin hypothesized was, in part, because dogs, like horses, were seen as having functional value as police and hunting dogs, among other roles. Cats were seen as mousers or nuisance animals. The invention of clay litter was instrumental to cats becoming valued pets and was compared to the invention of the light bulb by Dr. Jean Holzworth, one of several veterinarians Dr. Rubin profiled for championing the therapeutic value of cats and their health and welfare. “We still have a very dog-centered curriculum,” Dr. Rubin said, also noting the need for a cat anatomy textbook on par with “Miller’s Anatomy of the Dog.” Moreover, she urged veterinarians to take an active role in helping to shape people’s attitudes toward cats and in improving the quality of life for indoor cats. As an example, she proposed that veterinarians encourage clients to find ways their cats can spend time outdoors without harming wildlife, such as teaching them to be walked on a leash.

For her presentation, Cynthia Wise (WIS ‘15) picked the brains of dairy cattle veterinarians about how they balance animal welfare and production. She also interviewed dairy producers and veterinary students. One question she asked has arisen often in discussions among her classmates: whether they agree with the late Dr. Stanley Curtis’ performance axiom that productivity and other measurable behaviors equate to animal welfare. Some subjects Wise interviewed disagreed with the principle. Some veterinarians pointed to an overemphasis on the economic welfare of clients. Some sources suggested that in the past, welfare has been defined as a focus on health and has been constrained by tradition and poorly defined facilities.

Animal welfare wasn’t traditionally taught in veterinary school, Wise noted, citing a study as recent as 2005 that found fewer than 20 percent of the schools were teaching it. One veterinarian told her that welfare once meant keeping cattle dry and out of drafts, but that a shift toward watching how cattle walk and act could help prevent problems. Another source said the greatest improvements in dairy cattle welfare will come when the marketplace demands them. Wise said the take-away lessons included the need for veterinarians to be more vocal in promoting a culture of animal welfare and the importance of paying attention to details on the farm and not letting things slide.

Rebecca Donnelly (COR ‘16) and David Seader (COR ‘16) interviewed 15 veterinarians for their companion animal medicine history. Pets have moved from the backyard to the kitchen to the bedroom because of innovations such as flea and tick control, they noted. Their historical perspective focused on the development of specialties, veterinary medical breakthroughs, and the one-health movement. They said development of specialties, vaccines, radiography, improved anesthesia methods, and, over the past decade, pain management has elevated companion animal care. Seader said, “In the development of companion animal medicine, remarkable breakthroughs have emerged when veterinarians recognized a need and then capitalized on it.”

Donnelly said, “It is imperative that more women become practice owners to reflect the changing demographics of the profession and that women become more involved in leadership positions within the AVMA.” One of their interview subjects, Dr. Lonnie King, thinks the next 10 years will see new jobs for companion animal practitioners on the “community health care team.” Another, Dr. Kate Hodgson, suggested that “zooeyia” has untapped potential in veterinary medicine, with its focus on the benefits to humans from interacting with animals. Several sources emphasized the need for renewed focus on primary care, especially since the cost of specialty services prevents some pet owners from seeking them. And Elaine Ostrander, PhD, told them that more communication and collaboration between practicing veterinarians and genetics researchers could advance both the human and veterinary medical fields.

See this article for a list of all the winning students.