New Welfare Group Formed for Veterinarians, Students

A new group — the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association (HSVMA) — offers veterinary students and professionals with interest in animal welfare issues with a venue to act, say organizers.

A joint venture between the Humane Society of the United States and Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights (AVAR), the new group will offer volunteer opportunities to students and give practitioners the ability to influence or create public policy, officials said. The combined groups — AVAR and the student segment of HSUS — has the potential to represent about 15,000 people.

Paperwork for the membership group will be signed Feb. 1, 2008, but many of the details — including the issues that will be addressed — will be decided by focus groups that comprise industry members, said Andrew Rowan, PhD, executive vice president of operations at HSUS. 

“We hope that this will be a group of veterinarians who see things in the animal’s favor instead of the industry’s favor,” he added.

Although advocating for animals is part of the veterinary oath, Merry Crimi, DVM, explained that animal welfare issues are oftentimes more complex.

“It’s not just the needs of the animal but the needs related to society in general” that have to be considered, said Crimi, who was chairperson of the AAHA animal welfare committee that addressed feline declaw, devocalization, feral cats, humane euthanasia, and mandatory animal abuse reporting. As a result of the work, which was done during 2002 and 2003, several position statements were written. 

The American Veterinary Medical Association also has a dedicated welfare task force, yet some within the HSVMA say that veterinarians should be more active and influential in issues that affect animal welfare. Professionals involved with HSVMA envision state veterinary advisory boards and a national speaker’s bureau that would heighten awareness of welfare issues for pets and farm animals. 

That type of welfare advocacy starts at the university level, where students should not be asked to harm or kill animals within the context of core curriculum, said Paula Kislak, DVM, AVAR president. “We should not be breaking animal bones in order to set them.” Instead, she added, “We should be going into the community to find animals in need of medical intervention.”

One half of the U.S. veterinary medical colleges have eliminated the harmful or fatal use of animals and Kislak wants to see 100 percent adherence. “The veterinary oath is to relieve pain and suffering yet students are required to cause it,” she said. 

The combination of AVAR, which disappears as a separate entity, and the Rural Animal Veterinary Services arm of HSUS will expand opportunities for doctors who want to develop careers in animal welfare, said Rowan, who started the Center for Animals and Public Policy at Tufts University. 

Though many details have yet to be finalized, Rowan said that HSVMA will form student chapters and provide more volunteer opportunities for practical experience.

“Almost every veterinarian would agree that you get 99 percent of your experience and training the first year on the job,” Kislak said. “As more students get clinical, medical, and surgical experience through RAVS it will produce a more experienced job force, which will be helpful to private practice owners.”

With regards to public policy, Rowan said HSVMA will tackle topics such as the Horse Slaughter Act as well as companion animal issues, such as puppy mills, class B dealers who collect animals and sell them to research facilities, and the importation of pets from overseas. The latter, he said, has become “something of an international business…and we hope to stop that practice.” 

The protection of parrots is another issue that could be addressed. “Unlike dogs and cats, parrots can live as long as humans and they are not easy pets,” Rowan said. “There are a lot of parrots suffering today that we need to do something about.”