National organizations put new emphasis on animal welfare

As animal welfare issues gain momentum worldwide, two of the nation’s top veterinary organizations are taking a leadership role in the field. The American Animal Hospital Association is looking into revising its animal welfare positions, and an American Veterinary Medical Association official has become the first U.S. citizen to be credentialed in animal welfare.

At a recent board meeting, AAHA leadership decided to create an animal welfare task force, headed by board member Rod Jouppi, DVM, of Ontario.

“We’re going to look at the present policies that AAHA has right now, and if they need changing and how,” Jouppi said. “[Animal welfare] has always been a very important part of AAHA, and it is appropriate that the policies that have been established be reviewed periodically.”

The task force will likely present its initial findings at AAHA’s annual conference in Phoenix in March, according to Jouppi.

“Part of AAHA’s mandate is to be able to inform veterinarians of where we think they should be to be on the leading edge of veterinary medicine,” he said. “I think a lot of veterinarians look to AAHA in terms of policies.”

American DVM receives first animal welfare credential

Gail Golab, PhD, DVM, head of the AVMA Animal Welfare Division, traveled to Australia to study with veterinarians from Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong, according to the AVMA. After more than two years of study, she sat for and passed written and oral exams to earn membership-level credential in the Australian College of Veterinary Scientists’ (ACVSc) Animal Welfare Chapter. The ACVSc and the British Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) are the only veterinary organizations in the world to offer animal welfare credentials.

Different from the American specialty board system, the Australian credentialing systems consists of “membership” and “fellowship” levels in the various chapters of the ACVSc. Golab said there is no fellowship level (similar to “specialist”) in the Animal Welfare chapter yet, but one is in the works.
The exam covered a wide range of theories and practical application, Golab said, which made for a challenging curriculum. But the broad scope of the program was a welcome eye-opener for her.

“My perspective was markedly broadened during the process,” she said. “In addition to dealing with multiple species and concerns, I had to consider how countries vary in their philosophies and approach regarding how to best ensure animal welfare and the unique challenges that those countries face.”

Golab’s mentor during her studies was Australian Veterinary Association President Mark Lawrie, BVSc, MACVSc, GAICD, CMAVA. Lawrie said that membership in the ACVSc animal welfare program is becoming more and more relevant with veterinarians.

“We are increasingly seeing the important role that the memberships are playing in Australia in the scientific and political arenas as the College gains notoriety,” Lawrie said. “Increasingly those that play prominent roles in animal welfare are seeing the need to gain a membership to make their understanding of the history and current issues of animal welfare and ethics more complete.”

He praised Golab for taking an active role in the program, and said she brought new perspective to the table.

“Gail presented to us on the situation in the U.S., articulating the rising groundswell of animal welfare activity in the U.S. and the greater activity by the AVMA, as well as talking about some of the more pertinent topics of the moment, e.g. horse slaughter,” Lawrie said.

Golab said the Australians have managed “stakeholder engagement” very well. She said there is disagreement on some animal welfare topics, but mostly people are willing to discuss the issues rather than fight about them. 

“Certainly there’s disagreement, but to date and overall it appears to have been less aggressive than some of what we have seen in the United States, particularly as regards recent issues of contention,” she said. “Animal welfare decisions are informed by science, but they are basically social decisions. If you’re going to successfully solve problems, there has to be a way to have the necessary discussion; you can’t do that if you refuse to sit across the table from those with whom you disagree.”

U.S. specialty next?

Although the United Kingdom and Australia are currently the only countries to offer welfare credentials, Golab said the AVMA is working on creating an animal welfare specialty college in the United States.

“An organizing committee of some very talented colleagues representing diverse aspects of our profession was formed and has been working diligently toward this goal for the last 18 months or so,” Golab said. “Once the requirements for approval by the AVMA’s American Board of Veterinary Specialties have been met, we will be seeking recognition by the ABVS.”