The British Veterinary Association Animal Welfare Foundation was established in 1983 by a group of veterinary surgeons who wanted to work towards improving animal welfare in their communities. The AWF provides funding for research into improving animal welfare, particularly where the results can be easily translated into practical applications. As well as creating the Coleen Macleod Chair in Animal Welfare at Cambridge University in 1984, the first post of its kind in the world, the AWF has established Animal Welfare Lectureships at three other British universities, and organises regular discussion events for veterinary students in association with the AVS. In its 30th year, the AWF held its annual discussion forum at One Great George Street, in central London, on the 13th May 2013 with a very exciting and mixed programme.
After an introduction to the AWF by its Chair, Tiffany Hemming, the morning session looked at the role of the vet as the guardian of animal welfare, with presentations on the challenges and rewards faced by Named Veterinary Surgeons in ensuring the welfare of laboratory animals; on the next moves in developing food assurance schemes in order to ensure high welfare along with easily interpreted labelling to ensure consumer choice of high welfare products; the role of veterinary surgeons in practice in recognising animal and human abuse and what steps should be taken when these cases are encountered.
I found this last session to be of particular interest, helped by the enthusiasm of Freda Scott-Park for the work of the Links Group and their initiatives to raise awareness about human and animal abuse, as well as the connections between them, amongst all professions who may be able to help.
Following a buffet lunch and a spot of networking, the afternoon session opened with updates on previous Discussion Forum presentations: the successful campaign to ban the trade in wild-caught birds for the pet trade; the ongoing campaign to increase welfare at slaughter, particularly with regard to stunning; improving the welfare of livestock at agricultural shows (another area where significant successes have been achieved in partnership with the Association of Show and Agricultural Organisations); and the attempts to improve the welfare of pedigree dogs bred (especially) for the show ring.
The second half of the afternoon featured a series of role-played scenarios (vet and client ably performed by Rachael Kilroy and Beth Robinson with the patients played by a series of soft toys). Situations presented included the treatment of ownerless animals; potential problems that may arise following the compulsory microchipping of dogs from 2016; treatment and payment options faced by equine owners with no money; responsibilities towards healthy stray cats; and who should make decisions in equine emergencies when the owner is uncontactable. After each dilemma had been introduced, the audience were asked to vote electronically on the key question raised, and then to discuss their answers. The most obvious conclusion from this was that there is no one ‘right’ answer to many of the ethical issues faced by vets in practice.
The Forum closed with conclusions from Tiffany Hemming, after which we adjourned for some more networking before making our way to the House of Commons for a reception hosted by Roger Williams MP. By that point the sun had come out; we had a stunning view of the Thames as we chatted, and caught up with members of the profession whom we hadn’t seen in years. There was even an opportunity to view the House of Commons in action, although my visit was very fleeting since I had to catch the last train home. MPs late at night remind me very much of naughty schoolchildren: since there are very few present, it’s easy to spot the ones who are passing notes, texting (or Tweeting), and playing with their iPads.
All in all, a highly recommended day out, and I hope to attend next year’s Discussion Forum when I should hear how some of this year’s projects have progressed.