The role of animal welfare in veterinary science education and research

It has been a while. My last blog post was in June. But rather than starting with an apology, I am going to take a page out of a friend’s book and begin with a thank you. Thank you for waiting for this blog post. Let’s start in a positive place together1.

It has been a busy second half of the year. Since June I have presented at three conferences: ISAE congress in Canada; ANZCVS Science Week in Australia; and the NZCAC conference in Auckland.

It has been busy, but fantastic! I have learnt a lot about myself and met many fun and interesting people along the way.

My PhD is progressing. I am in the final stages of data analysis and writing up. It is a little difficult to assess progress. My 3-year doctoral scholarship expires at the end of May and I aim to submit before the money runs out. But I am also allowing myself a little leeway. Stressing about deadlines is not conducive to meeting deadlines.

In the meantime, I have also been involved in animal welfare, behaviour, and ethics (AWBE) lecturing. It is my passion. I enjoy working with tertiary students. Teaching is in my blood. An academic career is the perfect fit for me because I love the combination of research and education. With this in mind, I sat down to read the book ‘How to be an academic’ by Inger Mewburn. In the first chapter she talks about writing a ‘mission statement’ for your career. This got me thinking about my own.

The areas I enjoy most are: animal welfare, behaviour, and ethics. It doesn’t feel like work when I am thrilled to teach students or to conduct research in these areas. So perhaps my mission statement is: ‘AWBE are necessary and important areas in veterinary and animal science education and research. My mission is to grow them to the point that they are integrated realities within these disciplines’. The wording needs work…

I have found my calling, and I am prepared to fight for it.

AWBE are also increasing in importance in veterinary and animal science. An academic career in these areas is not just a passion project for me, but it is also smart.

The World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) released comprehensive Animal Welfare guidelines at the recent world congress in Singapore. That a worldwide veterinary association recognises the need to develop a document promoting it, clearly shows how vital animal welfare is to the veterinary profession.

My main PhD supervisor describes where animal welfare fits so beautifully. She uses The Five Domains Model of animal welfare assessment to show where veterinary and animal science contribute to, and fit within, animal welfare:

Screen Shot 2018-10-20 at 5.21.38 PM.png
Credit: Associate Professor Ngaio Beausoleil

This way of structuring veterinary and animal science as subjects within animal welfare is not only intuitive, but also aligns with the veterinarian’s ‘…special duty to protect animal welfare and alleviate animal suffering’ (VCNZ) and the profession’s role as ‘experts’ in animal welfare.

It is obvious that veterinary science makes up such a large section of the Health Domain. But it also makes up significant portions of other domains, thereby contributing significantly towards Overall Animal Welfare.

However, in the traditional model of veterinary science, animal welfare science occupies just a small portion. This is still largely reflected in current veterinary education and the veterinary profession:

Screen Shot 2018-10-20 at 5.21.48 PM.png
Credit: Associate Professor Ngaio Beausoleil

A holistic, overarching, structure of animal welfare science makes more sense than the limited ‘subject’ view above. How can veterinarians be animal welfare experts without The Five Domains holistic view?

For example, animal nutrition could be taught in the context of animal welfare, rather than animal welfare within animal nutrition. Poor nutrition is a leading cause of animal welfare compromise in production animals, and excessive feed intakes are causing an obesity epidemic in companion animal populations.

Small animal behavioural problems are a leading cause of relinquishment and so-called ‘convenience’ euthanasia. The welfare of these animals would benefit from targeted behavioural interventions with a focus on improved welfare – for both humans and animals.

Even within the Health Domain, the ‘key’ domain for veterinarians, there are issues. As animals are living longer, largely a result of better nutrition and improved preventative health care, veterinarians are forced to deal with diseases of ‘old age’ – hyperthyroidism, kidney disease, and arthritis in older cats are just a few examples. And there are issues associated with end-of-life decisions for these older animals. How do we differentiate between age-related decline and severely compromised welfare? And at what point do we draw the line and say that euthanasia is necessary?

Some of these questions relate to judgement calls, where we need to consider veterinary ethics. Understanding how others think, question, and decide, is vital to relating to them. The caring profession of veterinary science needs to make sure it cares enough to relate to people from a wide range of backgrounds and belief systems.

A solid grounding in animal welfare science, behaviour, and ethics will assist veterinarians and animal scientists in answering these questions and more.2

So yes, AWBE is the way of the future – for the veterinary profession, and for me.

~

1Here is a good explanation of the power of saying “thank you” instead of “sorry” when you do something wrong

2because I am sure there are, as yet undiscovered, questions that will need answering in the future

 

 

Advertisements

Rodeo in New Zealand

When I was about 7 years old and living in Whitianga (Coromandel Peninsula, North Island of New Zealand), my parents took my brother and I to the local rodeo event. It was a big day out for the (then) small town and the surrounding area. There were food stalls, craft markets, and bulls and stallions were being ridden. Teenagers could ride calves and young children could have a go at riding a ‘wild’ sheep. Rodeo events like this have been going on every year for decades. It is just what you do. The area has sheep and beef farms and rodeo is a natural accompaniment. Everyone got into the spirit of the day – fun and laughter followed. The champion stallion rider was venerated.

I rode a sheep that day. My parents (mostly mum – she is from a farming background) convinced me to give it a go. I remember it being fun. But I also remember asking my mum afterwards if she thought the sheep enjoyed it as well. That was the first and last rodeo event we attended.

Rodeo events are most popular in countries or regions with historical ties to rural agriculture. The USA is well-known for its rodeo – particularly in Southern States such as Texas, and the mid-west; ‘cowboy states’. Australia also has a penchant for rodeo.

In New Zealand, rodeo events are held up and down the country during the summer months. These events are advertised as ‘family friendly’ and an entertaining day out. Most are run by the New Zealand Rodeo Cowboys Association (NZRCA), which overseas 35 rodeos annually (Report to Accompany the code of welfare: Rodeos).

So, what is the problem?

Rodeo is unacceptable to a growing number of people. Anti-rodeo Facebook groups (e.g. Anti Rodeo Action NZ and New Zealand Anti-Rodeo Coalition) have a large number of followers. These groups host anti-rodeo demonstrations across New Zealand. Many of those who are opposed to rodeo cite animal welfare grounds – rodeo events are seen as “legalised animal cruelty” (SPCA New Zealand). It has been argued that the events at rodeos are unnecessary displays of ‘archaic’ stockperson skills. This includes: calf roping; horse and/or bull bucking; and steer wrestling.

“Is putting animals in a stressful situation like this justified? If you look at the cost benefit analysis, the benefit is sport for the participants and entertainment for a crowd. I don’t see that putting animals through this kind of fear and stress is justified by the benefits.”

(Virginia Williams, animal welfare consultant vet) [1]

Several groups publicly oppose rodeo events or aspects of them: SPCA New Zealand, the New Zealand Veterinary Association (NZVA), Lions Clubs New Zealand, and The Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand (to name a few).

Researchers from The University of Queensland’s Centre for Animal Welfare and Ethics and School of Agriculture and Food Sciences, along with those from Toulouse University, conducted a study on the effects of calf roping [2]. Their findings conclude that calf roping causes stress to the animals. However, only stress hormones and limited behavioural data were assessed. Detailed behavioural assessments may have been more informative – and potentially indicated extreme negative welfare states experienced by the calves. Interestingly, the study was funded by a rodeo body: the Australian Professional Rodeo Association (APRA).

The other side of rodeo

Other than the obvious entertainment value for people attending the events, and sporting value for the competitors, it could be argued that the animals used would not exist but for rodeo. It is also important to consider the animal’s entire life, not just the time it is performing, or entertaining. When not competing, many of these animals are lavishly fed and allowed to do as they please. If their whole life is ‘better’ in rodeo than it may otherwise be, this may change our assessment [1].

The Code of Welfare for Rodeos

The use of animals for entertainment purposes is ethically divisive. On one side are those who see it as ‘just a bit of fun’ or important to rural agriculture; on the other side are those who maintain that the use of animals for entertainment is abhorrent. Occupying the middle ground are those who support some aspects of rodeo and not others, and those whose issue is not with using animals for entertainment, but with the welfare consequences of this particular entertainment event on the animals involved.

“My contention is that at least some of the rodeo events are unreasonable and unnecessary and cause unreasonable and unnecessary pain and distress.” [1]

Suffice to say, rodeo is a contentious topic. For this reason, the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (NAWAC) received a large number of submissions when conducting their 10-yearly review of the Code of Welfare for Rodeos . The Code has expectations for appropriate treatment of animals used in rodeos and identifies what is inappropriate. NAWAC published a report to accompany The Code, which details the reasoning behind their recommendations and these differences of opinion. It is an interesting read and shows how truly divisive this topic is. I will summarise some of the key issues here:

  • Societal views on the use of animals in rodeos, i.e. is it ethical?
    • Limited relevance to NZ culture, e.g. outdated stockperson skills
    • Not good for NZ’s reputation as animal welfare leader and its ‘clean, green’ image
    • Calf events have been banned in a number of other countries
    • Little economic value to NZ
    • Positive role of rodeo in rural cohesion
  • Stockmanship – how do we assess animal welfare at rodeos?
    • Veterinarian should be present at rodeos – last say in all welfare decisions
    • Animal welfare officer to identify issues and work with veterinarian
  • The use of spurs on bucking animals – it is necessary?
    • Prohibition of spurs called for – their use causes pain to animals
    • Spurs provide a point of contact to remain on bucking animals – removing them would make it difficult for a contestant to remain seated
  • Specific events – calf welfare in rope and tie events
    • This event is believed to be particularly stressful
    • But in the few studies performed (at the date of report), ‘detrimental physiological damage’ was not reported
    • Not all NAWAC members could agree that the event should be discontinued – there was not enough evidence for significant pain and distress
    • The Code has ‘Recommended Best Practice’ to not use calves in rodeo events
  • Children’s events
    • Effect on children exposed to ‘disrespectful’ animal treatment – animal abuse linked to abuse of people
    • Rodeos are family-orientated – children involved as part of family unit
    • Sheep disallowed for this purpose – too small to handle being ridden
  • Health, injury, and disease – should fireworks be used?
    • Add interest to the event
    • Unexpected noise and movement causes fight or flight response in horses and cattle
    • Fireworks, pyrotechnics and gas fired explosions not to be used at rodeos

The Code itself is a longer read (28 pages). It also references the NZ Rodeo Association on page 7:

“The New Zealand Rodeo Association holds a number of training days for new contestants and for those wishing to learn more about rodeo events.”

This makes the reader nervous about the potential for bias and collusion. A legal document has a responsibility to be impartial and exclude vested interests. The Code is seen by some “as a shield to protect a defendant in the face of prosecution”. It may well be less than 10 years before it is updated to reflect ethical concerns.

In summary

Society’s expectations of animal welfare standards are constantly evolving – practices that were once acceptable no longer are or may become unacceptable in the future. Therefore, it is vital that we continue to discuss and debate these issues and respond to public concerns.

References
  1. Flagler, B., Blazing saddles, in VetScript. 2016.
  2. Sinclair, M., et al., Behavioral and Physiological Responses of Calves to Marshalling and Roping in a Simulated Rodeo Event. Animals, 2016. 6(5).

Understanding New Zealand animal welfare legislation: The Animal Welfare Act, Codes of Welfare, and new Regulations

Ngā mihi o te tau hou / Happy New Year! (in te Reo Māori)

This is a post I have been meaning to write for some time. I finally have a moment to sit and reflect on the new(ish) New Zealand Animal Welfare Regulations.

These regulations were proposed in 2015 and many were introduced in 2016 and 2017 – with more to follow in 2018. They are specific to certain species or types of animal, or refer to particular ways we manage animals, e.g. transport regulations.

Background to New Zealand animal welfare legislation

I should probably put some context around these regulations – why do we need them? We already have The Animal Welfare Act 1999 and Codes of Welfare in New Zealand. The Animal Welfare Act is a piece of legislation, whereas the Codes of Welfare are not – this means they are not enforceable as such. I will explain further.

I like to think of The Animal Welfare Act as working to reduce the extreme negative end of the spectrum of animal welfare states. It talks about ‘obligations’, ‘liability’, and that we should ‘attend properly’ to animals, etc. It is a really useful document to refer to when people have done really bad things to or with animals – when there is pain and suffering involved. The Codes of Welfare are at the other end of the spectrum and are ‘Best Practice’ documents. They expand on The Animal Welfare Act by setting minimum standards and recommending guidelines for best practice. They are also more specific. Where The Animal Welfare Act talks about animals in general, The Codes are broken down into specific animals and/or interventions, or things we may do to animals. Examples of Codes include: circuses, dairy cattle, dogs, horses and donkeys, and painful husbandry procedures.

The gap for animal welfare regulations

As we can see, The Act and Codes of Welfare are at the extreme ends of the spectrum. And although Codes do specify minimum standards for animal care, they tend to be used when rebutting complaints, and not as a means of prosecution or enforcement. If an animal cruelty complaint is laid against a person in charge of an animal, then proof of adherence to these minimum standards can be used as a rebuttal of this complaint. In effect, if the basics are provided for an animal, it is hard for anyone to say anything different. In addition, the process of bringing animal carers to prosecution can be difficult and expensive. This, again, only results in extremely bad cases being prosecuted.

This is where The Regulations come in. They essentially use the minimum standards already in place (with minor adjustments) to allow for better enforcement of The Act. To do this they clarify the rules already in place to protect animal welfare. In essence, they specify that if you do this, you will be punished with that. There is less ambiguity surrounding what is required of those caring for, or who are responsible for, animals. The regulations are meant to be an additional tool for animal welfare inspectors, and in most cases do not require evidence of pain and suffering.

What regulations will we have in New Zealand animal welfare law?

In early 2016, the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) sought feedback on 91 animal welfare regulations they had proposed. The broad categories for these regulations were: live animal exports; care of, and conduct towards, animals; and surgical and painful procedures. MPI travelled around the country with ‘roadshows’ publicising the regulations. Attendance was widely encouraged and there was a chance for feedback to be given and questions answered. Official written submissions to MPI totalled 1,400.

It was interesting to attend one of these ‘roadshows’ at Massey University in Palmerston North. There were many interested parties with varied views (for/against) the proposed regulations. A particularly heated discussion was had about the ‘dog tail docking’ regulation. It was clearly of high interest to dog breeders and owners. A short history of tail docking in New Zealand is given in this excellent post. Due to the issues proposed, MPI commissioned an independent review of the science and arguments for and against tail docking. The full report is available here. Essentially, the findings suggest that tail docking of dogs is a surgical procedure of major significance – with the potential to cause considerable pain and distress. The costs outweigh any potential benefits making it an unjustifiable act. A policy was approved in July 2017 to restrict tail docking of dogs. The restrictions mean that it can only be performed by a registered veterinarian, using analgesia, for therapeutic purposes, i.e. in response to a significant injury or disease. Therefore, dogs whose tails are damaged in some way may still have them docked – if a veterinarian believes this is the best therapy. Final approval to create the regulation is still pending at the time of writing.

Other regulations are already in place – particularly those relating to bobby (usually young male) calves and the export of live animals. Four regulations covering the welfare of calves were in place for the spring calving season in 2016 and a further three for 2017 calving, while those covering the export of live animals were confirmed in July 2016.

Examples of important regulations include: the mandatory use of pain relief for disbudding cattle, standards for the transportation of lame animals, that calves must be 4 days of age before being transported off farm, a maximum 12-hour journey time for young calves, young calves being prohibited from being sent cross the Cook Strait by sea (i.e. from North to South Island and vice versa), and the prohibition of killing calves by blunt force trauma to the head – other than in an emergency.

The future for animal welfare regulations

A number of regulations will be progressed in 2018. These broadly relate to: tail docking/castration (horses, sheep, llama and alpaca, and roosters), other surgical procedures in production animals and companion animals (e.g. hot branding, velvetting, cropping of ears in dogs, and Caslick’s procedures in horses), and dentistry.

Of particular interest to veterinarians, the stock transport regulation relating to lame animal’s says that “A person in charge of a lame cattle beast, sheep, deer, pig or goat commits an offence if they permit the animal to be transported”. In contrast to current practice, liability has been placed on suppliers presenting lame animals for transport, rather than transporters. Veterinarians may therefore find themselves being called upon for additional certification of lame animals for transport.

Final thoughts

In conclusion, the Animal Welfare Regulations are promising, and although some did not make the final cut (mostly due to issues with wording and meaning), there are plenty of good regulations being progressed that will improve the welfare of animals in New Zealand.

Beyond the regulations, there is still scope for further reforms in animal welfare legislation. In an earlier post, I wrote about the excellent work Dr Rebecca Ledger is doing using the Five Domains Model for forensic animal behaviour analysis in Canada. This is something we could really embrace in New Zealand. In addition, using animal abuse cases to create ‘links’ to domestic violence could lead to improvements in both animal and human welfare. The Veterinary Council of New Zealand has a guidance document relating to this here.

We still have much to do, but this is a great start!