I spent a couple of days at the American Veterinary Medical Association and American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges Joint International Educational Symposium on Animal Welfare “Swimming with the Tide, Animal Welfare in Veterinary Medical Education and Research." The meeting was held in Lansing, Mich., the home of Michigan State University. Read more about the meeting.

Among the many universities and organizations represented, it was gratifying to see a host of food animal veterinarians such as Jim Brett, Max Irsik, Jan Shearer, Dave Sjeklocha, Art Donovan, Craig Payne and NCBA’s Elizabeth Parker, to name a few.

I asked Jan Shearer, DVM, MS, IowaStateUniversity, what he thought the key messages were that came out of the conference. Shearer said:

I have thought a lot about the conference. I think one of the most important things is that veterinary colleges need to be incorporating more on the specific topic of welfare, welfare concepts and welfare laws/regulations into their curriculums. Of course, some are already, but there are many that have a ways to go. The students interviewed at the conference from Missouri and Kansas sure weren’t bashful bout their training to this point. 

Secondly, veterinary colleges need to incorporate welfare concerns into every course and clinical situation. It can’t stop with the 1st or 2nd year in Ethics Class, but needs to be a part of the discussion whenever students get to the clinics as well. During the final year in clinics, students need to be discussing contemporary issues in animal welfare (both large and small). After all, most of the case loads are so low, there should be ample opportunity to do so.   

Third, while it’s vitally important to learn how to save lives, it is absolutely essential that students learn how to end it. Just talk to any practitioner and ask them to tell you about a euthanasia experience that didn’t go as it should have. These situations can be real nightmares.  It’s my observation that many colleges have nothing in the curriculum for training students in proper methods of euthanasia. Clinicians don’t have captive bolts and/or don’t discuss this topic with their students. I see this as irresponsible knowing that students will be faced with conditions requiring euthanasia on a regular basis.