DVM Newsmakers: The battle for public support

DVM Newsmakers: The battle for public support

Science should determine policy says AVMA's DeHaven
Feb 01, 2009

SCHAUMBURG, ILL. — Animal welfare ranks as one of the top strategic initiatives for AVMA, for good reason.

Dr. W. Ron DeHaven. Photo by Callie Lipkin
Emotional and oftentimes volatile, animal-welfare problems have been thrust into the public spotlight — from California's Proposition 2 to equine slaughter to last month's denouncement of ear cropping and tail docking for cosmetic purposes.

The issues, according to AVMA's Executive Vice President Dr. W. Ron DeHaven, tug at the heartstrings of the human-animal bond. And every episode — from ex-NFL quarterback Michael Vick's dog-fighting conviction to HSUS's infamous undercover video showing a processing plant prodding a downed cow to slaughter — not only signals problems in the system, but ignites new debate about how to handle animals humanely within our society.

In the middle sits a $28 million organization made up of 75,000 veterinarians in debate over these multi-faceted, complicated welfare problems. Every sector served by veterinary medicine faces animal-welfare challenges, DeHaven explains. Because of it, veterinarians need to push for a seat at the policy table. Though often underfinanced and outnumbered by rivals like the $120 million Humane Society of the United States, there is no profession more qualified to address these problems, DeHaven adds.

Think of it this way: Veterinary medicine sits at an intersection, so he says, and trends within animal welfare, veterinary practices, education and public health are all passing through.

Last month's position against cosmetic ear cropping and tail docking was considered a defining moment for the association. So was California's controversial Prop 2, which was heavily supported by HSUS and ultimately will change longstanding agricultural housing practices in the state. And who can forget the vortex surrounding equine slaughter and a growing unwanted horse problem?

"We need to be willing to take some firm positions on animal-welfare issues," says AVMA's W. Ron DeHaven, DVM, MBA.
"Animal welfare seems to be clear-cut and simple on the surface, but if you start peeling away the layers you can see that these are complex, multi-faceted issues."

AVMA's goal? Take a leadership role in defining problems and finding solutions to animal-welfare problems, DeHaven says. Yet, its guiding principles are focused on the responsible use of animals for food/fiber, work, education and research.

"We start with the premise that it is acceptable to use animals for those purposes. But we want to do so humanely and find ways for continuous improvement. Within that foundation, we need to be willing to take some firm positions on animal-welfare issues."

Growing animal populations

So what is driving this deep-seated interest in animal welfare? It's the human-animal bond. It's shelter organizations teaming with unwanted pets. It's the media. It's campaigns from animal activist and welfare groups challenging longstanding agricultural practices.

"In the big picture, we are seeing a growing population of animals," DeHaven explains. "As developing countries become more developed, demand for animal protein is growing, but so too is the desire to have pets. It's not just a national phenomenon, it's very much a global phenomenon.

"As a society, we really do care about animals. Animal-protection organizations recognize it, and they are taking advantage of the public's interest in animals' well-being. To some extent, they are driving the agenda, especially on production farm animals. That signals to the veterinary profession in general, and the AVMA in particular, that we need to assume a leadership role. We have as much or more trust and credibility with the public than any other profession, and that really speaks to our role and responsibility to be leaders in animal welfare."