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In the public eye
Animal welfare: Profession should be actively involved in the debate, AAEP keynote presenter says


What makes welfare issues even more convoluted is the divergent opinions that exist about what is appropriate care.

"Our views on welfare are based on our life experiences, whether it was on a farm or a ranch or a town or what part of the country you come from. Based on those life experiences we have totally different perceptions of what good animal welfare is," he explains.

"We have a public that is two to three generations off of the family farm. Most people don't know how animals are raised. Yet, the public is very interested in animals."

Take horses for example. They are iconic figures in our culture—from racing to classic Western films, he says. "The American public loves horses even if they have never touched a horse. Because of that, the public has very strong opinions on how they should be treated, even though they don't really understand good horse care."

And the debate even extends inside the veterinary community.

"My wife is a veterinarian. I was raised on a farm in Missouri, and she was raised in a medium-sized town in Oklahoma," Lenz says. "Our horses spent their lives in the pasture, and her horses spent their lives stalled. Some of our views on welfare are totally different. She thinks horses need to be in the stall every night, and I think they would be just fine out in the pasture. My point is that even in our profession we are going to have a lot of divergent opinions."

At the same time, this country is wrestling with a severe unwanted horse problem-another issue Lenz has been close too.

Currently, there are an estimated 100,000 unwanted horses in the United States. According to a recent survey from the University of California-Davis, there are some 326 registered non-profit equine rescue facilities in the United States. The maximum capacity is about 13,400 for each facility, which is well below the numbers of unwanted horses.

The Unwanted Horse Coalition contends the current facilities need more funding and there needs to be more rescue/adoption/rehabilitation facilities created to manage the numbers.

"Members of the general public are not sitting at the meetings, but they are reacting to what they hear, which is often wrong. My advise is that we need to look at these welfare issues as an opportunity to interact and find common ground. To accomplish it, we are going to have to communicate with lots of different people," he adds.

"I think the average American is probably a moderate animal-rights person. They want to do the right thing, but they don't know exactly what that means. If we don't start communicating with these people and start talking about the issues, we are going to loose our place at the table." More importantly, Lenz says that veterinarians are by far the most qualified to add a credible voice to these issues.


Source: DVM360 MAGAZINE,
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