Vet ethics: guardian dogs

I recently attended the annual AVA conference in Melbourne. In one of the talks, Chris Johnson, a Professor of Wildlife Conservation at the University of Tasmania, discussed the use of so-called guardian dogs to protect livestock on Australian farms. This idea involves a new approach to a longstanding animal welfare and farming problem.

Livestock such as sheep and lambs are sometimes lost to predation from foxes, dingoes and wild dogs. A traditional approach to this problem is to lethally cull potential offenders. Methods of culling include shooting and baiting with poisons. The 1080 poison causes muscle tremors, convulsions and death. Few people would doubt that baits have significant welfare implications.

Yet predation of livestock also has welfare consequences. The mauling of lambs not only harms the lambs but also creates great anxiety for the farmers, both because of concern for their animals and for their own livelihoods. Continue reading Vet ethics: guardian dogs

Sneak preview: Testing times to be a vet.

Walton_Chris_MedRes_H&S_coatoff-1Veterinarians are among the highest trained, most skilled professionals across Australia. Their work demands a high level of training, and a commitment to improving the health of animals. While the public is well aware of the vital work carried out by veterinarians every day, the profession currently faces an uphill battle to to be recognised and rewarded as highly educated professionals.

With the increasing role of large corporate entities and investors, the workplace in Australia’s $3 billion veterinarian industry looks much different than it did only 10 years ago. Big players and private equity investors, are changing the face of the sector; and where owner-operator small businesses once dominated, they are being replaced by chains with big market capitalisation. Continue reading Sneak preview: Testing times to be a vet.

Kiwi Post: The Art of Finding Disease

The International Conference on Animal Health Surveillance (ICAHS) comes to New Zealand in early May this year. This is a triennial event, and this is the third such event, so well done to everyone involved in getting us to host it.

Not the least of the roadblocks must have been the huge slab of irony that a conference on animal health surveillance should be hosted by New Zealand. This is like North Korea hosting a conference on democracy, or the Middle East hosting a conference on regional cooperation, or the White House hosting a conference on sanity.

New Zealand has many remarkable facets, but animal disease surveillance is not one of them. This in itself is quite remarkable on two fronts. First, being an island nation, heavily dependent on primary production, we are both largely safe from- and consequently at huge risk of- a devastating exotic disease coming into the country. The chances are low- although they get higher with every passing year and every increase in international travel- but the consequences are high. Continue reading Kiwi Post: The Art of Finding Disease

Vet Ethics: Curly questions around wagging tails

A new book by an American author poses some troubling questions for veterinarians and our profession. The book is called Run, Spot, Run: The Ethics of Keeping Pets (University of Chicago Press). Its author is Jessica Pierce, a bioethicist and writer on animal topics. For example, in Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals, co-written with the famous scientist Mark Bekoff, Pierce challenged us to recognize the existence of genuine moral or ethical behavior in the nonhuman animal kingdom. This is a startling claim, because most of us assume that only human beings are capable of moral behavior. Pierce and Bekoff argued that this assumption is contradicted by scientific evidence about animal capabilities.

The challenges in Run, Spot, Run are of a different sort. Pierce aims to unsettle us – including the veterinary profession – with some difficult assertions and truths about pets and our relations with them. Indeed, she thinks there are some very thorny and deep problems inherent in the contemporary practice of pet keeping. Given that most veterinarians deal with companion animals, these claims are worth being aware of. After all, forming close relations with companion animals is really a very modern, historically late phenomenon. We are just starting to reflect on its meaning and implications. Continue reading Vet Ethics: Curly questions around wagging tails

Vet Ethics: Harambe’s death: zooming in on zoos

The shooting of a 17-year-old male gorilla at the Cincinnati zoo after a child fell into his enclosure provoked a huge international reaction. The reaction was comparable to previous outpourings of anger and sadness following the killing of Cecil the lion by an American trophy hunter, and the killing of Marius the young giraffe by the Copenhagen zoo because he was surplus to breeding requirements and not required for display purposes.
In fact, Harambe’s killing generated a variety of emotions and responses. Obviously, people were upset at the loss of the gorilla’s life. Part of this response may have been bound up with the fact that gorillas are endangered. But another key aspect of the response was that gorillas are highly intelligent and emotional animals. Someone who knew Harambe said that he was always thinking. Animals like Harambe, we were reminded, have unique personalities. His killing was called a tragedy and even likened to homicide by some people. Continue reading Vet Ethics: Harambe’s death: zooming in on zoos