Being admitted to the profession of veterinary medicine, I solemnly swear to use my scientific knowledge and skills for the benefit of society through the protection of animal health and welfare, the prevention and relief of animal suffering, the conservation of animal resources, the promotion of public health, and the advancement of medical knowledge. – from the Veterinarian’s Oath
Every fall, new veterinary students at Colorado State University and other colleges across the country recite this solemn pledge as they begin their four-year education. The oath was revised in 2010 to recognize animal welfare — defined as how an animal is coping with the conditions in which it lives — as an integral part of the veterinary profession.
Colorado State now requires that students in the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine Program take an animal welfare class as part of the curriculum. The course was launched in 2017 and is taught by Lily Edwards-Callaway, assistant professor of livestock behavior and welfare in the College of Agricultural Sciences.
As a graduate student at CSU, Edwards-Callaway trained under Professor Temple Grandin, the world-renowned pioneer in improving the handling and welfare of farm animals.
Animal welfare training lacking nationally
Currently, only nine of 30 accredited veterinary schools in the mainland United States have a course solely focused on animal welfare.
CSU is hosting the annual Intercollegiate Animal Welfare Assessment Contest Nov. 16-18, 2018.
A team of undergraduate students, a veterinary team and one graduate student from CSU will compete at the event, which will explore animal welfare as it relates to dairy goats, egg-laying ducks, green iguanas and polo ponies.
The competition is sponsored by the American Veterinary Medical Association, and aims to ensure that tomorrow’s leaders in the animal industries develop strong communication skills and acquire enhanced knowledge of animal welfare.
CSU’s course is modeled after a curriculum created by a planning group working under the American Veterinary Medical Association, said Dr. Melinda Frye, a veterinarian and associate dean for veterinary academic and student affairs in the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
“This welfare educational program for our DVM students will equip our graduates to effectively recognize and manage welfare issues across species, and serve as leaders in promoting animal welfare in their communities,” Frye said.
The United States lags behind Europe and Latin America in efforts to implement welfare education in veterinary schools. Groups including the American Veterinary Medical Association have identified a gap between the goal of preparing students to be advocates for animal welfare and the reality practiced in the profession.
Edwards-Callaway says the concepts taught in the new class can be applied across all species.
“I don’t expect our students to be experts on horses or fish and reptiles, specifically,” she said. “But the class is designed so that students will be comfortable enough to talk about welfare in many types of animals or know where to go to find relevant information. We want our students to be able to engage in welfare conversations in a professional way, since veterinarians are increasingly being asked about animal welfare issues by clients and community members.”
Guest lecturers have included Grandin and Dr. Mark Stetter, dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, and a wildlife veterinarian.
“Animal welfare is an essential concept for our students to learn, since they will go on to work with any type of animal in any setting,” said Stetter.
This semester, DVM students learned about the welfare of animals in research, dairy cattle, and animals raised for food, among other topics.
Kelsey Mooney, a second-year DVM student, said that she has “definitely” found the class to be valuable.
“As a future veterinarian, I find it helpful to consider welfare issues before I am in a situation and have to make a difficult decision,” she explained. “The issues we talk about are rarely black-and-white and it’s beneficial to get a head start on the thought process.”
Mooney said the class has also helped her to see how veterinarians can have a huge impact on how animal welfare continues to be shaped and improved upon in the world.
Edwards-Callaway challenges students by using case studies that require them to analyze the quality of an animal’s habitat and ways to make their lives better.
“Different types of animals certainly require different things,” Edwards-Callaway explained. “Having a nest box is important for a chicken and rooting is important for a pig, but the concepts of welfare are the same. Students are learning to apply animal welfare needs to the specific animal they’re caring for or managing.”
Dr. Kelly Arthur, an associate veterinarian at a hospital in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, who recently graduated from CSU’s DVM program, was instrumental in advocating for the new animal welfare course. As a former coach and member of a team that took first place in the Intercollegiate Animal Welfare Judging/Assessment Contest in November 2016, Arthur evaluated various scenarios for laboratory guinea pigs, sheep, purebred dogs purchased from breeders, and hens.
“To me, evaluating an animal’s welfare is the basis of veterinary medicine,” said Arthur. “I hope to continue to evaluate an animal’s health, in addition to their behavior and enrichment opportunities, as I work with clients to improve their animals’ lives.”
Drew Smith, intern in the Division of External Relations, contributed to this story.