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Animal Welfare; What’s Your Role?

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Over the past few weeks the veterinary role in animal welfare has been front and center for me. I recently presided over the day long WVMA sponsored, Animal Welfare Seminar, attended by nearly 125 veterinarians, law enforcement and district attorneys. What's your role in Animal Welfare?

My role in animal welfare was framed in large part as a farm kid growing up in west-central Wisconsin. My view of animal welfare was based in animal husbandry from the agrarian point of reference. Early in my career, as a recent veterinary school graduate practicing in Rock County, I was exposed to numerous instances of animal neglect or abuse. For reasons I don't fully understand, I tended to look the other way; maybe even finding excuses for caretakers responsible for neglected animals.

My animal welfare epiphany occurred in 1995; the Rock County Sheriff's Department requested my assistance at an Avon township farmstead. I arrived on scene late afternoon on one of those clear, windy, absolutely frigid winter days. There were approximately 60 head of cattle; mostly beef breeds of varying ages. Nearly half of the cattle were dead; carcasses frozen solid. The other half were emaciated, nary a stem of hay to be found and a half mile trek across an open field through deep snow to the only source of water available - the nearly completely frozen Sugar River. We were fortunate to have Rock Humane Society volunteer's assistance and within a few hours, the surviving animals were watered and had access to plentiful forage. The surviving animals were confiscated and sold over the following few weeks; the caretaker was found to be suffering from mental disease.

As I write these words, the horrific images vividly race through my mind, the empathy overcoming me, just as it did that cold winter afternoon so long ago. This was my wake-up call. No longer would I look the other way, no longer would I make excuses for the caretakers. I became an advocate for neglected and abused animals. How can we as profession not assume this noble role? I owed this to so many of my clients, tirelessly providing the very best of care to animals in the most extreme of winter weather, they didn't make excuses, they just did it. They didn't eat, they didn't drink, they didn't warm themselves, until the animals under their care were watered, were fed, were sheltered.

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I was recently recognized by the Rock County Sheriff's Department as a Citizen of the Year for my work with the Rock County Sherriff's Department humane officer, Deputy Bambi Stoikes. I was thrilled Deputy Stoikes attended the recent Animal Welfare Seminar with me. She is the one who should receive the recognition; she's on the animal neglect and cruelty front lines every day. Thank you ,Deputy Stoikes and all those in law enforcement serving these roles, your work is so important.

What's your role? Your role is being informed and educated regarding the process to successfully assist law enforcement and humane organizations in relieving animal abuse and neglect. Your role is to be vigilant, your role is to not make excuses, your role is to not look the other way. Err on the side of the animal. Most importantly, have the courage take action on behalf of the helpless. If not us, who? What's your role?

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Presidents Message

Never Say Never

It was Tuesday, November 23, 1982 and I was an intern at the Caine Veterinary Teaching Center in Caldwell, Idaho. The Teaching Center had a faculty of six besides me, and we met after each two-week rotation of senior students from Washington and Oregon State veterinary medical schools to review the students and get updates on state veterinary issues. Among the issues presented by our director, Dr. Stuart Lincoln, was his appreciation for all the cold weather we had just experienced. unbeknownst to me, there was an outbreak of Vesicular Stomatitis in eastern Idaho. Dr. Lincoln was sure we’d be spared in our southwestern corner of the state because mosquitoes, the vectors that transmit the disease, should have died and transmission would stop. That was the conventional wisdom of the day and regulatory veterinarians were reporting that the spread of Vesicular Stomatitis had subsided. Moments later, Delores, one of the Center’s receptionists, quietly slipped into the conference room and handed me a note. The note said one of the dairies we serviced had noticed a few large blisters on the teats of some incoming heifers and they wanted me to come out to take a look. So began the saga of an outbreak of Vesicular Stomatatis, a disease clinically indistinguishable from Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD). Despite the recent twenty-four “vector killing” frosts in Idaho, the event Dr.
Lincoln had just assured us wouldn’t happen… happened!

This turned out to be quite the experience for a young, enthusiastic veterinarian. All of a sudden, I was on the frontline of a new presentation of a disease outbreak. The disease continued to spread within the herd until December 16, despite the fact that there was many more below-freezing days. I observed oral, feet, and teat lesions on the 332 cows that I examined. Nearly two thirds of the cows had lesions, many of them with lesions at multiple sites. Oral lesions were the most common, which resulted in excessive amounts of saliva contamination in the waterers. We were able to isolate the virus from one of the water samples. Animal-to-animal transmission was the means to the spread the virus in this outbreak.

There was a flurry of educational meetings to update practitioners in Idaho about the latest developments with our epizootic of Vesicular Stomatitis. Because I was the primary attending veterinarian of this herd, and had the most experience with the disease, the University of Idaho flew me, with other supporting faculty, to two different locations to meet with practitioners. It was an exciting and memorable time. But there was one “deer in the headlight” moment for me. During one of the question and answer sessions, a practitioner asked e the difference between a Vesicular Stomatitis foot lesion and foot rot. I instantly realized I was in the dubious position of having experienced more Vesicular Stomatitis feet than foot rot. I didn’t have an answer. Thankfully, I was rescued by one of the faculty veterinarians who answered, “foot rot wouldn’t have the vesicle lesions with it.”

This event early in my career came to mind when I noticed the CE event sponsored by the WVMA and the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP): Secure Milk Supply - Planning for the Unimaginable, on June 15 at Glacier Canyon Lodge in Wisconsin Dells.

Secure Milk Supply is a collaborative effort of industry, state, federal and academic representatives funded by USDA-APHIS. This is a new and important program to help mitigate the disruption of food supply and business while still controlling an outbreak of FMD. The voluntary Secure Milk Supply plan is a workable continuity business plan for uninfected farms in a FMD Control Area. One of the components of the plan is an Operation-Specific Enhanced Biosecurity plan, which herd veterinarians will help design, implement and oversee. This is a very important role in which we maintain the responsibility.

I realize it is hard to get excited about low probability events when we are all busy with high probability challenges every day. However, in today’s world with terrorists looking to disrupt our way of life, some sort of deliberate sabotage is a real possibility. The possibility of a FMD outbreak is just as likely as a vector free outbreak of Vesicular Stomatitis was 36 years ago.

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