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Over the past decade I’ve been on the frontline of some interesting animal welfare discussions. I was part of the team that drafted the WVMA’s original five guiding principles for food animal welfare that were adopted in 2008. In December 2013 Mercy for Animals released a video of improper handling of disabled dairy cows from a northeastern Wisconsin dairy farm. In response to that, I made over 20 presentations for the WVMA in 2014 across the Midwest educating producers about humane handling of down and disabled dairy cows. In 2010, the arrival of HSUS at the WVMA’s doorstep inquiring about our support for legislation banning dairy cow tail docking set off a flurry of activity to draft a position on that issue. It was the dairy cow tail docking debate that really opened my eyes to the complexity of engaging in meaningful discussions with farmers and colleagues about animal welfare issues.

At the root of the difficulty engaging in these discussions is the delicacy at which we handle exchanges of our moral consciousness. The Judo-Christian teaching in Genesis that god has given man dominion over all the creatures of the earth establishes a firm ethos for kind care and oversight of animals. In our daily lives the care, management, and treatment of animals fulfills that moral obligation subconsciously. Good animal care becomes one of our core moral bearings.

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in Presidents Message 295
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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.

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in Presidents Message 530
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The AVMA elects its officers at the Annual Convention each summer, with the 2018 election being held this coming July in Denver. Last year, the election for president-elect was just a formality, as Dr. John de Jong ran unopposed. That is not the case this year as there are two well qualified candidates. Dr. John Howe from Minnesota, and Dr. Angela Demaree from Indiana are the two competent candidates.

First, I want to share a bit about the process of AVMA elections. The elections are held by the AVMA’s House of Delegates. Each delegate’s vote is ‘weighted’ with value depending on the number of AVMA members in their state. Large heavily populated states like New York, Texas, and California yield the most clout. When a candidate from one of those states or general areas runs, they have a distinct advantage. This year that is not the case, as both candidates are from our own backyard.

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in Presidents Message 464
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Our winter weather has run the gamut this year. The warm thaw and rain that followed the super cold has created ice everywhere. Great care is needed to navigate our precarious environment safely. Yesterday, our 20 year-old Quarter Horse gelding, Joe, wandered out and found himself stuck in the middle of slick ice. So there he stood, in what seemed to be deep equine contemplation, trying to sort out what to do. Only after a long pause did he creep away with baby steps to better footing.

In veterinary medicine, segments of our profession, can sometimes find themselves in challenging situations. Luckily though, we don’t have to solve the problems alone like Joe did. We have organized ourselves to work collectively for the good of our profession and society. Unintended consequences that arise at the intersections of human endeavor must be resolved in a positive and constructive manner. Organized veterinary medicine, the AVMA and state VMA’s, are our voice in these efforts.

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Growing up on a farm in north central Wisconsin, I had a natural affinity to animals. My first passion was horses; my Dad used draft horses in the woods for making maple syrup. Later I became enamored with cows, and enrolled in 4-H and showed them at the county fair for many years. This innate preference for animals was no doubt a significant factor that contributed to my career choice of a veterinarian.

As a 12-year-old boy, I was amazed at the abilities and insights of our veterinarian as he attended to our animals. I was amazed at his ability to determine the pregnancy status of our cows by rectal examination. Given the challenges of artificial insemination, the rectal examination results were sort of a “report card” so to speak of our efforts. I always eagerly awaited the diagnosis, and when the cow was not pregnant appreciated advice and/or treatment to help achieve that goal. Additionally, I valued his ability to solve problems. From sorting out why a cow was sick and how to make her better, to delivering a “stuck” calf, the veterinarian left the farm in better shape than when he came. While this type of practice is considered “fire engine” practice, it was the norm back then. The preventive health programs that are common today were just being developed at that time. The notion of helping people with their animals appealed to me.

My curiosity in veterinary medicine lead me to seek job shadowing opportunities while I was in high school and college. Our veterinarian graciously allowed me to ride along several times. I learned quickly what a large animal veterinarian’s day was like and decided to pursue that career.

Aside from my affinity to animals, my job shadowing experience ranks as the next most important factor that focused my efforts to become a veterinarian. Recognizing the importance of job shadowing, I have returned the favor to many youths considering veterinary medicine as a career. The majority of those that rode with me while I practiced were high school or undergraduate college students. I always discussed the wide spectrum of opportunities that exists in veterinary medicine with them and enjoyed their conversation.

School organized Career Days are another venue to tell young people about the opportunities in veterinary medicine. My practice associates and I have participated in many of these programs at our local high schools over the years.

At the other end of the spectrum, I’ve had great fun going into kindergarten classes to share some of the things I did as a cow doctor. I always got loud gasps when I showed them a cow aspirin and a hoof nipper, the bovine version of a fingernail clipper. Young children are fascinated with animals, and frequently rank veterinary doctor as what they want to be when they grow up.

I encourage you to embrace the opportunities to nurture young people’s interest in veterinary medicine. We have to plant the seeds that will grow into the next generation of veterinarians.

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Presidents Message

The Challenges of Animal Welfare Discussions

Over the past decade I’ve been on the frontline of some interesting animal welfare discussions. I was part of the team that drafted the WVMA’s original five guiding principles for food animal welfare that were adopted in 2008. In December 2013 Mercy for Animals released a video of improper handling of disabled dairy cows from a northeastern Wisconsin dairy farm. In response to that, I made over 20 presentations for the WVMA in 2014 across the Midwest educating producers about humane handling of down and disabled dairy cows. In 2010, the arrival of HSUS at the WVMA’s doorstep inquiring about our support for legislation banning dairy cow tail docking set off a flurry of activity to draft a position on that issue. It was the dairy cow tail docking debate that really opened my eyes to the complexity of engaging in meaningful discussions with farmers and colleagues about animal welfare issues.

At the root of the difficulty engaging in these discussions is the delicacy at which we handle exchanges of our moral consciousness. The Judo-Christian teaching in Genesis that god has given man dominion over all the creatures of the earth establishes a firm ethos for kind care and oversight of animals. In our daily lives the care, management, and treatment of animals fulfills that moral obligation subconsciously. Good animal care becomes one of our core moral bearings.

This dimension of animal welfare dialogue came to light to me as I was engaging in various conversations in the spring of 2010 with dairy farmer clients about tail docking. In private, one on one conversation, I could sense a bit of unease with farmers when we spoke about the tail docking issue. That March, I was asked to give an update on animal welfare concerns for the local Technical College Farm Class awards dinner which gave me a chance to test the idea of the connection between moral consciousness and animal welfare. I knew at least eighty percent of the farmers in the audience that evening. I had enough experience with the audience that they trusted me, and I was considered part of their “tribe”. We had shared experiences and values. I started my presentation with two questions. First: How many here believe they have a moral/ethical responsibility to provide good, kind, humane care to their animals? Everyone’s hand went up. Second question: How many here believe they fulfill that responsibility? Again, everyone raised his or her hand. This clearly demonstrated the connection of animal care practices to core moral beliefs.

Rarely, if ever, do we discuss core religious beliefs. We respect each other’s decisions, realizing that while we might have slight differences, we are all of good moral character. However, when someone, especially those we don’t have much in common with, questions our management or treatment of animals, it is easy to be insulted. It is not a superficial insult either, rather a deep cutting one because it calls into question our moral under-pinning. Animal welfare discussions can easily pierce the shell of our inner moral core, often eliciting a deep visceral emotional response. As this emotional defense response kicks in, logical thought processes evaporate. Effective listening frequently shuts down.

Therefore, great care needs to be taken when engaging in animal welfare discussions not to offend the other in the conversation. It is very helpful to try to find some areas of agreement before getting into the specifics of the topic at hand.

When morality issues are challenged, it is common to seek affirmation and support from our “tribe”. A common response to criticism of animal care is: “we’ve always done it this way”. Citing precedent is not justification for our questioned care or procedures, rather it is the reason the discussion is occurring. By acknowledging that the questioned practice was once considered an acceptable standard practice, one can gain credibility in the “tribe” and we can open the door to more logical conversations. Making this connection is crucial to moving the conversation forward in a constructive way.

Interestingly, three years later, in 2013, when I repeated the fore mentioned question sequence at an Extension sponsored animal well-being meeting, very few people raised their hands in response to the questions, which initially surprised me. After reflecting on the situation, I realized that very few in the audience knew me. I was a stranger. Rarely do we expose our core beliefs to strangers. It is easy to intimidate others when engaging, especially if they are strangers.

Here are some tips when having discussions about animal welfare. First familiarity is critical; try to establish a “tribal” connection. Sharing experiences and values goes a long way to keep communication going. Be very tactful, and recognize the non-verbal signals you receive and send. Be careful not to elicit an emotional response. Encourage the other person to share their experiences, thoughts and perspective. Listen, listen, and listen. Conversations about animal welfare are best done one on one. Opening minds to new ideas one by one will slowly move the animal welfare needle. Those new ideas and perspectives will slowly spread through the “tribe” in other one on one conversation.

As veterinarians, we have much to offer the conversation. The best opportunity to move animal welfare issues forward is to engage and make a difference.

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Past Presidents Messages

The Challenges of Animal Welfare Discussions
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Never Say Never
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Hard Choices for the 2018 AVMA President-Elect Election
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Solving Problems
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Planting Seeds - Growing Tomorrow's Veterinarians
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Show Lamb Tail Docking - An Animal Welfare Issue
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'Tis the Season to Give!
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Coming Soon! Professional Assistance Program for Wisconsin Veterinary Professionals
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Work-life Balance?
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Make an Impact!
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Essential Opportunity, Essential Lessons
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Animal Welfare; What’s Your Role?
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The Need is Great!
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Politics, Politics, Politics!
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Professional Wellness: Break the Dam!
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One Bite at a Time!
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Be Relevant!
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Conference Board LEI
2016 AVMA Economic Summit
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Is Your World Flat?
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