Animal welfare charity marks 35 years with day of debates

Over 200 delegates from veterinary, animal welfare and academic fields gathered in London on 12 June to take part in a day of discussions on some of the issues impacting animal welfare.

Animal Welfare Foundation’s (AWF) Discussion Forum aimed to pose challenging questions to the veterinary profession to encourage it to re-evaluate current thinking and practice, and to discuss possible solutions to enhance animal welfare for generations to come.

Topics at this year’s event included the role of insurance in impacting pets’ quality of life, human behaviour change to improve animal welfare, and pre-purchase consultations for prospective pet owners.

Former shadow environment minister Angela Smith MP, who co-chairs the government’s All-Party Animal Welfare Group, chaired the morning ‘Big Debate’ session, which examined the role that insurance plays in driving higher client expectations and impacting pets’ quality of life and end of life decisions.

Panellists included Sarah Wolfensohn, professor of animal welfare at the University of Surrey, Stuart Carmichael, professor of veterinary science at University of Surrey, Robin Hargreaves, past British Veterinary Association (BVA) president and vet panel lead at Agria Pet Insurance, and Agria managing director Simon Wheeler.

The Q&A session, chaired by AWF trustee and BVA junior vice president Simon Doherty, looked to social science for exploring ways to improve animal welfare.

Toby Park from the Behavioural Insights Team and professor Tony Barnett from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine spoke about innovative psychological methods that could be harnessed to positively change client as well as vet behaviour.

A practical application of these tools was shared by World Horse Welfare CEO Roly Owers, who discussed his work with the Equine Disease Coalition on an innovative new project to improve equine biosecurity.

The afternoon session, ‘How practice management strategies can benefit animal welfare’, was chaired by James Hutton Institute honorary fellow and former AWF trustee Pete Goddard. PDSA vet Sean Wensley used the charity’s ‘Which Pet?’ consultation framework as an example to explore the idea of dedicated Pre-Purchase Clinics to educate prospective owners before they chose a pet, while Stephanie Writer-Davies looked at how expanding the remit of veterinary practices to include a broader audience could benefit both animal welfare and business.

Addressing the audience, AWF chair of trustees Chris Laurence, said: “What unites all of us here at the conference is our concern for animal welfare. Through the Discussion Forum, we debate difficult issues and explore new ways in which the veterinary profession might use its position and influence for a broader public understanding of animal welfare.

“The human animal relationship is changing, bringing new dynamics to animal welfare and challenging the way the veterinary profession uses the broad range of skills of modern vets and nurses. For vets to become leaders in preventative care means learning new skills and balancing their technical ability with the welfare of their patients.”

BVA president John Fishwick updated the audience on the organisation’s recent campaign successes on Brexit-related animal welfare issues.

He said: “With less than a year to go before Brexit, it is important that we continue to raise awareness around the vital role the veterinary profession plays in upholding animal welfare and to ensure that vets’ voices are heard in new legislation introduced in this area. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to share BVA’s ongoing work at this exceptional conference.”

Following the event, AWF and BVA held a joint reception at the House of Commons, hosted by Neil Parish MP, which offered delegates the opportunity to continue discussing the day’s issues with parliamentarians and policymakers.

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