Embracing Change in the Veterinary Profession

January 10, 2011

By Zarah Hedge, DVM

The veterinary profession as a whole is not known for being outspoken. Often, when questions of animal welfare are posed, many veterinarians prefer to remain impartial or silent. Some may be concerned about causing conflicts with clients and others may be afraid of losing business. The phrase “no comment” is frequently offered when veterinarians are asked about animal welfare issues, particularly when the topic is controversial.

However, as public views regarding animals change, our profession must also change. From a medical perspective, we've gone through some remarkable changes over the years—veterinarians now provide state-of-the-art care for our patients, equivalent to that provided in human medicine. However, when it comes to the welfare of animals, we seem to be lagging behind. As animal caretakers, it makes perfect sense that we play an active role not only in the health, but in the overall well-being of our patients. Fortunately, over the past decade, our profession seems to be taking steps in the right direction by becoming more proactive in the animal welfare movement.

Standing up, speaking out

In recent years, we have seen some big changes in legislation proposed and passed to improve animal welfare, and veterinarians have played crucial roles in those efforts. In the November 2008, California citizens voted to bring about a huge victory for farm animals with the passage of Proposition 2, the Standards for Confining Farm Animals. More than 700 veterinarians, 150 California veterinary students and 90 veterinary hospitals publicly endorsed the measure, as did the California Veterinary Medical Association. More recently, more than 150 veterinarians and veterinary clinics stepped forward to endorse and help pass Proposition B—the Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act—in Missouri. Throughout the country, veterinarians and veterinary organizations, like the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, are taking a stand on political issues impacting the welfare of animals.

While taking political action for animals is important, we can also use our expertise to advocate for the animals we see in our clinics everyday. No matter what our focus is within the profession, we can and should always strive to continue improving the overall welfare of the animals we treat. We will undoubtedly come across opportunities to educate the public about the treatment of animals—an opportunity we should never shy away from. Whether working with livestock or pocket pets, we should always stress the importance of proper animal husbandry, humane treatment and alleviation of pain, stress and suffering. We should work to build strong relationships with our clients in order to feel comfortable talking with them about animal welfare issues.

We can also volunteer our time to help animals in need. We lead busy lives, but we should take time to volunteer when we can. Whether it’s spaying and neutering animals at a local shelter or feral cat organization, or providing free veterinary care to animals of homeless and low income individuals, there are myriad ways we can help animals in need.

Zarah Hedge, DVM
Zarah Hedge, DVM

As veterinarians, we are part of a greatly respected and revered profession. The public views us as highly compassionate and trustworthy individuals, and looks to us to be leaders on animal welfare issues. We need to accept and honor this responsibility by taking a stance and speaking out for the voiceless—our patients, the animals. After all, we are one of the strongest voices for them. So what are we waiting for?

Dr. Hedge graduated from Western University of Health Sciences in 2009 and is currently a first year shelter medicine resident at the Oregon Humane Society, in conjunction with Oregon State University. She is also pursuing a Master's in Public Health and hopes to become involved in international shelter medicine in the future.