Undoubtedly the major social issues confronting veterinary medicine today revolve around animal welfare—farm animal welfare;
the legal status of animals, including the concept of guardianship; and the efficacy of alternative treatment modalities.
In no area of animal use in society—be it in agriculture, in research, or as companion animals—do animals enjoy the best care
possible, even commensurate with that use. Yes, companion animals are no exception. A moment's reflection on all the healthy
companion animals euthanized in our society or on many clients' ignorance of animal behavior, needs, and nurturing reveals
that this statement is indeed well-founded.
Bernard E. Rollin, PhD
Over the past 30 years, society has experienced a marked increase in concern for animal welfare in all areas of animal use.
All across Western societies, we have witnessed the establishment of laws to protect laboratory animals and to minimize controllable
pain and suffering. Sweden essentially abolished industrialized confinement agriculture in 1988; the European Union has followed
suit. Zoos as prisons—state of the art in my youth—have virtually disappeared. In 2004, more than 2,000 pieces of legislation
were floated in state legislatures in the United States pertaining to animal welfare. The executive director of the American
Quarter Horse Association, the largest equine interest group in the world, informed me in 1998 that the organization's single
largest expense was tracking state and local bills pertaining to equine welfare. Each bill was summarized in a page, and the
resulting book was as thick as the Manhattan phone book! And companies have grown rich by disavowing cosmetic testing done
Organized veterinary medicine in Europe has led in moving animal welfare forward. U.S. organized veterinary medicine has been
less progressive in this area, despite society's clear signals that it expects veterinarians to lead and trusts them to do
so. Laboratory-animal veterinarians working with Animal Care and Use Committees are the heart of U.S. laboratory-animal legislation,
and public faith in these veterinarians is strong.
It is time for U.S. veterinary medicine to shoulder the burden of animal welfare in a consistent and systematic way. The status
of veterinarians in society is high and creates a natural and ideal situation for veterinary leadership in this area. And
surely the least controversial issue of animal welfare arises in the companion-animal area in which—despite large numbers
of people seeing animals as members of the family and despite the important role these animals play in people's lives, eloquently
attested to in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina—much unnecessary suffering and death still occur. The fact that people love
companion animals is no guarantee that these animals receive proper treatment. Veterinary medicine should aggressively address
owner ignorance, breed standards that perpetuate genetic disease, euthanasia of healthy animals, and unnecessary surgeries,
both for the sake of its animal charges and to ensure that veterinary medicine retains its enviable status in the eyes of
Bernard E. Rollin, PhD, is a bioethicist and professor of philosophy, biomedical sciences, and animal sciences at Colorado