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Veterinarians Can Help Promote Animal and Human Well-being

"One Welfare in Practice: The Role of the Veterinarian" is an excellent guide.

I'm a big fan of the One Welfare movement that stresses the interconnections between animal welfare, human well-being, and the environment. I learned of One Welfare in Practice: The Role of the Veterinarian edited by Australian veterinarian Tanya Stephens, and she took the time to answer a few questions about her book.1

Marc Bekoff; Why did you take on this project?

Tanya Stephens: I was delighted when Alice Oven approached me to edit this One Welfare book. Alice contacted me not long after I had given a presentation on Land Clearing at the One Welfare Conference held in Sydney at the end of 2019 and asked me to submit a proposal. I’m very grateful that I have had this wonderful opportunity to promote my profession and the important role of veterinarians in the One Welfare agenda.

CRC Press, Taylor & Francis Group, with permission.
Source: CRC Press, Taylor & Francis Group, with permission.

MB: How does the book relate to your background and general areas of interest?

TS: I have always had a keen interest in the environment and wildlife as well as animal welfare and veterinary ethics. I enjoy small animal practice, but also enjoy research and working with groups that depend on collaboration. I believe that being a veterinarian brings with it a responsibility to society at large and the environment and that even individual veterinarians can have a huge impact. The One Welfare agenda is in fact the very essence of veterinary professional ethics. The first priority of the veterinarian is animal welfare, however veterinary professional ethics has at its core a concern for more than just treating an individual animal.

The idea that veterinarians have a concern for more than their patients, but also for humanity goes back to 1761 when the profession was established in Lyon, France.

MB: How did you choose your contributors?

TS: I looked for contributors with similar interests to my own. In particular, I was aiming for contributors who would bring expertise and intellectualism to the topic and take a broad view. The One Health Commission and Vet Sustain were obvious choices. The reviewers of my original proposal to edit the book also had some good suggestions. After that, I was looking for topics with a clear One Welfare agenda that could highlight the role of the veterinarian, and I particularly aimed for topics with a strong environmental dimension.

I chose contributors from diverse areas of interest with appeal to a wide audience. Chapter writers have enthusiastically written about their area of expertise, have highlighted any limitations of the One Welfare approach, and addressed the importance of collaboration. Some chapters include student learning exercises.

I personally know many of the contributors and I might add that not all the contributors are veterinarians and I asked these non-veterinarians to contribute because they possess particular expertise in their areas of interest. Importantly, these contributors highlight the significance of a collaborative approach. As John Webster states in the Foreword, "We must take great care not to assume that we are the prime custodians of One Welfare. We have a great deal to offer but we are not alone."

MB: Who is your intended audience?

TS: Anyone with an interest in the One Welfare topic. Veterinarians, environmentalists, members of the public interested in animal welfare and the environment, veterinary students, animal welfare scientists, regulators, government, ethicists, and others.

MB: What are some of the topics and what are some of your major messages?

TS: My major message is that we live in a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene, in which a great acceleration of human activity has altered our planet, transforming as much as half of the world’s tropical forest into agriculture and human settlements. Around one-third of emerging diseases is a result of these rapid changes in land use, which have led to humans increasingly coming into close contact with animals and their viruses. There has been a rapid decline in ecosystem health associated with increased food production. Add to this climate change, the greatest threat to global health in the 21st century and you have a situation crying out for action. Feeding the world without destroying the planet is a top priority and veterinary input is essential.

The concept of One Welfare recognises the interconnection between animal welfare, human well-being, and the environment, with an emphasis on the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration and solutions. Sustainability and One Welfare are inextricably linked and One Welfare builds on the One Health Initiative.

MB: How does your book differ from others that are concerned with some of the same general topics?

TS: This book is unique in that it is the first book to address the role of the veterinarian in the One Welfare agenda and provides practical advice on how veterinarians can be involved and how they can collaborate with others to promote the One Welfare cause.

MB: Do you feel optimistic that as people learn more about what you’re doing they’ll treat animals with more respect, dignity, and compassion?

Yes, I do. I think that as people learn more about the importance of the inextricable connection between animal welfare, human well-being, and the environment they will look at animals differently. There has been significant growth in concern for animal welfare and the ethical use of animals in society and I can’t see that slowing down. I believe that most people are decent and ethical and one of the reasons I enjoy practice is because I deal every day with lovely pet owners. (I quite like presents of flowers, chocolates, and wine from grateful clients as well.)

Veterinarians have a huge role to play here. We know that to improve animal welfare we need to influence human behaviour and even individual veterinarians can have a big effect. Groups such as the One Health Commission, Vet Sustain, and Vets for Climate Action with larger numbers have the potential to have a greater impact.

I believe that society has developed a greater appreciation of the relationship between animal welfare, human well-being, and the environment because of the Covid 19 pandemic. In fact, it seemed rather fitting to produce a book on One Welfare at this time in history.

References

In conversation with Dr. Tanya Stephens.

Notes

1) Dr. Stephens is a small animal practitioner who established her own practice in Haberfield, Sydney, and very much enjoys practice. As a practitioner she is particularly interested in professional ethics and promoting the use of evidence based veterinary medicine. She is also a wildlife researcher with original research on galactosaemia in kangaroos with a number of publications including one in Nature. Tanya’s interests lie in animal welfare, research, evidence based practice, professional ethics, wildlife, the environment and sustainable agriculture. For more information about Tanya click here.

Bekoff, Marc. One Welfare: Ways to Improve Animal and Human Well-Being.

_____. One Health Stresses Working Together to Heal a Broken Planet.

_____. Why People Should Care About Animal and Human Suffering.

_____. Veterinary Ethics: Dogs Must Get the Very Best Care Possible.

_____. Veterinary Ethics: Life & Death Decisions in the Real World.

_____. Veterinarians Must Know What Dogs Are Thinking and Feeling.

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