"Tail Shortening” – A Backward Step in Animal Welfare for Political Gain?

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"Tail Shortening” – A Backward Step in Animal Welfare for Political Gain?

“Tail Shortening” – A Backward Step in Animal Welfare for Political Gain?

By Robbie Henderson (AVS Junior Glasgow Rep)

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For many years Scotland has been seen to lead the way in animal welfare, from compulsory microchipping to legislation surrounding welfare at slaughter. However this summer a vote was passed to amend the blanket ban on tail docking within Scotland that would give exemption to spaniels and hunt point retrievers. This would allow for ‘tail shortening’ of these breeds, in accordance with the specified guidelines. This move was not backed by the British Veterinary Association (BVA) with President of the Scottish branch of the organisation, Melissa Donald, speaking out against the decision: “We are appalled that MSPs voted to reverse Scotland’s previously progressive stance on tail docking, especially considering the evidence against this move.” The evidence being referred to is government commissioned research that states: “up to 320 spaniel puppies tails would need to be docked to prevent one tail amputation”. The figures simply do not add up. Why put countless five-day-old puppies through unnecessary suffering to protect this tiny minority?

The answer to this may lie in the realms of politics rather than animal welfare and scientific evidence. An often forgotten side of the Scottish National Party (SNP), the party largely behind the move, is found in areas such as the rural east of Scotland, where many previous Conservative strongholds have recently voted SNP. The SNP therefore has somewhat split loyalties between the left wing, socialist side of their party and the more conservative right wing aspect. It may be claimed that the party is pandering to the landowners and gamekeepers who feel very strongly that their gun dogs should be allowed to have docked tails. Although this issue divided political parties, a large number of SNP and Conservative MSPs voted for the change.

Regarding the procedure itself, when we hear ‘tail docking’ we immediately think of the Boxer or Rottweiler left with no more than a stump. The incidence of working Boxers and Rotties nowadays is few and far between so it seems the case that these stumps are purely an aesthetic preference. In the case of the amendment proposed, what is being discussed is termed ‘tail shortening’ rather than docking, where a maximum of one third of the tail can be removed within the first five days of life by a qualified veterinary surgeon without anaesthetic. The procedure should only be carried out if there is “sufficient evidence” that the dog will be used for work in future. How can a breeder prove within the first five days of life that his/her litter of spaniel puppies will go on to be used for hunting and not live their entire life as a family pet? Chairman of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, Alex Hogg, addresses the misunderstanding of terminology by saying that “It is a quick, preventative procedure protecting the animal over its whole working life, leaving it with an expressive, waggy tail”. His statement is an attempt, rightly or wrongly, to distance the procedure from the public perception of aesthetic tail docking.
 

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I feel it is pertinent to note, that many young new graduate may have never been exposed to the procedure in practice. Therefore it is vital that all vets are given proper guidance on both how and when tail shortening can be carried out. They must not feel pressured into carrying out the shortening of a dog’s tail if they feel ill prepared  or are uncertain on the legality of what they are doing. There is also an issue of moral decision making, which may play a part in individual cases.

 

To conclude, we must hope that in due course clear legislation on this issue is released to allow vets, breeders and potential owners to be on the same page regarding this procedure. Clarification on the “sufficient evidence” required to shorten a puppy’s tail should be paramount. The procedure, when carried out on working dogs, may result in no compromise to welfare. In contrast, when dogs that will never be used for hunting in their lives are subjected to undue suffering we run into serious welfare concerns. We must not be dragged into the legalisation of aesthetic procedures that we have worked so hard to end. How long before a case is made for the legalisation of ear clipping of Doberman Pinchers and Great Danes on “welfare grounds”? Scotland and the United Kingdom as a whole have moved past the endorsement of these barbaric cosmetic practices so we must stand firm on the issue and ensure we do not let protection of welfare slip through the net. Issues as vital as this should be made on the basis of welfare science and compassion, not party loyalty and tradition. Without any published legislation, it is too early to say whether this was the case. Although the amendment may not be a huge bounding leap forward in the welfare of our companions, we must hope that it is not the beginning of the downward spiral for political gain.

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A Jungle Book

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A Jungle Book

A Jungle Book 

By Emily Johnson (Edinburgh)

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Having grown up on David Attenborough, Animal Park and any other vaguely wildlife related programme I could find, the opportunity to experience some Attenborough-esque jungle was never going to pass me by. So upon finding out about Communidad Inti Wara Yassi (CIWY) and their wildlife custody centres in Bolivia where walking ocelots, pumas and jaguars daily through the jungle becomes a daily reality, I jumped at the chance to go. I scraped together every penny within my reach to fly to El Parque Ambue Ari, a promised land for the trafficked wildlife of Bolivia.

After 7 hours spent on a local bus from Santa Cruz with no idea where to get off and a very minimal grasp of Spanish we could only helplessly attempt to seek assistance; we were starting to think we’d missed our stop. Mild panic at the thought of becoming stranded in rural Bolivia late at night with no plan was just about setting in when the bus stopped and a large group boarded. “Gringos!” Someone exclaimed, “Going to Parque?” Relief washed over us as we realised we’d run into other volunteers and now had someone to follow. Arriving late Saturday night we left the bus into darkness, we were quickly found beds – straw matresses - and set up sleeping bags under mosquito nets. We were shown which taps were drinking water, others which were definitely not drinking water and we were shown where the toilet block was – ecological toilets with no flush and separate poop and pee holes. I went to bed, with a sweater as my make shift pillow, disorientated and wondering what I’d managed to get myself into.

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The following morning, as the rest of camp started on their morning feeding tasks we were given the full tour - suddenly in the light of the morning everything was a little less disorientating and starting to seem a little more idyllic. During our introductory talks we learned that the majority of the animals under the care of CIWY are those who have been rescued from black market trades in wildlife. CIWY started its work when the founder, Nena, came across a tourist attraction formed of a chained monkey, smoking for photographs and the amusement of passers-by. She negotiated and the monkey was bought from its ‘owner’ and became the first and last animal CIWY ever paid for – exchanging money for the animals provides a continuing trade in them, regardless of where they are sold to. Now with three centres across Bolivia, CIWY cares for hundreds of animals of whom we would meet only a fraction.

We were assigned animals to work with within a few days of arriving - working on one area in mornings and another in afternoons for the whole month allowing us to build close bonds with animals in our care. Once assigned our animals we’d be given meticulous files about them detailing their history, health problems, care routines and unique personality quirks - nothing was missed - ensuring the best possible care to suit the individual animal.

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Every morning after a routine of feeding camp animals and then feeding ourselves, the camp split off into the sweltering heat and depths of the jungle to spend time with our animals. Checklist: cage key, food, water, supplement, pocket knife, phone. Ready to go. A short trail from camp each day I’d find my ocelot, Vanesso, purring and eager for a walk through towering trees and the masses of patuhu plants that lay along his laguna trail. Layered in long trousers and an impractically thick shirt myself and my cat partner sweated our way along V’s trails as far as he pleased to stroll, sprint or snooze. A walk could entail anything from two hours of actively exploring every inch of the jungle, twice trying persuade unlucky snakes from his mouth to admiring him as he dozed lazily in the sun, stretching out, rolling around and wrapping us around his little paws.

When you’re living surrounded by so many people whose love for the animals and the work they’re doing with them makes them put up with endless mosquito bites and embrace some of the most basic living conditions, it’s hard to imagine that are other people, elsewhere, who could’ve held these beautiful creatures in the conditions from which they were rescued. Working with Vanesso, seeing him become more affectionate towards me over the month I was there as he learned to trust to me more, sometimes it’s hard to imagine that before he came into CIWYs care in 2006, he was a caged attraction in a Chinese restaurant. For some of the other cats at Ambue Ari, their previous lives have carried a more noticeable impact. One jaguar, Jauncho, limps as he walks and is completely blind having sustained an injury to his eye at his previous home in a Bolivian zoo when he was left in his cramped enclosure as it was cleaned with a flame thrower. Another monkey suffers recurring gastrointestinal problems having been fed pizza and junk food as an infant - just the start of the list and lists of animals CIWY and its volunteers endlessly dedicate their time to rehabilitating.

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Over the month I spent at Ambue Ari I saw various volunteers return for their second or third visit volunteering and several others extend their stays to spend longer with the animals they’d fallen in love with. I wonder how I would’ve coped had I been there during the wet season my cat partner had experienced. In spite of endless mosquitos, rain and swamps she’d be returning again next year for the wet season when volunteer numbers hit their lowest. Although now, back in the real world after my too short month, I think that maybe I’d be fleeing back to the jungle for it as well – their veterinary internship appeals a little too much - if only I could find a way out of Christmas exams.

Tell yourself you’re over your fear of insects, try to ignore your relentless mosquito bites and learn to enjoy your showers cold because paradise is quite real, hidden away in the Bolivia jungle.



 

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The More, the Merrier - RVC's Global IVSA Exchange

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The More, the Merrier - RVC's Global IVSA Exchange

 

The More, the Merrier - RVC's Global IVSA Exchange 

By Seth Kennard (JAVS Editor)

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Following the success of RVC’s first International Veterinary Student Association exchange in student memory with Budapest last year (see JAVS Spring 2017) planning for something bigger and better started early. The original plan of a three way exchange with Estonia (Tallinn), Greece (Thessaly) and Germany (Leipzig) was expanded with invitations being sent to all IVSA chapters globally. Thus, come Monday 16th October forty eight veterinary students heralding from Netherlands, Ghana, Thailand, South Korea, Finland, Greece, Switzerland, Belgium, Indonesia, Germany, Canada, Poland and Estonia arrived in London ready for a week of adventure and learning.

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The week started on Monday night with introductions and games in the union bar before an early start up to our countryside campus on Tuesday where the students were treated to tours of the campus, practicals in our clinical skills centre and a very hands on practical at the farm. Condition scoring with the cows, a lambing practical and a sheep handling session gave the everyone a chance to experience a practises on a British farm. It can be eye opening to learn from other students how diverse the requirements of the vet course can be, with very few of the students having handled or worked with sheep before and many seeing them as a smallholders pet rather than a serious industry. Tuesday evening finished with a classic social down at Wetherspoons.

Wednesday opened with a morning in Camden market which offered some protection from the cliched British rain but the real highlight of the day was the wildlife dissections. Cadavers donated from local wildlife hospitals provided an opportunity to explore the anatomy of foxes, seagulls, hedgehogs, cats, ferrets, deer, herons, squirrels, and cormorants. A follow up lecture on native, endangered and reintroduced species of the British Isles topped of a great afternoon.

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Thursday started late and for many hungover thanks to the drink deals at Zoo bar, the club frequented the night previous. If you’re looking for  a cure for the hangover then perhaps leave a rapid tour of London off the list as visiting Covent Garden, Trafalgar Square, National Portrait Gallery, Buckingham Palace, Westminister, St. Pauls, Tate Modern and Borough market in one morning can exacerbate the symptoms. An afternoon lecture from Sterillium caused some ripples among students who are taught to wash their hands every minute using as strong disinfectants as possible and it led to some interesting discussions between students comparing practice standards that they had observed. To give the visiting students a real taste of British culture a barn dance was organised with plenty of spinning, dosey-doeing and moves that can’t quite be described using words alone.

Friday offered a chance for many to explore the sights of London with a trip in the morning to the Hunterian anatomy museum and an afternoon free either to nap and prepare for the evening or for the energetic to see more of the big smoke. The evening social showcased some of London’s best and busiest bars and clubs with a classic bar crawl. By this point in the week everyone knew everyone and any apprehension that comes from forming such a large group of people had definitely melted away. The night was spent putting memories down in pen, in the form of the classic IVSA White - Tshirt party.

Saturday was without doubt the classiest day of the week with a group outing to Ascot. Much racing was watched, champagne was drunk, merriment had. After failing to see Her Royal Majesty (HRM) the Queen at the her own residence it was lovely to see HRM enjoying a day out at the races, and music royalty was also in attendance in the form of George Ezra at the Ascot afterparty.

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Sunday was the final day of a very long week and what better end it than a brunch with new found friends hailing from all corners of the world. Despite the cultural and national differences everyone was united in their passion for all things veterinary and animals, that and their passion for IVSA.

A special thanks for Sterillium for their support without whom the exchange could not go ahead. Make sure to check out the next issue of JAVS for updates on how the RVC students fare in Germany, Greece and Estonia.

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Time to End the Taboo

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Time to End the Taboo

Time to End the Taboo

By Ceri Chick (RVC)

What do you think of when you hear the word depression?
For many people, talking about mental health is incredibly difficult. We seem to be set into thinking it's a taboo, and that getting help is a weakness. This especially seems to be the case in the veterinary world. We have the mindset that we must work through our problems ourselves, and work ourselves into the ground. This is exactly how I used think.

When my GP diagnosed me with depression and anxiety at 17, I was terrified to talk about it, because like so many other people, mental health was something not understood by most of my family. My mum was worried because she thought of how others would perceive me. She didn't know what to do, she only wanted the best for me. I felt completely hopeless with no-one to understand what I was going through, with even my own mind telling me I was overreacting and needing to get a grip. I refused to take medication because of the stigma attached to it. My parents tried to help me by changing my diet, getting me out of the house, and even changing to special daylight lightbulbs! Sadly this didn't work, but for their sake I pretended it did, and that I was fine. That in retrospect was the wrong decision.

When I was 19 in university, with my mental health reaching a plateau of nothingness, I finally broke down in front of my parents. My dad made a doctor's appointment for me straight away, and told me that I was going to get help because he didn't want to lose me to depression. I can't thank him enough for that.

Through Disabled Students Allowance I was given a mental health mentor. I was pretty sceptical about this, as I'd tried counselling at the start of the year and it didn't work for me, so I wasn't exactly expecting much from this.

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Mentoring was like a conversation. She would constantly remind me, in subtle ways that what I was saying mattered. We worked through the things that bothered me, and eventually found the source of some long term problems, just through having a chat. My sessions didn’t in any way feel formal, and I didn't feel forced to talk about my problems. If I just wanted to talk about my cat, that was fine too!

After just a few sessions I became much more confident. I was finally able to think through my problems in a logical way, so that I could work through them without going into a panicky spiral. I could see my problems for what they really were – solvable.

Thanks to the combination of antidepressants and mentoring, I finally feel like a person again. I'm finally ready to be me, without having to worry. I can't thank my mentor enough for what she's done for me. She gave me the strength to be able to help myself, and that’s something that I could never do in my previous 20 years.

Having a mental illness is one of the hardest things anyone can go through. It's not a sign of weakness to get help. It takes bravery and strength.

If you're suffering yourself, I urge you to get help. Find what works for you; I definitely recommend mentoring! We can change the way we see mental health, we are all strong enough. I believe in us.

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Six Weeks of Summer at Cornell Summer Dairy Institute (SDI)

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Six Weeks of Summer at Cornell Summer Dairy Institute (SDI)

Six Weeks of Summer at Cornell Summer Dairy Institute

She herd she was next!

She herd she was next!

By Henry Miller (Cambridge)

If you’re anything like me no doubt you’ve seen dozens of pictures of fellow vets students enjoying themselves in exotic locations abroad and counting it as EMS.  Surely it’s such a shame not to take advantage of the amazing travel opportunities available especially when we’re all suffering from a lack of full student holidays? Rolling EMS and foreign adventures into one seems a ‘no brainer’! It can be tricky finding the perfect EMS experience but, to my mind, SDI ticks pretty much all the boxes!

The basic premise is to take 25 vet students from around the world and fast track them through production medicine with six weeks of intensive dairy focused seminars, practical teaching sessions and industry visits. Chuck in a frat house with a professional chef, bucket loads of superb ice cream on-campus, spectacular scenery (geographical and social) in the buzzing university city of Ithaca and tons of American hospitality then you can’t fail to have fun.

There’s a rough theme each week such as nutrition, housing, fertility or milk quality and for every topic the lecturers come from across North America to teach by day and share a few drinks by night. Despite the very formal jam-packed timetable there is plenty of flexibility and time for lively discussion and questions. Roughly half the time is spent in the field or on the Cornell University dairy farm putting theory into practice. Assessing farm facilities, testing milking machines, foot trimming, ultrasound pregnancy diagnosis and obstetrics all feature. After learning the basics the group is split into teams of 5 and spends 3 days on a case farm culminating in producing a comprehensive herd health and productivity review.

Making sure the technique was udderly perfect

Making sure the technique was udderly perfect

Probably my favourite aspect of the whole trip was meeting so many genuine people from a huge spectrum of backgrounds but all with a shared interest in farm animal (particularly dairy) medicine. Six countries were represented in the student cohort but there was an immediate sense of rapport from day one. There was ample free time in the evenings and weekends for exploring some of what Ithaca and the surrounding area had to offer. Niagara Falls and the Saratoga Horse Races made for brilliant weekend trips but it wasn’t at all necessary to go very far to have fun. Ithaca provides watersports, beautiful gorges, live music and bustling bars and restaurants, plus everyone from Cornell (including the professors) kept us entertained with BBQs and campfires to make the most of the warm summer evenings. It’s thanks to all these ‘extra’ features that I think the people I met will stay with me longer than the complex skills I learned. It’s not just at AVS Sports and Congress that you can build bridges between vet schools!

Please note you do not have to be from a dairy background to attend! Vet student specialisation in the USA is far advanced beyond schools in the UK (I don’t know of anywhere here with a Dairy Club or competitive pregnancy diagnosing) so it can seem daunting when you haven’t got years of farming/farm vetting experience. However, as long as you bring enthusiasm to the table over there everyone is more than happy to take the time to teach you at your own pace. Only a couple of my stupid questions prompted a chuckle before someone brought me up to speed. And it’s not just the professionals who teach! I can safely say I learnt just as much from the other students on the course as I did during seminars from the international dairy experts.

A quick word on expenses as we all have to work on a budget… I paid $2500 for the course which includes bed and board. For 6 weeks in America I think this is excellent value! It’s not a small sum of money but there is a strong precedent for university and BVA travel grants to contribute moreover, any AVMA accredited university student can apply for a substantial scholarship from the American Association of Bovine Practioners so plenty of funding is available if you look for it.

Friends for heifer and for heifer

Friends for heifer and for heifer

To summarise I whole heartedly recommend applying for SDI! While I didn’t see a single elephant, gorilla or tiger in New York State the deer, skunks and groundhogs of Ithaca are on every street corner. Although I didn’t spend a single day ‘in practice’ in the USA I hope that what I did learn will stand me in just as good stead for a career in farm animal medicine and who doesn’t want a break from typical EMS days of consults and car journeys once in a while? Check out the SDI website if you’re interested and, whatever you do, make the most of any extended holiday blocks in your timetable for something a little different.

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The Elephant in the Room

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The Elephant in the Room

The Elephant in the Room

Imogen Payne (Liverpool)

Thailand is a wonderful country to explore, full of temples, markets, food, music and much more. But anyone who thinks of Thailand’s culture soon thinks of elephants. Elephants in Thailand are as common as horses in England and I was excited to see these magnificent creatures up close.

I had been advised by vet school colleagues and documentaries to avoid camps that used elephant hooks or offered elephant rides. The initial process of taming an elephant involves abusing the young animal to break its spirit. This process is called Phajaan, or ‘the crush’. Even after this traumatising process has been completed, riding elephants will cause long-term pain and suffering. Although seemly strong and powerful animals, they have surprisingly weak backs and riding them can cause spinal injuries.

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I visited a sanctuary advertised as ‘No rides, no hooks’ and, for the most part, I enjoyed the experience. We began by preparing food and hand feeding the elephants before taking them on a jungle walk, finishing with a dip in the river. It was great to see these elephants in a natural setting, dust-bathing themselves, in family groups. However, when I questioned the mahouts, I found out that, rather than having been rescued from the exploitative logging/tourism industry as I had believed, the elephants were instead simply owned by the villagers. This was their way of making money. I couldn’t help feeling somewhat deceived by the name of this elephant ‘sanctuary’.

What’s more, the eldest of the four elephants (in her 50s), was pregnant. As nice as it was to see a family structure, the volume of elephants still in need of rescue throughout Thailand made me feel uneasy about the casual expansion of their population. Furthermore, I noticed that one of the elephants looked overweight, which made me wonder how many people were enjoying the feeding experience on a daily basis. Were these elephants getting too much ‘love’ from tourists?

This was my first elephant encounter and even though in many ways it wasn’t perfect, the environment these elephants enjoyed was, I felt, better than many zoos could offer. I later discovered that places like this are shining beacons of hope for elephants everywhere in Thailand.

Seeing the Other Side

As part of my tour, I moved on to the capital of Thailand, Bangkok. This was quite a contrast to what I had experienced in the north. The wealth divide was incredible, with luxury skyrise apartments and ultra-modern houses only metres from shanty towns.

This was my experience of the darker side of Thailand. We went on a day trip to visit some temples and, as we arrived, my heart sank. Chained elephants were being used in a circus set up and for giving rides to tourists. I also saw a mahout beat his elephant, striking the spiked hook onto its head. This needless treatment appeared to be because the elephant simply wanted to eat, stretching its trunk out for food on the floor. It was heart-breaking.

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When I reviewed Tripadvisor, I saw negative comments about this place dating back as far as 2013, with reports of abusive beatings of elephants seemingly out of public sight. I contacted several charities and rescue organisations to report what I had seen but, due to the scale of the welfare problem in Asia, many were unable to help the elephants I saw.

Most people are ignorant of the elephant abuse that precedes the riding of these animals. To tackle this problem, the message must get across to tourists visiting countries with elephant tourism: do not support this industry. Do not ride elephants.

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