Annual Animal Welfare Forum at OVC

Tuesday, September 30, 2014


Written by Caroline Elworthy

This past Saturday, September the 27 over ninety passionate citizens and students alike gathered at the Ontario Veterinary College to attend the Animal Welfare Forum, becoming more actively educated and aware of various animal welfare issues through this annual mini lecture series. The OVC’s Animal Welfare Club runs the event on a yearly basis which is free to the public and consists of a series of engaging speakers ranging on topics from welfare of lab primates, agricultural codes of practice and the welfare of entertainment animals. This year’s event had five passionately engaging speakers which held a captive audience’s throughout the day’s event, which lasted from 9am to 4pm.

The Animal Welfare Club, a student run organization ran out of the OVC organizes this yearly educational forum with funding from the CSA, The Animal Welfare Foundation of Canada, the CCSAW and the Central Veterinary Students Association. The yearly forum works to generate conversation leading to discussion, questioning and awareness with those in the academia world and those in the community.

 The Animal Welfare Club begins planning for this event well in advance, and contacts well-known academia of the veterinary world to bring a wide variety of expertise and opinion to the Guelph community. The Club works to contact experts who will bring well-rounded, unbiased perspectives into the open educational forum. It is important to note that the AWC does not advertise themselves or their event as Animal Activism, and instead works on developing passages of improvement through discussion

Christina Doyle, a Phase Two student at the OVC’s general veterinary program is the current president and part of the committed team Animal Welfare Club which has put on the open house forum for a dedicated 15 years. Saturday’s event was primarily organized by last year’s president Natasha Smith and Christie Ryan, along with the rest of the exec team at the AWC, who are all committed students at the OVC’s veterinary program.

It is very important that we have an unbiased, open space for learning and questioning, says Doyle.  Holding events like this, where no background information is needed really helps to connect the OVC to the rest of the Guelph campus.

The forum operates on an open house mandate, granting the public free admission with the option to donate to the Animal Welfare Scholarship; this award is provided to a graduate student at the University of Guelph who's research has the greatest possibility of applied improvement to animal welfare.

Each presentation on Saturday consisted of a 50 minute lecture from an expert from a particular field concerning Animal Welfare with ample room for questions and open conversation and with the conclusion of each lecture. The AWC stressed that this event functions as a tool for education and awareness, as opposed to animal activism forum. A wide range of speakers had been gathered by the AWC including Dr. Scott Petrie who discussed the economic, ecological and social importance of hunting, Ms. Jackie Wepruk who discussed the codes of practice and welfare of agricultural animals. The event ended with a more controversial topic of animals in entertainment, conducted by Mr. Robert Laidlaw, the founder of the international charity Zoocheck.

What we need to do, is look at these animals natural history and then began to provide their natural conditions, said Laidlaw to a captive audience mixed of veterinary students and community members alike. We have to retain the big picture in our mind, or else progress will be slow, Laidlaw lectured.

Laidlaw’s organization, Zoocheck  works to “improve wildlife protection and to end the abuse, neglect and exploitation of individual wild animals through: investigation and research, public education and awareness campaigns, capacity building initiatives and legislative actions.” Currently the campaign “Save Lucy” is in full force to try and remove the last Asian elephant in North America from the Valley Zoo in Edmonton

I don’t have a philosophical problem with captivity. However animal welfare needs to be the highest priority and yet we are continuously falling short, Laidlaw continued. “Zoos don’t really do animal conservation or educating in the manner which they claim to. There is a legitimate purpose for animal sanctuary, but one that you don’t need a massive industry of zoos for rescue and rehabilitation

To further help the audience understand how important suitable space is for animals in captivity, Laidlaw gave the example of the polar bears in the Northern Artic Hemisphere, who are a nomadic species and inhabit over 23,000km of snowy terrain throughout the year; yet the largest cage for polar bears living in captivity is currently in Scandinavia, and measures just up to 10 aces. Laidlaw then asked his audience to think of the space they inhabit on a yearly basis. Just like we as humans don’t use all of our space all the time,  does not mean it is not essential for normal behaviour and progression.

While Laidlaw is the found and director of the International wildlife protection charity Zoocheck, he is also the author of six award winning children’s books which simplify the language of academia to extend to a wider audience.

I had spent almost my whole academic career trying to avoid talking to kids, said Laidlaw. Once I had written and published six children’s books on zoos, I was approached by my publisher who simply told me- “You’ve got to talk to kids”

In order to successfully communicate with kids, Laidlaw had to develop a simplified language that was still scientifically defensive in order to get through to children while still upholding a respected reputation in the academia world. To do so, Laidlaw boiled down exactly what was essential for children to be aware of and derived three questions for a younger audience to ponder; Is there enough space for normal behaviour as it would be in nature? Is there enough space to feel safe and secure? What will be the consequences of keeping this animal in captivity?

“Nobody gets out of bed and simply says ‘Hey- I’m good for the day!” Laidlaw urged his captive audience, “We need to provide the same stimulating environments which we ourselves cultivate for animals”.

Anyone interested in becoming more involved in the Animal Welfare Club are welcome to contact its 2014-15 President, Kristina Doyle at . For more information of Robert Laidlaw’s work, or any of their current campaigns including “Save Lucy”, MarinLand Canada, or Toronto Zoo’s please visit Zoochecks’ website at www.zoocheck.com.                                                                                        



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