Thinking, Talking, Pioneering
Beyond driving what veterinarians do, animal welfare is fundamental to who we are.
As veterinarians, we pledge in our Oath to serve society through “the protection of animal health and welfare” as well as “the prevention and relief of animal suffering”—the latter of which is, of course, the essence of animal welfare. This devotion to the well-being and care of animals is deeply embedded in our DNA at Penn Vet.
Back in 1807, prominent Philadelphia physician Dr. Benjamin Rush delivered a seminal lecture entitled “On the Duty and Advantages of Studying the Diseases of Domestic Animals, and the Remedies Proper to Remove Them.” One of the four original professors at the University of Pennsylvania’s medical school, Rush made the case for why an aspiring physician should “embrace in his studies and labors the means of lessening the miseries of domestic animals”—pointing to a “principle of gratitude” for the companionship, service, and sustenance these animals provide us. While his message was certainly altruistic, he also highlighted the valuable knowledge that humans can gain through the study of animal ailments.
Rush’s speech ultimately inspired the establishment of Penn Vet, the first U.S. veterinary school born from a medical school. Fast forward to the present day, and it’s clear that our emphasis on One Health is rooted in his visionary thinking. And we continue to innovate in such areas as animal welfare, translational medicine, and the human-animal relationship.
Penn Vet has, for instance, developed a world-leading program in farm animal welfare focusing on swine. Dr. Thomas Parsons pioneered the development of more humane sow housing units, a practice embraced by companies like Smithfield, Hormel, McDonald’s, Burger King, and Wendy’s. And our unique shelter medicine program, under the direction of Dr. Brittany Watson, was recently lauded in the journal Today’s Veterinary Technician as “expanding the reach and redefining the meaning of shelter medicine” through community
engagement and education.
As veterinarians today, our challenge is not the why of animal welfare, but the what and the how. As our societal and personal values evolve, we must constantly evaluate what animal welfare means, and how it applies to the work of clinicians, researchers, food producers, policymakers, and beyond. How do we reconcile the often-competing needs of animals and animal owners, or the conflicts between the Five Freedoms? As scientists, we tend to like clear facts and right-or-wrong answers. But with questions of animal welfare, we typically must reach conclusions using our own moral compass and experience.
That’s why I’m delighted that Penn Vet continues to open up more avenues for students, faculty, and staff to tackle the complexities of animal welfare. Throughout this issue, you’ll get to read about new academic opportunities happening on our two campuses and also abroad.
Having worked with all kinds of animals throughout my career—cats, fruit flies, English bulldogs, and one narcoleptic horse—I’d say that each creature plays a singular and essential role in our civilization. I’m glad that, at Penn Vet, we continue to think about, discuss, and pioneer the best ways to care for all beings.