Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Interview with Katherine van Ekert from Sentient

Katherine van Ekert and Delilah.

Sentience (aka the ability to feel, perceive, be conscious, experience subjectivity and so on) is a property I assume in all animals - and my guess is that anyone reading this blog would too. But if we assume animals are sentient, doesn't it follow that we have moral obligations towards them? Katherine van Ekert considers this issue daily. We're delighted that she took some time out to say hi at Small Animal Talk.

a) Tell us about yourself - who are you, where are you at and how did you get there?

I graduated from the University of Sydney Veterinary Faculty. Since graduation I have worked in mixed practice in NSW, the RSPCA, and various small animal practices. Most recently, I have been working at the Bureau of Animal Welfare, Department of Primary Industries, Victoria, as a Veterinary Officer, Animal Welfare. I am also founding president of Sentient, The Veterinary Institute for Animal Ethics. I live in San Francisco with my husband and dog, Delilah where I do contract work and volunteer at a mobile clinic for the pets of the homeless, VetSOS.

b) How did you become involved in Sentient?

Dr Adele Lloyd, Dr Rosemary Elliott, and I attended vet school together where were were also on the executive of the student-based organisation, Veterinary Science for Animal Welfare (now the Animal Welfare Society). We formed strong bonds during this time over our shared passion for improving the lives of animals and sense that we as veterinarians could be better advocates for improved ethics in situations where humans interact with animals. It wasn't until a few years after graduating, in 2010, that we re-united under this same philosphy, and formed Sentient - The Veterinary Institute for Animal Ethics, along with Matthew Lloyd, our Public Officer. Sentient is an independent, veterinary-based, non-for-profit organisation that acts as a think tank on animal welfare and ethics. We are engaged in many activities including writing submissions to government in order to improve animal welfare Codes of Practice, publicly promoting the need for improved welfare for all animals via the media and rallies, providing mentorship for students concerned about the use of animals in their curriculum, and encouraging vets and non-vets to volunteer at local and overseas animal shelters.

c) How important are pets to you?

I couldn't imagine my world without animals in it. I think animals bring out some of the best traits in humans - empathy, compassion, patience, and a sense of our place on this earth, as one of many species. My dog teaches me lessons everyday in having fun, encouraging a lightness in my outlook on the world, and in forgiveness. I love meeting people who 'get it' - who understand what it means interact with animals. It is a blessing.

d) What is your favourite thing to do with your dog?

Delilah is currently housebound, as she's recently relocated to the US with me and I am trying to not introduce too many changes into her life at once! Her favourite things are going on runs with me (provided it's not too cold outside!) and hooning up and down the beach. I think she also just loves hanging out with my husband and I - she is a good shadow!

e) what's the most helpful thing ordinary people can do to improve the welfare of animals?

I think that the world would be a better place if people took a step back sometimes and thought about each animal as a sentient being; we know animals can feel happiness, sadness, pain and fear so if people thought about this more in their everyday decisions, animals would be treated better and the world would be a much more peaceful place to live. I think that humans do many disappointing things to fellow creatures when they fail to remember empathy. 

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