Friday, September 26, 2014

Education and animal welfare, and Ag-Gag laws

Conference delegates recieved a goodie bag containing, among other things, an International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) plush dog. Pox the chihuahua raided my goodie bag and had a very exciting morning!!!
We’re back from steaming, hot (33 degrees C) Darwin back to Sydney (15 degrees on the tarmac) and inspired after the AMRRIC conference. The theme running through yesterday’s talks was education.

You can have the best dog management program in the world, you can aim to vaccinate hundreds of dogs or desex thousands – but if you don’t convey the reasons you are doing so, the program will fall flat.

For example, Dr Ganga de Silva from the Blue Paw Trust in Sri Lanka explained that when they designed their Colombo rabies vaccination program, many locals knew rabies was fatal – but had no idea it was preventable. This lack of knowledge itself can be fatal – people bitten by rabid dogs might not know how to treat a wound, where to seek help, what to do. Locals are more likely to participate in the dog program if they appreciate that vaccination of dogs will reduce the spread of rabies.

AMRRIC organisers and delegates with Dr De Silva (second from right).
Most dog programs now incorporate school talks, but the Blue Paw Trust also used street dramas and public multimedia displays to get the message out. Dr de Silva talked about the pros of cons of each of these methods and potential improvements for future programs.

Dr Frank Ascione, from the University of Denver, talked about the societal response to the link between animal abuse and domestic or intimate partner violence. This was a really positive talk – many organisations had developed resources to prevent families being separated from their pets in the time of most need. A number of women’s shelters had also incorporated areas where pets could be kept so they too can be protected from perpetrators of violence. As he pointed out, it’s nice to see messages from the number-crunchers in the ivory tower filter down and change practice in the real world.

Dr Debbie Marriot, Senior Specialist in Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases at St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney, gave a fantastic presentation on potential zoonoses and did much to allay fears about “germs” from animals. She knows a thing or two about dogs, co-habiting with four.

She talked especially about dog bites, which constitute a big public health problem right across Australia – approximately 2% of the population is bitten annually by something (human or animal – yep, humans bite too), and around 80% of these are bitten by dogs. Bite wounds cause damage in two ways as they are a combination of a penetrating wound plus blunt trauma, and she talked about how the blunt trauma may be implicated in severe, fatal bites to the head and neck.

Ultimately, companion animals should not be feared – zoonotic transmission of host-adapted pathogens is uncommon, although we need to respect that domestic animals could be potential reservoirs of these organisms.

It was a fantastic, stimulating, motivating and wonderful conference.

In news from around the web, this story (click here) raises a number of concerns about the treatment of animals by a group of police officers in Canberra.

In this instance incriminating footage sparked an investigation which will, we hope, improve the attitude of these police towards animals. But what if we didn’t have video evidence?

The event would not have been investigated. This brings us to the so-called Ag-Gag laws. The laws have been designed to protect farmers against activists.

This is a tricky issue. On the one hand there is the right for farmers to privacy, free enterprise etc. But on the other, it is only because of people taking footage of animal welfare abuse that this is known about. The victims cannot speak or testify.

Ag-gag laws criminalise covert surveillance of commercial animal enterprise, and require all footage to be handed over to enforcement authorities. Animal welfare groups, however, claim that authorities rarely act – whereas when the media airs the footage it allows the public to respond.

But they also require potential employees of commercial animal facilities to disclose current or past ties to animal protection groups. This, argue some, is important in ensuring that employees are on the same page as employers. But animal welfare groups say this is a gross invasion of privacy. Two people, for example, may be members of an animal activist organisation. One may be very active in the organisation, the other may simply pay a membership fee and bin the newsletters. Regardless, do employers have a right to discriminate against potential employees based on their association?

Voiceless is one organisation that has been campaigning against Ag-gag legislation and you can read more about it by clicking here. If you have an interest in ethics or law this is particularly fascinating stuff.

The proposed legislation was defeated in South Australia.

According to Voiceless:

"SA legislators have voted against the Surveillance Devices Bill, which sought to criminalise the public release of information collected through the use of surveillance devices, including a maximum penalty of $75,000 for a corporation and $15,000 or imprisonment for three years for individuals.
This Bill would have had a significant impact on how the media reports on matters of public interest, including the treatment of animals in factory farms. Its tabling attracted fierce opposition from media outlets, workers’ unions and animal protection groups who use such footage to expose cruelty within Australia’s animal industries.
Thankfully on this occasion, cooler heads have prevailed and the Bill was defeated. This is a win for consumer advocacy, workers’ rights, freedom of the press and, of course, animal protection."