Getting to grips with canine welfare - Veterinary Practice
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Getting to grips with canine welfare

David Grant reports on the 16th international companion animal welfare conference held in Istanbul last month – and the introduction of a new award in recognition of the retiring CEO of Dogs Trust.

I WAS very fortunate to be able to attend the latest international companion animal welfare conference (ICAWC) and found the programme fascinating and thought-provoking. As a result (unusually for me) I attended all the lectures.

Organised by Dogs Trust, it brought together delegates from 41 countries, most of whom were animal welfare volunteers, with some shelter veterinary surgeons, and many of them had been to previous ICAWC conferences.

I had not realised that Dogs Trust supports so much internationally. Just this year it has made grants to 18 international organisations, and it currently supports 70 neutering, behaviour and education projects across the globe.

There is currently a major education and neutering project in Bosnia and, for those interested, a need for veterinary and nursing volunteers.

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The conference was held in a very pleasant hotel on the outskirts of Istanbul with superb audio-visual facilities. All the lectures had a full attendance and somehow the speakers were induced to stick to their time limit of 30 minutes. I preferred this to the more usual format of 50 minutes and it was quite easy to follow all the lectures without losing concentration.

Although not themed as such, the presentations had many aspects in common. All of them were educational and aimed at animal welfare workers in charities – mostly small and medium-sized.

There were sessions on fund-raising, including the use of social media to reach potential donors and another session on how to look after these donors and keep them informed and involved.

Given the possibility of behavioural problems in shelter animals awaiting rehoming, lectures on how to recognise and treat these problems were prominent. There was an interesting session on the role of dogs in helping youth offenders re-integrate into society and not re-offend, and another on the use of assistance dogs. Scientific information was included, with lectures on parvovirus and an interactive session on “Ask the Vet”.

Optional workshops

The day before the main congress was set aside for optional workshops on dog training, including clicker training, behavioural problems, the management of volunteers, fund-raising, visiting local shelters and a session on EU companion animal legislation, by Claire Calder, who also gave an update on EU legislation during the main conference.

She has recently been appointed European policy adviser at Dogs Trust and is based in Brussels. Not the easiest subject perhaps but I found it interesting and learned a lot about the workings of the EU.

Her talk was very topical and relevant as there is great potential to improve the welfare of animals with 61 million owned dogs and 66 million owned cats in the EU.

During the two days of the main conference there were 25 presentations, all of a very high standard. It is not possible to summarise all of these, but there were some that appealed to me for various reasons.

The organisers had cleverly positioned Luke Gamble’s presentation on “Mission Rabies” first thing on the last day (thus ensuring 100% attendance at 9 in the morning after the previous night’s party). He did not disappoint, with an impassioned talk on current progress in his efforts to galvanise action on eliminating rabies worldwide.

The statistics on this disease are horrifying: 140 children die from the disease every day with over 99% of the cases due to dog bites. Hitherto, mass poisoning and culling has been the response by most municipalities throughout the world. Apart from the cruelty involved and a culture of fear and hatred of dogs that becomes widespread, it has failed to solve the problem.

Luke produced statistics that clearly showed that by achieving 70% vaccination of dogs (universally agreed to be the requirement  for “herd immunity”) in an endemic area, allied with a neutering campaign, rapid results can be achieved. A mobile clinic set up and supported by Dogs Trust has been doing just that in Goa.

Nobody can do this work alone and education, involvement of communities, volunteers and local government with a ripple out effect intended to spread round the globe are key components. Luke is clearly on a mission and wants to see the end of this terrible disease by 2030.

Attention grabbers

Maggie Roberts and Nicky Trevorrow of Cats Protection made a memorable rock-star entrance just when we were wondering where they were. Having grabbed our attention they presented a very informative lecture on how to recognise stress in cats, what the consequences are and how to avoid them.

This was a slick double-act with the liberal use of videos. Both of them are highly qualified. Maggie is a very experienced vet and Nicky is a qualified veterinary nurse with a BSc in animal behaviour and the University of Southampton diploma in companion animal behaviour counselling.

Another clever presentation by Jack Johnstone and Steve Goward from Dogs Trust demonstrated how it is possible to provide an enrichment playground for dogs in a shelter using bits and pieces of street rubbish, old paint and a lot of imagination.

Instead of languishing in cages, the dogs can be taken out and play with their carers. Ultimately the dogs are a lot happier and consequently easier to rehome. Jeff Young, an American veterinarian highly experienced in shelter medicine and early age neutering in particular, gave an informative lecture on the dynamics of companion animal population control. His mission is to reduce companion animal over-population throughout the world and is currently active in setting up a training hospital in Puerto Morales, Mexico. Here, veterinary surgeons and technicians will be able to train at no cost.

Emma Stevenson of the RSPCA Manchester Veterinary Hospital continued this theme and took the delegates through the procedure of early age neutering, including advice on anaesthesia for very young kittens. This was her first conference talk and it should be the first of many, being very clear and informative.

It was not all work. Delegates were treated to a welcoming party at the conference hotel, and a boat trip and dinner the following evening.

This was the last ICAWC with Clarissa Baldwin as chief executive officer of Dogs Trust. She was due to retire at the end of October after 40 years with the charity, 27 of them as chief executive. It was fitting that there will be an annual award in her name: The Clarissa Baldwin International Award for Excellence in Animal Welfare. The first recipient was Elizabeth Oliver who has been in Japan for many years and set up Animal Refuge Kansai (ARK) in 1990. This charity rescues and rehabilitates hundreds of dogs in Japan every year.

At the end of the proceedings, there was a thoroughly deserved standing ovation for Clarissa.

  • Details on the event, with the programme, can be found at

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