College of Veterinary Medicine

From the Dean

Why We Need Zoos

by Bryan 6. February 2012 07:20

Although on some days I feel as though I'm running a zoo, this post isn't about metaphorical zoos with legions of cats to herd.

Rather, it is about the real thing. 

One of the many fortunate circumstances that go with being dean is that I get to serve with a wonderful group of people on the Board of the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, which by the way has a new logo that I think is very many images can you conjur up from this graphic? 

From them I have learned to appreciate the critical place of zoos as oases in urban environments where people can have some of the wonder of rounding a bend in the path and sighting a rarely seen animal, or hearing -- off in the distance -- a sound that begs for further exploration.  Aside from the "cool" factor of seeing animals from other continents that marked my experience with zoos as a kid, I never really considered how critical zoos are for connecting people with animals and their conservation as we increasingly urbanize our populations around the world.

I am fortunate to have spent the bulk of my life in rural or near-rural settings with easy access to vast expanses of undeveloped, or at least under-developed, nature, as it were.  Thus, rounding the bend to espy a bear or moose or elk or deer or coyote or fox, or whatever, has been a rather routine experience for me.  Similarly, being in a place where the quiet stands out for being so silent, only to be broken now and again with cries of birds, insects, or other animals is not uncommon for me.  But now with my experience on the board, when I am wandering the grounds of the zoo I am struck about how essential that place must be for the many who aren't able to experience the world in the way I am when I am out fishing...or just out.

I am prompted to say these things by this essay from the NY Times, which appeared over the weekend.  Those who run the real zoos have made huge strides in how animal behavior and welfare are enhanced by modern exhibits, husbandry, and veterinary care.  Even so, there are those who question whether zoos should exist at all.  However, as I experience the zoo with newfound appreciation, and when I consider arguments such as those advanced by this essay, I cannot imagine a world where these magnificent artifices did not exist to connect urban and suburban dwellers to animals and their conservation.

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A Clear Focus on the Human-Animal Bond

by Bryan 3. February 2012 12:05

From time to time I have commented on the artistic creativity that abounds among the people of our college, and this post returns to that theme.  As before, though, even though the theme is the same, the content is very different.

Holly Irish is a 4th year vet student from Sequim.  She is the latest to have her work exhibited in the Animal Health Library series as part of our Art in the Library.  Here is an example if this collection, in which Holly explores the human-animal bond through stills.

I really like her blending of color and black and white to draw out the connections between people and animals.  When I look at her photographs it is very easy for me to feel the many different depictions she draws from her subjects' bond and fascination with animals.

Many more of these photographs can be seen, of course, in the library if you live here or get the chance to visit Pullman in the next few months.  Until then, you can see a few more here, where you can also learn more about Holly.

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Is Veterinary Care Too Costly?

by Bryan 20. September 2009 22:43

I guess the answer to that question depends on your point of view.

The author of this recent column in the Sydney Morning Herald sure seems to think it is.  But, as with most such arguments (see here for a similar recent post, which refers to this column), it largely misses the point.

There are a couple of issues here.  The first is a misunderstanding of the cost of care.  Any argument that veterinary care is more expensive than comparable human medical care totally ignores the true cost of human medical care.  Human medical care is vastly more expensive than veterinary medical care -- however, most humans in the developed world rarely pay anything close to the full cost of their medical care.  Rather, this cost is underwritten by the state (with government-run health care programs) and/or by private insurers (the cost of which is borne by employers, including the self employed).  The fact that the client bears the full cost of veterinary care only makes it seem like it is more expensive.

  ********** More...

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Better to be a dog...?

by Bryan 10. August 2009 12:10

In his comment in response to my previous post, Roger points out an article that I think is worth a read, if only for the humor.  A physician in Britain has penned this article to provide commentary on human health care systems and health care reform from his vantage point in the UK.  As one means of doing so, he contrasts health care access of UK citizens to their national health care system with what he thinks are some better features of a dog accessing (through an intermediary, as he puts it) the veterinarian of their choice in the veterinary health care system. 

There are multiple levels on which this commentary works, aside from its main purpose to weigh in on human health care reform.  For starters, it touches on the different payment systems in human medicine vs. veterinary medicine, one of the issues I think is raised by the notion of a tax deduction for qualified pet care expenses.

It also touches strongly on the role of the value of veterinary services to the consumer of such services, ... the client must think the services are worth the charge, or go elsewhere (with or without complaint).  Every practicing veterinarian knows, or soon learns, of the struggle to ensure that the value of services -- usually paid directly at the time of service and not by some mostly invisible third party -- is perceived by the client.  With respect to this latter point, this small piece frames the latter issue nicely; so many misconceptions...where to start? (thanks Charlie for pointing this out)

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Another Step Forward for Global Animal Health

by Bryan 27. July 2009 23:42

One of the neat things about being dean is all the wonderful people outside the university one gets to know... people from all walks of life, varied world views, interesting life stories, and all manner of perspectives who share with us a drive to improve the animal and human condition and who are committed to doing so with passion and excellence. (And, there are far more of these people than I'll ever be able to mention in this blog.) 

Recently, our School for Global Animal Health received a gift from two such people, Jan and Jack Creighton.  The Creighton's generous gift allows us to establish the Creighton Chair of Global Animal Health.  The income from this endowment and the leveraging opportunity it provides with respect to other funds will allow us to more rapidly catalyze efforts to improve animal health worldwide and thereby improve the health, well being, and economic security of people -- particularly those many millions who inhabit the poorest parts of the world and who still depend on healthy livestock for tilling, harvesting, transportation, and food and fiber...for their livelihood in every sense of the word.

We thank the Creighton's for their commitment and enthusiasm for the mission of our School for Global Animal Health and the transformative effect their gift will have to speed our progress.  Their gift reflects not only their shared commitment to our goals but also a trust in our abilities that is accompanied by a challenge to succeed.  I think our faculty, staff, and students are up to that challenge and I appreciate the Creighton's shared trust that this is the case.

I am also very pleased to announce that the Director of the School for Global Animal Health, Guy Palmer, has been named to fill this new Creighton Chair.  The Creighton's agree that Guy is an excellent choice fill this chair; from this position he will be able to leverage their generosity to more rapidly advance School's programs, including, for example, seed funding for high risk/high return exploratory projects, creative enhancements to graduate education, and fostering global faculty and scholarly exchanges.   

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Thinking About Animals

by Bryan 1. July 2009 19:11

One of my accomplishments on vacation (sitting in this spot) was to finish Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, which is the WSU common reading for this fall...and the subject of a previous post.

I recommend that anyone interested in animal agriculture read this book.  Agree or not, it is a thought-provoking analysis of where our food comes from and argument about why we need to think about it more.  The subject is far more complex than can be dealt with in 400 pages, and it is pitched at a general audience, so there are areas that probably receive too simplistic a treatment, but I cannot really fault it for that.

The specific purpose of this post is to comment on his treatment of the ethics of eating animals.  I have wrestled with the moral issues surrounding human-animal relationships for many years, and I am always interested in what intelligent people have to say in this regard -- whether I agree with them or not.  I must say that his treatment of his own wrestling with this question is about the best I've read so far.  Typically, writers try to persuade to their point of view.  In contrast, Professor Pollan (mostly in Chapter 17), provides a balanced look at his own "on the one hand...but on the other hand" tussle with various aspects of this very complicated issue.  Highly recommended.

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