Ethical Veterinary Training
An Animal Rights Article from All-Creatures.org

FROM

Armaiti May, DVM, Vegan Vet, as posted on In Defense of Animals (IDA)
August 2014

Western University College of Veterinary Medicine in Pomona, California, is the 28th and newest veterinary school in the United States. This school has a reverence for life philosophy, which means they don’t have any harmful or terminal use of animals in their curriculum. They have a willed donation program in which the bodies of dogs and cats euthanized for humane medical reasons are donated for students to learn anatomy and pathology.

People often nostalgically say that they wanted to become a veterinarian as a kid out of a love for animals but veered away from that career path for one reason or another – maybe a lack of strength in the sciences, a distaste for dealing with blood and other bodily fluids, or an uneasiness about participating in the killing of healthy animals as part of the vet school training process. This last reason is the most troubling since failure to address it leads to veterinarians who are desensitized to animal suffering – not the kind of veterinarians we want to have.

 Armaiti May vegan vet
Armaiti and Sally

Harmful and terminal use of animals in vet schools is something that should be replaced with innovative, humane alternatives, including practice surgeries on ethically sourced cadavers as well as survival spay and neuter surgeries on animals who are adopted out into loving homes afterward. The tide is turning, slowly but surely, in the direction of improved humane teaching methods at some vet schools.

From a young age, I had a natural affinity for animals and knew I wanted to become a vet. While I was raised vegetarian by my mother, it wasn’t until I was in college that I learned about the cruelty of the egg and dairy industries and became vegan. As I learned more about the injustices perpetrated against animals in various industries and became involved in animal rights activism, I realized that becoming a veterinarian would lend credibility when advocating on behalf of non-human animals. At the time, little did I know what a challenge it would be just to get through vet school and earn those three little letters after my name.

In the summer of 2001, after graduating from UC Berkeley with a Bachelor of Science in Bioresource Sciences, I attended my first animal rights conference in Washington, D.C. I had only been vegan for a few years at that point, and was inspired by the sheer energy and magnitude of the conference. With the start of vet school a few short months in front of me, I had a fantasy of converting all my classmates to go vegan – or at least trying. I was determined to make my voice heard for the voiceless, and had all the t-shirts, pins, and bumper stickers to help me with that awesome task.

Before the first day of classes at University of California, Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, I plastered my locker with stickers I had enthusiastically collected at the animal rights conference a few months earlier. Their messages were unabashedly pro-animal rights, but nothing graphic or overly in-your-face. Some of them had slogans like: “Live simply that others may simply live”, “Go Vegan!”, “Love Animals. Don’t eat them.”, and “Feminists For Animal Rights.” Before long, I was getting strange looks and the cold shoulder from a lot of my classmates who apparently were not as enthused about my choice of locker decorations.

To my shock and dismay, six weeks into my first quarter of vet school I was called into the Dean’s office and told that a classmate had complained about the stickers on my locker. It was a rude awakening that stayed with me throughout my four years of vet school. Though like-minded people were in the minority, I did my best to put my time and energy to good use for the animals.

As president of the Student Animal Welfare Committee, a group whose role at the time was to support alternatives to terminal surgeries, I helped coordinate a surgery training “wetlab” (hands-on training lab) using ethically sourced cadavers from a willed body donation program. So, instead of healthy animals from the pound being killed in order to teach surgical skills, students could practice their surgery skills on cadavers of dogs and cats who died of natural causes or were euthanized for humane medical reasons and then donated to the university for teaching purposes.

After sixty students at my school participated in this surgery training wetlab, many students indicated they would not participate in terminal surgeries and the school subsequently discontinued its terminal surgeries in the small animal surgery elective course. Students learned how to do spay and castration surgeries with faculty supervision on dogs who were rescued from the shelter and later adopted into homes. These terminal procedures were replaced with a rotation during senior year in which students performed beneficial surgical procedures under faculty supervision on patients whose financially challenged guardians were not able to afford the full price of the surgery – a win-win for all concerned, especially the animals.

Western University College of Veterinary Medicine in Pomona, California, is the 28th and newest veterinary school in the United States. This school has a reverence for life philosophy, which means they don’t have any harmful or terminal use of animals in their curriculum. They have a willed donation program in which the bodies of dogs and cats euthanized for humane medical reasons are donated for students to learn anatomy and pathology. As a house-call veterinarian in the Los Angeles area, I am frequently called upon to euthanize animals who are suffering from end-stage organ failure, cancer, or other degenerative illnesses. I offer clients the option of donating their beloved animal to Western University as a way for their companion animal’s legacy to endure by helping other animals while educating future veterinarians in a reverent, respectful way. While Western University is a leader in the area of humane teaching methods for vet school training, other schools still have a long way to go in embracing a more progressive ethic that includes non-human animals in the circle of moral consideration.


To learn more about Dr. Armaiti May, please visit her website, Vegan Vet. Dr. May is a practicing house-call vet for dogs and cats in Los Angeles. She hosts a radio show called “Animal Issues With Dr. Armaiti May.” You can also subscribe on iTunes. To submit a question or comment, please send an email to veganvet@gmail.com.


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