I recently attended the Annual Meeting of the Association of Avian Veterinarians (AAV) in Milwaukee. Demonstrated there was much change in the air for the hopes of keeping more birds in the air and more human hearts focusing on avian welfare. To start off, the keynote speaker was Dr. Gail Golab, head of the Animal Welfare Division of the American Veterinary Medical Association. She spoke of human complexity and diversity in welfare issues that depend on science as well as people skills and understanding. She later attended the AAV Welfare Committee where a room full of bird veterinarians organized how to address the ethical dilemmas facing our world today regarding compassionate care for humans and birds alike. During the main conference, various presentations covered critical thinking, socioscience (how to hold competent and compassionate ethical discourse), avian welfare, avian conservation, and grief and bereavement in avian loss. Everywhere I turned it seems that this body of veterinarians increasing wishes to tackle difficult issues that tug at the heart, and impact our incomes and profession.
In particular I was struck by the admission during the “Cutting Edge Hot Topics” session from researchers who mourned the use of birds in terminal experiments. They named and thanked the birds, and reflected upon the angst caused by euthanizing birds to gain data to fight infectious disease. Later during the conference I heard from these same researchers and from others about the stress and moral dilemma involved in avian medicine and companionship that constantly raises the question, “Should we have these birds in captivity at all?” This kind of discourse was underground 15 years ago, whispered as it was a defect in veterinary professionalism to have confusion about the role of birds in captivity and for human use. Now it becomes front and center as more veterinarians wish to lead the change they wish to see in the world. For this I am deeply grateful for my fellow veterinarians.
On the way home from the conference I had a layover in Memphis. As I walked up to my gate, I noticed a somewhat weakened bat flying up and down the concourse. People scooted out of the way and some swatted at it. One man in particular tried to harm the bat, and I told him that we were trying to catch the bat and that we didn’t need to harm it. He asked me, “Why, it’s just a bat” and I responded, rather curtly as I was busily attempting to capture the bat with a spare t-shirt of mine, “Because bats have a right to live too.” I suppose I made quite a scene running around trying to catch the bat and a crowd gathered. Then suddenly the same man I had spoken too throws his shoe at the bat that ends this creatures flying, and perhaps also her or his life. I stare unbelievingly at the man who pursued his plan of death while I followed my plan for life. I gathered the still form in my t-shirt and approached the gate attendant asking if there was a way I could place the bat outside. She looked at me and asked, “What, are you a veterinarian?” as if that explained my absurd behavior. I answered yes and she led me outside through a door in the gateway ramp, where I pried the still breathing, but quite unmoving bat from my shirt and lowered her to an alcove in the stairway.
Returning to the gate waiting area, I sat in shock that there could be such opposing views on life and how in the public realm we can be at such odds with one another, disconnecting us in human relationships as well as harming other life. In this sorrowful and confusing musing, however, I felt a note of pride for the veterinary profession and a resulting symphony of hope. For others see veterinarians as the saviors of life, even on the leading edge of behavior that stands against the status quo of society that states “it’s only an animal” in action and in word. May we so live up to this understanding of who we are, in both action and world.