Advocacy in action

An interview with Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights President Paula Kislak, DVM

Founded in 1981, the Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights (AVAR) is an international association of veterinarians with 2615 member veterinarians. Dr Paula Kislak is the president of the AVAR. She is a 1984 graduate of the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine. She and her husband are relief veterinarians practicing in Santa Barbara, California. Dr Kislak, a vegan, has been a member of AVAR since 1989.

Q. How does AVAR prioritize its efforts in advocating for animal rights?

A. The AVAR is committed to balancing the needs of human and nonhuman animals. I think most people would agree that a balance is warranted, but exactly where one draws the line in terms of the welfare of the animals or the perceived welfare of the humans is where there often is a discrepancy.

Our first priority is in veterinary education. We're trying to make veterinary education more humane. We want there to be no harming or killing of animals in veterinary education. We believe that animals need to be used, but used humanely.

Some elements of large animal medicine education are already more humane in that the practical experience that the student gets is out on the farm and in the field. In the small animal curriculum, animals come from pounds and from biomedical supply houses, as opposed to students doing surgeries on animals that go back to a shelter for adoption.

We've been involved in introducing and lobbying for legislation, such as shelter reform in the state of California. We're a strong proponent of early spay-neuter programs for dogs and cats. We've been involved in legislation to ban downer cows from the food chain. And, we're trying to get the USDA to enforce the Animal Welfare Act as it pertains to veterinary schools.

Q. How does AVAR define "family farm"?

A. The AVAR has a position that defines factory farming, but to my knowledge we don't have a statement defining family farm. In my opinion, a family farm should be owned or managed by a family, as opposed to a factory farm that is owned by a corporation or conglomerate. A family farm would treat the animals on the farm as individuals, not as production units, which is how they are referred to on factory farms. Once you see animals as individuals, I like to think that there would be quality of life considerations such as providing space where the animals would have the ability to interact in social groups or engage in normal behavior like grooming, exercising, foraging, sunning, or bathing. My impression is that family farms are less stressful, less contaminated because the animals aren't confined to their own feces; therefore, there's less need for antibiotics or chemicals.

Q. Does AVAR believe that family farms should be able to raise livestock for slaughter?

A. In principle, AVAR opposes the raising of nonhuman animals for food or fiber. But, it's unlikely in the foreseeable future that most people would be able to, or willing to, adhere to a purely plant-based diet. Until such time as that occurs, in the interim, we strongly advocate more humane means of raising nonhuman animals for human consumption.

Q. Is AVAR's ultimate goal to not have farms; is it a meatless agenda?

A. I wouldn't say it's an agenda. I would say, if there's an agenda, it's to improve the conditions that nonhuman animals live in today. AVAR is a very practical organization. We are practical enough to understand that most people are not going to change their eating and living habits. There are many groups, though, that are trying to get them to understand why they should. That's not our primary goal. It's probably not even our secondary goal. I'm not saying that it's not one of our principles, but it's not one of our active goals. Our active goal is to see that animals that are used for consumption have some freedom to move so they can groom and exercise, and that they are housed in social groups with as close to natural conditions as possible. We'd like to see them under conditions that are not so stressful and so contaminated that we have to use widespread amounts of drugs, hormones, and other artificial treatments. We'd like them to be free from unnecessary mutilations, like debeaking. When animals have to be transported, we'd like the transportation to be better. We'd like it to not be too hot, for there to be ample room to move around, that there be hay or some non-slippery substance on the bottom of the transportation conveyance so they aren't slipping in their own feces or urine. We'd like to see them have better medical care. We'd like them to be slaughtered humanely.

Q. Does AVAR have a position on the keeping of animals as pets?

A. No, not to my knowledge. I would say that we probably don't have a position. People are going to have pets. People are going to eat animals. So what can we do to make it better? On the pet side, we'd like to see people not get pets who will suffer as a result of having been inbred. We would like to see people go to places such as rescue organizations or shelters to get animals. We're not trying to get people to not keep pets. There is a certain amount of exploitation involved, but it's minimized, I hope, by most guardians taking into consideration what does the pet want and need.

Q. If I attended an AVAR meeting and requested a meal with meat, would AVAR accommodate the request?

A. There have been circumstances where people have brought meat. Our meetings are small and catered. It's not like we have a hotel at our disposal to make a variety of dishes. We wouldn't buy a meat platter just to accommodate you. But, we have had people bring sandwiches or meals that contained meat, and we haven't kicked them out or ostracized them.

For many years, I brought meals when I attended AVMA conventions. It's only in the past decade that you can reliably get a vegetarian meal. In my opinion, that is mostly because people are watching their health, rather than having ethical objections to eating animals.

Q. Is there anything else that you would like to say to the AASV membership?

A. The AVMA's Principles of Veterinary Medical Ethics (2003 revision) states: "Veterinarians should first consider the needs of the patient: to relieve disease, suffering, or disability while minimizing pain or fear." The AVAR encourages all members of our profession to respect these principles.