Liz White, director of Animal Alliance Canada, and Dr. Erika Sullivan succeed!
Read the HSVMA publication on our success in ending inhumane live animal training methods for future graduates of the Ontario Veterinary College!
Ontario Veterinary College Alumnus Coordinates Campaign to Replace Terminal Surgeries
By Erika Sullivan, DVM
March 7, 2011
One of the biggest challenges that I faced in completing my degree at Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) was ensuring that I could achieve the highest level of education, while respecting all animals as sentient beings.
In the third year of my veterinary training, my classmates and I were required to complete the course Surgical Exercises, which was designed to teach basic and advanced surgical skills. While traditionally veterinary students have been taught surgery by performing multiple surgical procedures on live animals whom were then killed after the procedures, fortunately the OVC also offered students like me an ‘alternative’ stream, where the harmful use of live animals was not required and where ethical alternatives offered the balance between skill and the respect for life that I strived for.
What I found disturbing, however, was the number of students like myself who opted for this path–only two of us participated, out of 105 students. In fact, one year later—for first time ever—the graduating class of 2006 had zero student participants. Were student viewpoints on animal ethics changing, I asked myself, or were there misconceptions about the level of education that such programs could provide? And why have other schools in North America offered only humane training methods for years, while others chose to include harmful live animal use in their curriculum?
Advocating for change as an alumnus
Dr. Erika Sullivan (right) and Liz White, co-founder of the Animal Alliance of Canada, are all smiles after bringing about positive change at Ontario Veterinary College.
Erika Sullivan, DVM
The answers to these questions drove my efforts to end unnecessary live animal use, particularly when humane alternatives already exist and have proven effective. I started researching veterinary journals, where I discovered that numerous scientific studies have been published for years, comparing alternative and traditional methods of training and preparing students for clinical practice. The studies demonstrated that alternative programs can satisfy the moral concerns of students, while maintaining high standards in the quality of their education.¹ For example, studies dating back decades have demonstrated that students in alternative training groups who used ethical-sourced cadavers and inanimate models are able to be trained in surgery at least as well as students in traditional training groups.² Research also showed other advantages, including time savings in anesthesia and the ability for repetition on models, which allowed for greater comfort with instruments and skill in routine, as well as non-routine, surgeries upon graduation.
Armed with this information, I returned to OVC after I graduated to speak to the students, in an effort to offer them a balanced perspective, but ultimately enabling them to make informed decisions for themselves. I presented information about my experience with the alternative stream alongside another alumnus who presented theirs with the traditional stream, but unfortunately, this was not enough to change the OVC curriculum entirely.
I then enlisted the help of the Animal Alliance of Canada, an organization committed to animal protection through education and advocacy, to create an outreach campaign aimed at ending harmful live animal use for surgical training at the OVC. We met several times to discuss how to encourage change at the school, and subsequently, I was joined by another advocate for a meeting with the Dean and Assistant Dean of the College. Additionally, Liz White, one of the founders of the Animal Alliance of Canada, was instrumental in coordinating phone calls, letters, and ultimately a warning to take the fate of the laboratory-bred beagles used at the school to the public via a published newspaper advertisement and/or by holding a press conference. (The beagles in question were used in an OVC surgery training program for international veterinary students—the Veterinary Skills and Enhancement Program, or VSTEP—and then euthanized).
A successful outcome is achieved
Ultimately, it was a combination of these efforts that brought our success. In August 2010, the school announced that, from that point on, all of the beagles used for the VSTEP program would be recovered post-operatively and adopted out. We were fortunate to witness the first group of 40 beagles adopted out early that month.
Life is looking better for 30 sheep, who have recently been transported to sanctuary and saved from slaughter.
Erika Sullivan, DVM
In September 2010, the OVC announced that they would work towards an alternative-based training system that would not only change the way veterinary students are taught, but help make harmful animal practices a thing of the past. The transition involved using training models, simulators, cadavers and closely supervised surgery on live animals who benefit from the procedures (rather than being killed after surgery.)
Additionally, in February 2011, Animal Alliance was successful in negotiating a fair price to purchase sheep who were purpose-bred for use by students in the traditional stream this fall semester, but who were no longer needed due to the curriculum change. The sheep were initially going to be sold at an auction and ultimately sent to slaughter, but the Animal Alliance worked actively to prevent this fate, and now 30 sheep have been transported to a farm sanctuary where they will be castrated, receive routine medical care and gain permanent residence. As of late February, ten sheep remained at the Ontario Veterinary College while the Animal Alliance searched for a home for them.
Trends point to a more humane future
Over the past twenty years, there has been an increase in public awareness and a growing search for alternatives to experimental use of animals. The increase in the number of students that are insisting on humane alternatives to harmful animal use is exceeded only by the growth in numbers of alternatives themselves.
Veterinary institutions ultimately face major choices when considering how they will educate and train their students. Only those that seize the opportunity to make progressive change are able to portray themselves as ethical, responsible and capable of providing the latest in educational technology.
Dr. Erika Sullivan graduated from the Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) in Guelph in 2005 with distinction. While in school, she advocated for alternative surgery training that did not involve terminal procedures and returned to OVC as an alumnus to educate students on the issue after graduation. She works with the Animal Alliance of Canada, an animal protection organization in Toronto, to reach out to faculty at the school and advocate for change. Dr. Sullivan is passionate about educating her clients on topics such as cosmetic and convenience surgeries, shelter adoption, puppy mills and responsible exotic animal ownership. Outside the clinic, she is a spokesperson for several local, national and international projects that dedicate their cause to helping animals. Her passion for animals and traveling abroad has led her to places like Africa to help gorillas and Thailand to help elephants.
1 Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association. Humane Animal Use/Alternatives: Humane Teaching Methods—Studies, Publications and Multimedia. [http://www.hsvma.org/humane_teaching_methods].
2 Greenfield, C., Johnson, A., Schaeffer, D., and L. Hungerford. 1995. Comparison of surgical skills of veterinary students trained using models or live animals. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association; 206: 1840-1845.