AAFP creates welfare committee, principles


Miami - The American Association of Feline Practitioner (AAFP) seeks to cement its authority on welfare, devoting a committee to the topic and drafting principles for guidance.

MIAMI — The American Association of Feline Practitioner (AAFP) seeks to cement its authority on welfare, devoting a committee to the topic and drafting principles for guidance.

Dr. Julie Levy

Members likely will generate at least three annual positions statements on topics that range from feral-cat control to microchip identification. A goal of the Feline Welfare Committee is to guide future positions with regard to cats within the American Veterinary Medical Association.

AAFP, a small but active professional association, is no stranger to issuing unconventional opinions. After linking vaccination to feline sarcoma development, the group became the first veterinary association to publicly challenge the profession's longstanding annual inoculation practices by issuing guidelines in 2000. The move, while controversial at the time, ushered in a wave of reports linking vaccination frequency with certain adverse health risks. Organizational support and guidelines about immunization intervals followed.

Bolstering AAFP's guidance on feline welfare is a natural progression, says Dr. Julie Levy, Feline Welfare Committee member.

"This group has always been very visionary and forward-thinking, and we've been setting standards for the welfare of cats all along," she says. "Now we want to set some new territory for the profession, which is uniquely positioned to affect the welfare of cats. We're a spunky little group that's very motivated. We really want to get some work done here."

Morals, values, beliefs

That work is soon likely to include an updated stance on declawing cats with new emphasis on superior pain management. Guidelines to determine how shelter cats are adopted out, with consideration of behavior or medical problems, also are expected.

Committee Chairman Dr. William Folger insists each position statement will be run through the group's new principles, derived from moral, ethical, philosophical and cultural considerations.

Those principles support the internationally recognized "five freedoms" that guard against hunger, thirst, malnutrition, fear and distress, physical and thermal discomfort, pain, injury and disease and promote normal behavior patterns. When it comes to research, the principles back a reduction in animal numbers, refinement of experimental methods and replacement of test animals with non-animal techniques.

AAFP also recognizes that although there are disagreements among experts regarding animal welfare definitions, the differences are largely ethical in nature, constantly changing and controversial.

"We're trying to be open-minded and build bridges," Folger says. "That means trying very hard to work with everyone in the animal-welfare arena, from the Humane Society of the United States and the National Animal Control Association to the American Veterinary Medical Association."

Broad use

The positions that result likely will serve as a template for those developed within AVMA, says Folger, who served six years on the organization's Animal Welfare Committee.

But AAFP's work will be "a lot more extensive and in-depth," he says.

"Our focus is narrowed," Levy explains. "The feline practitioners are the primary guiding force in approving the welfare of cats. Being a small group allows us to be very nimble and take risky initiatives. A group like AVMA has so many constituencies, it's hard to get everyone on the same page." n

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