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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Top Veterinary Stories for 2011

Dr. Donald F. Smith, Cornell University
Posted December 29, 2011

World Veterinary Year (Vet 2011) - The world's first veterinary school was established in Lyon, France 250 years ago (1761) by French veterinarian Claude Bourgelat. It was commissioned by King Louis XV to promote the prevention of cattle disease, notable Rinderpest (cattle plague). A second school was started by Bourgelat three years later in the Paris suburb of Alfort. Veterinary colleges soon emerged in London and Scotland. The 150th anniversary of veterinary medicine in the United States will be celebrated in 2013.

Animals in Movies - Two  movies gave us much to consider regarding the use and abuse of animals in war and peace. Sara Gruen's novel-turned-movie, "Water for Elephants" provided a glimpse of  circus life during the Great Depression; and the release of  Steven Spielberg's "War Horse" on Christmas Day portrayed the enormity of loss of equine life during wartime. Though segments of these movies needlessly strain the limits of credulity, the central themes provide compelling stories of the need for animal welfare and proper veterinary care.

Supporting Pets after the Great Japanese Earthquake - Disaster preparedness and response for animals came to prominence after Hurricane Katrina. However, the magnitude of animal devastation resulting from the March earthquake and tsunami of Northeastern Japan far eclipsed anything we had seen here in America. Dr. Asako Shimamura took leave from her regular job and worked as an individual volunteer in some of the hardest hit areas. Coordinating efforts with local veterinarians, she collected and distributed medical supplies and food in the heart of the disaster area, and reunited animals with their human families. Because of the loss of communication, the most severly affected areas were often those not identified by the Tokyo headquarters. By mid May, Dr. Shimamura had made over 200 different trips into the disaster area within the Miyagi Prefecture. Her bravery, commitment, compassion and perseverance against incredible natural and human challenges is one of the great veterinary stories of the year.

Veterinarian Awarded National Medal of Science - Ralph Brinster, a veterinary professor at the University of Pennsylvania received the National Medal of Science "for fundamental contributions to the development and use of transgenic mice". This award is the highest honor bestowed by the United States' government on scientists and engineers. Dr. Brinster is the first veterinarian in the country to receive the award since it was established 50 years ago. The White House announcement acclaimed Brinster's research to have "provided experimental foundations and inspiration for progress in germline genetic modification in a range of species, which has generated a revolution in biology, medicine, and agriculture."

AVMA Accreditation of Ross University - The American Veterinary Medical Association granted Ross University's School of Veterinary Medicine full accreditation in March. A private institution located on the Island of St. Kitts in the Caribbean, Ross graduates over 400 students per year, 98% of whom are from the U.S. This represents about 10% of the total graduates seeking employment in the United States annually. Not since the then-proprietary Ontario Veterinary College (see footnote) attracted massive numbers of Americans to its for-profit school in Toronto in the late 19th century has a non-American veterinary institution trained so many U.S. citizens as veterinarians. The accreditation of Ross was followed several months later by similar recognition of St. George's School of Veterinary Medicine on the island of Grenada.

Rinderpest Eradication
On June 28, the 192 Member countries of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization adopted a Resolution declaring global freedom from Rinderpest. Referred to as cattle plague throughout much of history, this was an infectious disease of cattle, buffalo, yak and many wildlife species. Its devastation has been profound, producing massive starvation, economic ruin and political instability. For example, Rinderpest destroyed 90% of the cattle and millions of wild animals in sub-Saharan Africa in the 1890s. Rinderpest is the first animal disease to be eliminated by human efforts, and only the second disease of any kind, after smallpox in humans.

Footnote: The Ontario Veterinary College was established by Scottish veterinarian, Andrew Smith, as a for-profit college in downtown Toronto in 1862. It operated as a proprietary college for almost 50 years when it became a publicly-supported institution under the umbrella of the University of Toronto. Contemporary Scot, James Law, established the veterinary program at Cornell University in 1868 but his high matriculation and curriculum standards were out of reach of most American students so they migrated north of the border and returned to practice in New York and neighboring states.

Dr. Smith welcomes comments at