Sharing worldwide problems - Veterinary Practice
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Sharing worldwide problems

JOHN BOWER reports on this year’s ICAWC conference in Budapest – where he was a speaker

FOR the second year running,
around 200 delegates from all over
the world attended the International
Companion Animal Welfare
Conference in October. This time,
the 11th, the ICAWC settled on
Budapest, Hungary’s capital city on
the Blue Danube, so as well as
having an opportunity to explore a
city new to me, it was irresistible to
accept an invitation to present a

The two-and-a-
half-day annual
conference is the
brainchild of Clarissa
Baldwin, chief
executive of Dogs’
Trust, and has been
efficiently organised by
her PA, Helen Speake,
for the last few years.

This year was no exception and 18
papers delivered by speakers from the
USA, India, Hungary and the UK made
it a truly international meeting.

Luton airport is perhaps not the
most convenient departure point from
Devon, but it is one of the few airports
from where you can fly to Budapest and
as a close university friend whom I had
not seen for years lived nearby, it
seemed a sensible starting off point the
night before.

I had forgotten about the M25
though! Two and a half hours from
Plymouth to the M5, then two and a
half hours from the M25 to Luton!
However, a pleasant evening soon
erased that experience, as did landing in
Budapest to 30oC and cloudless blue
skies – the Danube was truly blue!

The delegates were from many
different types of establishments –
rescue homes, welfare organisations,
rehabilitation units, neutering centres,
DEFRA, governments, representatives
from the Kennel Club, Dogs’ Trust,
Cats Protection, FAB, and also some
vets and nurses

Low priority

Some came from relatively poor
countries where animal welfare is given
a very low priority, but they were there
to learn what could be done on a very
low budget, and were among the
keenest there. Many of the trustees of
Dogs’ Trust were in attendance and it
was good to see them all taking such an
active interest.

As is the case at most veterinary-
type congresses, much discussion took
place over the lunches, coffee breaks
and in the bar until the wee small hours
but this did not deter the delegates from
attending the first lecture each morning!

The conference started on the
Wednesday afternoon with the option
of two workshops: Building a basic web presence, or Practical responses to
behavioural issues. These were very
relevant considering quite a few
delegates came from underdeveloped or
recently emerging countries.

The workshops were followed by a
visit to the Hungarian Animal Welfare
Institute – The Animal Island. Dr Peter
Kirali, a Budapest veterinarian, was the
host and he indeed founded both this
and the best known Hungarian SPA, the Rex Foundation. After
the tour, the Shelter
treated delegates to a
welcome dinner, with
traditional food, music
and entertainment.

Clarissa Baldwin
opened the conference
proper the next morning and Peter
Kirali then talked about his experiences in veterinary work and animal welfare in
Budapest, drawing on his experiences as
the Hungarian representative on WSPA.
This was followed by another nine talks
that day, and another eight the following
day on diverse welfare-related topics.
One was by Claire Bessant, chief
executive of the FAB, on “The
Confined Cat – Maintaining Health and
Sanity”. This was a very relevant talk to
the delegates, many of whom ran cat
rescue centres.

Dr Abdul Rahman then gave us his
perspective on both rabies, and a birth
control programme in which he was
involved in India. He informed us that
75% of the world’s dogs are strays and
they are the ones that cause people
problems; we can either love them or
hate them, he pointed out.

People in India didn’t understand
why anyone should help the dogs and
not the people, so it was critical to
change hearts and minds by explaining
that stray animals were a human
problem. Dogs carry rabies; we treat the
dogs so that we can eradicate rabies
from humans. In Jaipur there are now
no deaths from rabies thanks to a
successful dog control programme.

After lunch, two well-known UK
vets took the stage; firstly, Chris
Laurence spoke about microchipping,
taking delegates through the history,
safety, effectiveness, and reasons why
some fail, but recommending
microchipping if the finance was
available. Then David Watson spoke on
Nutrition and Obesity, covering all the
reasons owners overfeed their pets –
clients’ excuses such as wanting to feel
happy when feeding their pets, not
wanting to deny their pet something it
wants, old habits are hard to break,
difficult to diet them with busy lifestyle
and schedules.

David then explained how to try to
get clients on board, including advice to stop glorifying the
grotesque, cross
link with human
obesity stories,
share platforms
(note: our own
practice’s “pet
weight watchers”
programme is very
successful), and
suggested focusing
on health benefits
and encouraging
pet/owner exercise.

Maggie Roberts, a veterinarian and
head of veterinary services at Cats
Protection, then explained why cats are
not just small dogs – in an illuminating
talk entitled “Dogs are from Mars, Cats
are from Venus”. I think we all
understood what she meant when she
said that dogs have owners, cats have
staff! She explained the evolutionary
origins of both species and how
different both they and their needs are
in a family home and a rescue centre
because of this.

Report from Afghanistan

The first day finished with the most
emotive talk of the day by Pen Farthing.
Pen was a Royal Marine for 20 years and
latterly served in Afghanistan. One day,
patrolling in a remote town called Now
Zad, he broke up a dog fight organised
by the local police and took the dogs
into the barracks to recover. The
marines continued to feed them as they
were starving, and eventually organised
a difficult and dangerous transport for
these few dogs to the Rescue Centre
700 miles away through Taliban

Most of the dogs arrived and Pen
and his wife arranged transport of one
of them, which had literally adopted
Pen in the barracks, back to the UK.
Now named Nowzad, he lives with
them. It was wonderful to hear his
descriptions of how the dogs gave the
troops that relaxation from the terrors
of the day during the feeding and play

The second full day featured eight
papers. Among these, David Bowles, the
head of external affairs of the RSPCA
and co-ordinator of international
campaigns and political work, gave a
talk on dog populations and best

This was followed by Sarah Fisher’s
talk on the Tellington Touch – a unique
way of working with all animals; it is a
method based on circular movements of
the fingers and hands all over the body.
The intent of the TTouch is to activate
the function of the cells and awaken
cellular intelligence: a little like “turning on the electric lights of the body” she

Jeff Young, a vet from the USA, has
been neutering kittens and puppies at a
very young age and is firmly convinced
that in a rescue situation, this is the best
way. He is proud of having personally
sterilised over 160,000 animals over the
last 18 years, and argues that those
released to a new home before they are
neutered often fail to be neutered; he is
probably quite right.

He is adamant that neutering is the
only solution to the stray population,
and is keen on trap, neuter and release
of feral populations for this reason.

I was given the graveyard shift – the
last paper of the conference – to speak
on the subject of breeding entitled,
“Breeding’s a problem – or is it?” The
TV programme in the UK earlier in the
year had prompted Clarissa Baldwin to
include a talk on this subject so I
attempted to get across how welfarists
could help by advice to new owners, by
ensuring any pups and kittens that left
their homes were both suited to the
owners, and well-socialised and
habituated. Basic information about
breeding cycles was given followed by
some examples of how things can go so
wrong when breed standards are
exaggerated or judges interpret them in
an exaggerated fashion.

It was good to be able to tell
delegates that the Kennel Club in the
UK had revised all its standards and was
working with the BVA and indeed had
agreed that all dogs going through the
various BVA/KC schemes now had to
be microchipped.

Saturday morning was free for
delegates to explore this beautiful city
and most of us took off to the old city
across the Danube to explore this
fascinating area with its castle, palace,
bridges, beautifully tiled buildings and
cobbled streets. The ICAWC annual
conference itself is well worth attending
for a totally different insight into
international animal welfare.

  • Next year the ICAWC is to be held in
    Vienna from 17th to 19th November.
    The website for information and all of
    this year’s papers is

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