University of Guelph teams achieve six top-five finishes in animal welfare assessment competition


December 14, 2022

Ontario Veterinary College students take first in all three components of veterinarian competition

What do a chicken, a cow, an octopus, a dog and a cat have in common? All were a part of this year’s American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) Animal Welfare Assessment Contest, with University of Guelph competitors walking away with multiple wins and top-five finishes.

University of Guelph senior undergraduate, graduate and veterinary students flew to Raleigh, North Carolina on Friday, November 18 for the weekend competition held at North Carolina State University alongside 22 other competing universities, to test their animal welfare assessment skills.

The competition used virtual scenarios featuring show chickens, dairy-beef cattle, octopuses in an aquarium and a live assessment of dogs and cats at an animal shelter. Students assessed each scenario, either as an individual or team, and presented their findings to an expert panel of scientists and veterinarians who specialize in animal welfare.

Preparation is key to assessing and communicating animal welfare findings

Each year students are made aware of the species they will be tested on ahead of time in order to help them study and prepare for the contest. For professors Derek Haley and Tina Widowski, being able to access animals and their caretakers locally, plays an important part in students’ learning about these species, some of which they had never encountered in person before.

Colleagues at the Guelph Humane Society helped Haley and Widowski put together a live assessment at their facility to evaluate welfare of shelter-based dogs and cats, with an opportunity to ask questions about what enrichment for those species looks like – and what it doesn’t look like.

Students toured nearby Hopeview Farms for a close-up look at calf-rearing. Internationally-known poultry judge, Troy Laroche, gave a presentation to the class, since all live poultry shows were cancelled this year due to Avian Influenza.

Despite Ontario’s lack of salt water, the nearby Ripley’s Aquarium in Toronto also provided insight into what makes for a healthy and enriched environment for octopuses. Aquarist and octopus keeper Prat Kulkarni, gave a virtual talk to students about the importance of water quality and human animal interactions that set the groundwork for better understanding of a species not often encountered in southern Ontario.

All University of Guelph teams spent two months preparing for the competition with the help of their coaches Professor Derek Haley and PhD Candidate Quinn Rausch from OVC’s Department of Population Medicine, and Professor Tina Widowski of OAC’s Department of Animal Biosciences.

University of Guelph AVMA welfare assessment wins

Individual winners in the veterinary division

  • First place: Jacob Maxwell
  • Third place: Shaela Hurley
  • Fourth place: Emily Merry
  • Fifth place: Nena Stanekovic

Overall high point team in the veterinary division

  • First place: Ontario Veterinary College, Team Gold (Emily Merry, Jacob Maxwell and Shaela Hurley)
  • Fifth place: Ontario Veterinary College, Team Red (Diana Fitzgerald, Tula Sifling and Nena Stanekovic)

Individual winner in the undergraduate senior division

  • First place: Anna Nicklas

Overall high point team in the undergraduate senior division

  • Third place: University of Guelph

Individual winners in the graduate division

  • Second place: Gillian Power*
  • Fifth place: Kiana McDole

*Gillian tied for first place with another contender and took second place following a coin toss.

Overall high point team in the graduate division

  • Second place: University of Guelph (Sam Hartwig, Kendra Gillett, Kiana McDole, Lydia Conrad and Gillian Power)

The University of Guelph competed against 22 other universities from across North America, including Michigan State University, University of Wisconsin, Texas A&M University, Ohio State University, Colorado State University, North Carolina State University, Atlantic Veterinary College, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Purdue University, University of Kentucky, University of Minnesota and Long Island University, with 225 students competing in total.

About the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA)

Serving more than 100,000 member veterinarians, the AVMA is the nation's leading representative of the veterinary profession, dedicated to improving the health and wellbeing of animals, humans and the environment. Founded in 1863 and with members in every U.S. state and territory and more than 60 countries, the AVMA is one of the largest veterinary medical organizations in the world. Informed by our members' unique scientific training and clinical knowledge, the AVMA supports the crucial work of veterinarians and advocates for policies that advance the practice of veterinary medicine and improve animal and human health.

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