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U of G students post strong results in annual animal welfare assessment competition

University of Guelph students posted a strong performance at the annual intercollegiate animal welfare assessment competition bringing home individual and team honours.

Graduate and undergraduate student teams from the Ontario Agricultural College and the Ontario Veterinary College, as well as an OVC DVM student team, won medals in seven of nine categories in the competition.

The 17th annual Intercollegiate Animal Welfare Judging and Assessment Contest, hosted by Iowa State University, in Ames, Iowa, in mid-November, was the biggest contest to date with 143 individual competitors.

The U of G took 4 teams to the competition: an OVC DVM team; two undergrad teams; and a graduate student team with a total of 15 students, the maximum allowed for any individual institution.

Ontario Veterinary College team at the 2017 Intercollegiate Animal Welfare Judging and Assessment ContestDr. Derek Haley with the OVC DVM team, Caroline Graefin Von Waldburg-Zeil, OVC 2021, Andrea Patterson, OVC 2020, and Carleigh Cathcart, OVC 2021.

A coin toss was needed to break a tie for first between Caroline Graefin Von Waldburg-Zeil, OVC 2021, and another competitor in the DVM division, said DVM student team coach Dr. Derek Haley, in OVC’s Department of Population Medicine and Associate Faculty with the Campbell Centre for the Study of Animal Welfare (CCSAW).

Graefin Von Waldburg-Zeil, who amassed the second highest individual points total across all 143 competitors, ultimately placed second in the individual category and the DVM team placed fifth overall.

This was Graefin Von Waldburg-Zeil’s third year participating on the animal welfare judging team at Guelph.

“Animal welfare is a huge passion of mine, and I love getting to learn all about new species and their needs every year, which is why I keep coming back. This competition also has helped me to sharpen quick thinking and especially communication skills, which will be invaluable in a career in vet med,” she said. “Getting to network with professionals across Canada and the United States is another beneficial part of this competition. Participating in the animal welfare judging competition has played a huge role in shaping my life and career goals, and I'm already looking forward to next year.”

In the undergraduate division, Valerie Higginson placed second and Shelby Goncalves, fourth, with one of the undergraduate teams placing second overall. Both Higginson and Goncalves are Animal Biosciences students in the Ontario Agricultural College. 

In the graduate division, Heather MacElwee placed second with the fifth highest points total across all three divisions and Rebecca Parra fifth, with the graduate team earning second place overall.

“We have been practicing since September, three hours every Tuesday night,” says Haley. “In preparation we have had guest speakers present to us from the Animal Welfare Division of Alberta Agriculture, Greyhound Racing New Zealand, Penn State University, and from here at the U of Guelph.”

Along with Haley, Dr. Ian Duncan, Professor Emeritus, coached the undergraduate team and the graduate student team was coached by Dr. Janet Higginson-Cutler, sessional instructor.

Together, Haley, Duncan and Higginson-Cutler teach a course that was developed together with CCSAW Director Dr. Tina Widowski, and ran for the first time last year, teaching the principles and skills surrounding the assessment of animal welfare.

As a Masters by Coursework student, MacElwee chose Animal Welfare Judging and Evaluation as one of her fall term courses.

“During class time we were provided with a variety of scenarios and learned how to assess welfare, and communicate our interpretations with the class. Learning about animal-based and resource-based measures has provided me with the confidence to assess welfare in everyday situations, regardless of species.”

As part of the graduate team, MacElwee found the training prior to the competition set the team up for success. “Coming from an animal-focused school, with such strong faculty members passionate about animal welfare was an undeniable benefit to the Guelph students.”

U of G team with Dr. Temple Grandin, Colorado State The U of G teams had an opportunity to meet and talk with Dr. Temple Grandin who was at the competition with the Colorado State team.

The animal welfare assessment contest promotes awareness and critical thinking, while enhancing participants’ communication skills. The contest leads individuals and teams through comparative scenarios where they analyze the welfare of the various animals presented.

Four species are typically included in the contest – this year, scenarios about greyhound racing dogs, meat rabbits, fish in an aquaculture setting, and growing and finishing pigs were evaluated.

“The scenarios were very challenging as there is not a lot of scientific information about the well-being of farmed fish, racing greyhounds, or meat rabbits,” noted Haley. As evidence of how tough the scenarios were, only one out of 143 contestants judged all three scenarios perfectly.

“The competition scenarios were challenging, but the preparation from our class time greatly paid off,” said MacElwee. “The competition tested our ability to work in teams, and also as individuals. We were under pressure with very limited time to prepare for our presentations after viewing the scenarios, but it highlighted our abilities to construct focused arguments based on the information provided.”

This year’s event again brought teams from across North America with 18 schools represented, including the Atlantic Veterinary College, the University of British Columbia, Colorado State University, Texas A&M, UC Davis and many institutions in the mid-west USA.

The Campbell Centre for the Study of Animal Welfare supports the team travel. As well, this year the American Veterinary Medical Association covered a portion of the DVM student team expenses and two of the graduate students received travel bursaries from the Professional Animal Auditor Certification Organization (PAACO) in the USA.