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Ethical Decision-Making in Innovation for Animal Welfare

An ACC&D Flagship Initiative

ACC&D is building new resources to aid animals and people alike. These resources help those working in animal welfare navigate ethical dilemmas inherent in this work.

Shelter cat

In recent years, ACC&D has taken a more active role in advancing promising new tools and technologies to improve the welfare of cats and dogs. The experience of trialing novel interventions—such as an ear marker to identify cats and dogs who have been sterilized without surgery, or vaccinated as part of a rabies vaccination campaign—led ACC&D to navigate ethical dilemmas in the areas of study design, selection of animals, welfare of animals involved, impact of the study on the local community, and more.

Experts agree that too few resources exist to aid this type of decision-making. In response, ACC&D held a Think Tank on “Ethical Decision-Making in Innovation for Animal Welfare” to address these challenging questions and need for new resources. The result is three novel projects:  

1. Veterinary guidance document: a resource to aid organizations, veterinarians, and individuals in ethical decision-making when conducting research or studies. Domestic dogs and cats are often targets for studies, often in response to perceived overpopulation, or public health, conservation and animal welfare concerns. There is considerable support for innovation to advance animal welfare, but a lack of specific guidance and review processes to help ensure that such work is ethical and prioritizes both animal and human/community well-being. This document, targeted for completion by early 2019, will be a resource to maximize ethical consideration around research or interventions, particularly in situations not subject to institutional ethical review. This list of ethical considerations, created at the Think Tank, is the springboard for the more complete guidance document.

2. Online “tool" to aid ethical decision-making: an easy-to-use, logical, adaptive online process to prompt thinking about animal welfare, community relations, local laws and values/morals, and veterinary standards. The tool will follow completion of the guidance document and tackle many of the same topics. Its purpose is to model and facilitate the process of asking ethical questions, not to provide a “how-to” guide.

Guatemala dog and owner

3. Moral distress: navigating everyday dilemmas in animal sheltering and welfare: a workshop to enhance ethical literacy in animal welfare. It is built on the premise that organizations and staff in the animal welfare field, and particularly animal shelters, regularly face ethical dilemmas yet often do not have the tools to aid communication on the topic. The workshop, patterned after resources in the human nursing field, aims to provide staff and volunteers with tools to make better decisions and work more productively together. The Workshop was piloted in December 2017 with facilitators Lisa Moses, DVM (MSPCA-Angell Pain and Palliative Care Service; Bioethicist with appointments at Harvard Medical School and Yale University) and Jesse Winters (former Senior Director, Shelter Outreach, ASPCA; former ACC&D Board of Directors).

Two presentations at ACC&D’s 6th International Symposium, “Ethical Decision-Making in Field Innovation to Help Animals” and “The Ethics of Using Dogs and Cats as Research Subjects: Special Considerations for Owned and Community Animals,” showcase the guidance document and online tool.

Thank you to our Think Tank and project sponsors!
American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA®)
Animal Assistance Foundation
International Cat Care
William and Charlotte Parks Foundation

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