Animal welfare must be a priority for US Congress and around the world

Since the first federal law regulating the treatment of animals was signed in 1873, we have continued to adopt, amend and further consider legislation that affects the welfare of the diverse animals under human care or affected by human activities. 

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It is the duty of Congress to ensure that legislation is based on quality science and that it also holds those who use and care for animals to high ethical standards reflecting the values of responsibility and compassion that our society holds dear. 

Animals add tremendous value to our lives as pets; as working animals in the military, on our farms and in our homes; and by contributing to our knowledge base through their use in educational programs and biomedical research. With animals’ service to us comes our undeniable responsibility to protect their health and well-being, and veterinarians are critical partners in ensuring that animals are cared for appropriately.

As a veterinarian, I have been blessed with firsthand knowledge of the important roles animals fulfill and the many things veterinarians do to help animals, their owners and the wider human community. 

Every day veterinarians administer vaccines that protect pets, families and communities from deadly diseases. 

They educate farmers about advances in housing, nutrition, handling, disease control and other management practices that save animals from unnecessary suffering. They speak in school classrooms about animal safety.

Veterinarians assist biomedical researchers with studies that improve our diagnosis and treatment of diseases affecting both humans and animals. They serve as advisers, inspectors and auditors for voluntary and regulatory assurance programs that help safeguard the welfare of animals in breeding facilities, on farms, in slaughterhouses and in zoos and research facilities. Some, like me, are honored to be in public service.

No matter how we fulfill our professional responsibilities, the veterinarian’s focus is on protecting the well-being of the animal throughout its life. That includes sometimes eliminating its suffering by delivering a humane death through the appropriate conduct of euthanasia. 

Veterinarians’ extensive professional education and hands-on experience with a diversity of animals helps keep our decisionmaking processes

grounded in good science and simple common sense. It allows us to make decisions and take actions that help people honor their duties to care for and protect animals, even in the face of rapidly changing situations such as natural disasters, emerging and deadly diseases, new and better treatment options and the array of sometimes conflicting information provided by our media and social networks.

Everyone wants to look after the animals in our care competently, responsibly and compassionately. And it is in our best interest to work together to continue to improve the health and welfare of animals and humans, and to protect the environment. 

Throughout the 112th Congress, we will continue to have the opportunity, and the responsibility, to develop welfare-friendly practices that have the potential to affect how we care for animals not only the United States, but globally. 

We must make good animal welfare a priority — I invite you to join me in facing our challenges and finding productive solutions.

Schrader is in his second term representing Oregon’s 5th congressional district, and is the only veterinarian currently serving in the U.S. Congress.