I graduated as a veterinarian 25 years ago because I wanted to help animals. Even then there were 51 women and only 13 men in my class. Women continue to dominate my profession today, making up 67% of Australian veterinarians, according to industry surveys*. As a female-dominated profession, I feel we now have an opportunity to use our numbers and speak up on issues that affect women and animals.
On International Women’s Day my hope is that as a profession, we could turn our attention to an issue that affects all women, all men and all animals. It’s the biggest animal welfare issue I’ve seen in 25 years of being a vet: climate change.
The impacts are not something far away into the future. As a suburban vet I’ve treated numerous dogs presenting with heat exposure. Some dogs had burnt pads from hot pavements. Some dogs were so unwell from heat exposure they were comatose or dying. It’s horrific for the dogs, for the owners and for vets to witness the impacts of more intense, prolonged heat waves and hotter summer days.
At a national level, more than 3 billion animals died in the 2019-2020 fires. That number is incomprehensible, and the way they died – in fear, panic and pain - haunts me. The floods more recently have also caused many deaths – through starvation, exposure and drowning.
We count houses lost but I believe we don’t sufficiently measure non-human lives lost. We are being hit with unnatural disasters on an annual basis now around the world. As a profession, as carers for animals I believe vets can play a role in advocating for stronger climate action right now.
At Vets for Climate Action our Chair, Deputy Chair and CEO are all women. We encourage our members to have conversations with clients about the changing climate and impacts on animals. We are also working on a program that will help vets reduce their energy and water consumption and waste.
No one wants to consider themselves cruel to animals, but without meaningful action to reduce emissions this decade, we are most definitely hurting the pets, livestock and wild animals we profess to love. We have the solutions – and huge economic opportunities – for sustainably exceeding our energy needs in wind and solar but we need to step up the pace.
We are inextricably bound to this beautiful planet and the plants and animals that have evolved with us. They sustain us and bring great joy. As a vet, seeing this bond between animals and humans on a daily basis, I feel lucky to see the best of humanity and our capacity for love. We must make decisions with empathy and kindness, we must reduce our own footprints but above all we must call on our leaders to take strong climate action. It’s the single most important issue we face.
Dr Anne Rainbow is a WA Vet and member of Vets for Climate Action
* Australian Veterinary Association Workforce Survey 2021