AWF was established in 1983 by eight members of the British Veterinary Association (BVA) with the proceeds of a legacy from Colleen Macleod left to BVA. The members agreed that the funds would be better placed in a charity which could operate with the sole aim of improving animal welfare. The charity has since functioned as an independent entity, while maintaining a close relationship with the BVA.
Since its early days AWF has played an important role in cementing animal welfare into the veterinary curriculum. In 1986 we established the Colleen Macleod Chair in Animal Welfare at Cambridge University, making Donald Broom the world’s first Professor of Animal Welfare.
The professorship was created with the aim of establishing animal welfare as a recognised academic discipline. Today there are more than 30 professors of animal welfare around the world and many more who work principally in this area.
In 2003 AWF used a legacy to establish Animal Welfare Lectureships at Bristol, Glasgow and Liverpool. AWF lecturers, David Main, Jennifer Duncan and Dorothy McKeegan, worked together to develop a new framework for animal welfare teaching in the UK.
Each post covered slightly different, but complementary, aspects of welfare: applied welfare assessment and improvement; quality of life assessments; and epidemiology/bio-security.
When funding ended in 2008 the three universities confirmed that the lectureships would continue, in perpetuity, beyond the seed funding provided by the Foundation.
‘What would you do?’ case studies
Until 2012 AWF held an animal welfare symposium for final-year students at Lancaster University each September. AWF conducted case studies at the symposium where students formed groups to look at the animal and human welfare aspects of different cases and used real-life ethical reasoning exercises that the students were likely to meet in practice. The content of these sessions were later developed into the popular ‘What would you do?’ case studies now available online. Link to case studies page
Welfare talks and debates
In 2012 AWF began working with the Association of Veterinary Students to arrange a series of animal welfare debates at each of the vet schools. Since 2017 these popular talks have also been offered to veterinary nursing students.
These talks and debates are intended to reach a larger audience than the Lancaster Forum and provide a means to enhance welfare-related teaching in the UK veterinary schools.
In its early years AWF was left a substantial legacy which it has since used to fund research into the health and welfare of horses, cattle and sheep. To date we’ve invested millions in research projects which have led to breakthrough diagnostics and treatments in many species, ranging from painful and contagious diseases in cattle, sheep, and horses, and pioneering pain management work for cats.
AWF’s annual Discussion Forum provides a platform to debate important welfare-related issues publicly. The first symposium, ‘Priorities in Animal Welfare’ was held on 20 November 1984 in London and was introduced by Dr David Bellamy. The aim was to identify problem areas needing most urgent attention. The symposium has since grown from an invite only affair to a well-regarded event that attracts members of the veterinary profession, industry, charities and government. Link to Discussion Forum section.
This flagship event has raised the profile of many serious animal welfare issues has helped influence policy decisions, leading to changes in the regulations and laws governing the welfare of animals — notably transport of live animals, livestock show welfare, an EU ban on importing wild birds, and collaborative action on ‘designer dogs’ — encouraging breeders to breed for welfare, rather than design.