World officially mad as vets complain about student vets handling sheep for charitable calendar

Veterinary Nursing News

World officially mad as vets complain about student vets handling sheep for charitable calendar

The Royal Veterinary College Principal, Stuart Reid has become embroiled in a row over its students' annual charity calendar, after a veterinary vegan group complained about the month that showed veterinary students handling sheep.

The photograph showed seven naked male student vets holding sheep 'tipped' in front of them so as to hide the students' spare parts.

That anyone should complain about sheep being tipped, a technique which the British Cattle Veterinary Association describes as: "widely recognised as being safe and pain-free for the animals" defies logic. But so they did, and according to The Times, it led to personal attacks, harassment and threats against the students who'd made the calendar.

Worse still was the fact that according to various newspaper reports, the complaint originally came from the Veterinary Vegan Network (VVN), a group of qualified and trainee veterinary surgeons and nurses, who reportedly posted on their Facebook page that the photo was 'deeply disturbing'

Oh come on. 'Deeply disturbing?' Really? I'd argue that any vet who finds that photo 'deeply disturbing' should be asking themselves whether they're in the right job. 

There cannot be a veterinary surgeon or nurse in the country who is not aware of the high suicide rate in the profession, or the problems it is facing with retention, so if the complaint did trigger a backlash against the students involved, the VVN should hang its head in shame and apologise to them immediately. Profusely. As the BCVA said in its statement, the vitriol aimed at the students is "both grossly unfair, unfounded and should be condemned."

The RVC's response was predictably politically-correct: Stuart Reid wrote an open letter apologising to those who'd taken offence. But it was pitched very badly. It was long on apology, long on hand-wringing and long on appeasement. It was jaw-droppingly short of an outright condemnation of those who'd harassed his students. Indeed, according to The Times report, an unnamed vet said the college had "thrown its students under a bus."

We live in an increasingly homogenised, politically-correct world in which people complain at the first opportunity and take offence at anything and everything. Our institutions then seem to fall over themselves in the rush to apologise to the perpetually offended Facebook fruitcakes. We all need to fight this. Stuart Reid, ewe need to grow a pair. 

To the students involved in the calendar: well done for making the world a slightly less grey place, and remember that for every one fruitcake, there are a thousand more who support your charitable efforts.

No sheep were hurt in the writing of this article.


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  • You are missing the point!

    The BCVA may describe tipping as "safe and pain-free" for the animals, but you'd find it hard to argue that these sentient animals 'enjoy' being held in that position? Or whether a technique where they are held in an unnatural way, against their will, does not cause any mental stress? Or that the technique is positive for the animals' mental health?

    You could argue that this technique is required in veterinary day to day work, for the long-term health of the animal, however, to put an animal in this position for the sake of a calendar or for human enjoyment is not OK.

    In other words, to put an animal through undue stress, for human enjoyment, laughter or entertainment is not OK, regardless of the goodwill intended.

    I'd argue that any vet who would deliberately want to cause undue stress to an animal, even for a second, for human entertainment, should as you put it' ask themselves whether they're in the right job'. I believe the vet's involved meant well, but it is a clear oversight on the consideration for the animal's well being as a whole.

    And to say that because there is a high suicide rate in the profession, that people who disagree with something should 'not complain' and apologise is ridiculous. Everyone has a right to disagree with something, and I agree that using personal attacks, harassment and threats against anyone to get a personal view across is not OK.

    No humans or non-humans were hurt in the writing of this article either.

  • I don't know about deeply disturbing but I find it deeply disappointing and yes offensive. Perhaps disciplinary action is in order and I am not thinking for those that appeared on the calendar. Once again another little vipers nest on facebook causing problems.

  • I don't think you can argue that something causes mental stress without quantifying it. I might be slightly stressed by being in a crammed tube train. But it's not a big deal. If i was being tortured, that's something else altogether. Let's remember that these sheep will have been handled in this way regularly before, both for shearing and for medical reasons. Or are you arguing that the stress is so great that sheep should not be shorn or given any veterinary care. Don't get me wrong, I am absolutely 100% against the causing of suffering in any sentient species. But I fail to see any suffering here.

    And with regard to suicide rates etc in the profession - we all know what happens when you get people fired up on Facebook about things like this. It unleashes a torrent of nastiness. So I would argue it is a COMPLETELY inappropriate way to complain about or disagree with colleagues in the profession. The complainers should have known that.

  • It is never ok to threaten or harass someone else, regardless of the issue. And when people behave in such an extreme manner it can give the wrong impression of an entire group of people, as is often the way with vegans, but I'm not sure referring to them as a 'fruitcake' helps matters either? While the actions were completely inappropriate and in no way acceptable, they are simply people with strong beliefs and I don't think it's fair to insinuate this makes them crazy.

  • Totally agree with you that when extremists get hold of an issue, they often give a wrong impression of the rest of their group. But to be clear, I wasn't labelling vegans as fruitcakes. I was labelling Facebook Fruitcakes as fruitcakes. You know, the sort of people who go off on one on facebook, and are simply horrid to anyone who disagrees with their point of view. Yes, I think those sorts of people are a little crazy!

  • When I'm restraining an animal at work, I don't need to check it's cortisol to see if it's in distress. Even for those that seem comfortable, I don't second guess that it may not be feeling stress either, I just handle it with consideration in case it does. I don't think you can argue that something doesn't cause mental stress without quantifying it either.

    Therefore I wouldn't handle an animal against it's will (or against a willy), when not necessary for it's health. I.E. using an animal as a prop for a calendar to get a few laughs. Regardless of whether it makes money for a good charity, animals should be treat as individuals not props for our human entertainment.

    And your argument about being crammed on a tube train. You would be choosing to be there, your choice, you could have stayed in bed. You may not find it that stressful but others may find it extremely distressing. These animals do not have a choice either way.

    As you will read from my comments above, you will see that I wasn't arguing that the stress was so great that the sheep should not be given any veterinary care. Yes sheep will have been handled in this way regularly before, both for shearing and for medical reasons, this doesn't mean they will find it a positive experience. It doesn't matter how great the stress, this was not classed as 'veterinary care'. I don't think anyone mentioned suffering, but that's dependent on the individual anyway.

    It's also about professional conduct. A vet, the most trusted animal professional, using animals as a prop in this way. It think it shows a lack of compassion and I don't think it helps to promote a good image of the profession.

  • OK - well, it all comes down to the level of stress / distress the sheep experienced, and what level of stress/distress is acceptable in the production of a charity calendar.

    I would argue there is no evidence the sheep suffered any stress or distress whatsoever. But I agree, you might be right, they might have. None of us can get inside the head of a sheep.

    But you then take the view that 'how much stress' is irrelevant to the discussion, whereas I take the view that if the stress was limited to minor discomfort for a few minutes, and the sheep immediately gambolled off with no ill effect, then what is the big deal?

    As I said earlier, this is not about the sheep. They were fine. It's about us humans and how we react to that photo.

    You say it shows a lack of compassion. I don't see that. You say you don't think it helps to promote a good image of the profession. I think there we can agree. It's not that I think it promotes a 'bad' image of the profession (it was a charity fundraiser and in that context, it was vets raising money for good causes), but I agree there are probably better images.

  • No level of stress/distress is acceptable in using an animal as a prop for a human comedy calendar. There was no benefit to the individuals. It is irrelevant to to me, because I don't agree it is is acceptable to be using an animal as a prop for a human comedy calendar, regardless of the stress caused. Although I disagree, I think they would have experienced some form of stress, but we'll clearly have to disagree on that point.

    It is about the sheep. The people complaining obviously believe that to use an animal is this way, for that purpose, was against their morals and unprofessional. Especially when it was not required and of no gain for the animal.

    I have no malice for the vets and can see they we're trying to good, I just felt it was an oversight on the welfare of the animals.

    At least we can have a civil debate, which is how it should be.

  • Exactly (your last sentence)

  • I agree wholeheartedly with everything Jarred has said and I agree it shows a lack of compassion. Whether or not the sheep are experiencing any stress there is no way to know, but the image provokes a stress response in me, I find looking at it unpleasant. I would not find it unpleasant if seeing it in a veterinary textbook, but I don't like seeing them held like this for any purpose other than when it is necessary for their veterinary care. To find this image amusing is akin to finding the images of rabbits cute and amusing when seemingly very relaxed while held lying on their backs. I can understand why the image seems harmless to some people, even most people, but why anyone invested in animal welfare would think this is a bit of fun or a positive image is beyond me. It makes me wonder about the empathy and sense of humour of the viewer if they find this image entertaining. Of course nobody should be made to feel suicidal... of course, but surely this must be a case of  'lesson learnt' and no further images like this should feature in future calendars. Conversely, I would say anyone defending this image as acceptable is the fruitcake - funny old world.

  • Fair enough that you find it unpleasant to look at the photo - kind of what I was saying ... that this furore has been more about how people react to the photo than it is about the sheep. I don't personally find the photo funny, or amusing, or entertaining, and I doubt anyone else does. I mean it's not a funny photo. It's not an entertaining photo. I don't find it aesthetically pleasing to look at. It's just an attention-grabbing photo. So I am not arguing the merits of the photo one way of the other. What I am arguing is that there is no evidence that the sheep suffered from being handled in a way that they would have been handled many times before. So the reaction, in particular some of the apparently vile stuff said on social media, was completely over the top. The students did not deserve that level of opprobrium for something which was obviously well-motivated. And the fact that it was triggered from within the profession made it worse. There would have been more appropriate channels for veterinary professionals to express their displeasure than to throw the students to the mob. In my opinion, that was disgraceful.

  • 'the fact that it was triggered from within the profession made it worse. There would have been more appropriate channels for veterinary professionals to express their displeasure than to throw the students to the mob. In my opinion, that was disgraceful.' - exactly that.  

  • oh wow, ok so I see now that you think the reaction is based on how uncomfortable imagery makes a person feel irrespective of the reality for the sheep.  This is my fault, I was trying to avoid statements about how the sheep feel as I know you don't feel concerned for their welfare in this image and neither of us can prove anything definitively (unless we did measure their cortisol).

    I now see trying to accommodate your position by stating how I feel rather than how the sheep feel has just confused my point and reinforced your view. I think I understand now, you are so certain that this is no problem for the sheep that you see people who do feel concern as suffering from a reaction to the imagery, as though they have mental health issues/anxiety related to a response to the image or they are the sort of people who look for a problem where it doesn't exist. Nothing they say is based in reality since you believe there is no discomfort for the sheep.

    There it is, a fundamental difference in how we view this, which is why it took me a while to unpack what you are saying and the tone of your piece. I think that how people react to the photo is absolutely about the treatment of the sheep, concern for the wellbeing of the sheep. it is not "more about how people react to the photo than about the sheep"? I don't think you can separate the treatment of the sheep, the photograph and the reaction to the calendar.

    The argument there is no evidence that the sheep suffered as documented in the photograph is the crux of the problem.

    When I was a student, when studying medical law and ethics it was made apparent that many of the things that we do with animals would be considered abuse if not performed by a suitably qualified person for the welfare of the animal in that instance. Sticking needles in them, restraining them, caging them etc. In theory outside of a medical precedent it is unjustified.

    Personal attacks and harassment toward the students is not acceptable. Appropriate channels for expressing displeasure are always advisable, whether it is disciplining one staff member in a small practice or a group within an organisation. The students should not be thrown to the mob but I can understand the impetus to distance oneself from their actions if you feel what they did clashes with your own ethics. This whole thing is a mess. I assume the vile comments have been removed online as I haven't come across anything vile or personal about the students, so it is hard to have a measure of how abusive this had become?

    Surely to say "well done for making the world a slightly less grey place, and remember that for every one fruitcake, there are a thousand more who support your charitable efforts." is madness! “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  - Yes, jolly good chaps, never mind those idiots who don't understand animals like we do. We know what you did is fun and acceptable, carry on.

    In my view, you have understood nothing about WHY people have directed their vitriol at the students, how unwise it was to participate in an image like this. It doesn't matter whether you agree or disagree with the backlash but it is important to understand how to interpret what's happened and adapt.

    So actually no, it is not well done, it is very poor, and certainly one should never repeat images with animals like this for fun in a calendar. Or if you do, don't pretend to be surprised when people take offence.

    The only way it has made the world slightly less grey is by polarising it black and white. Those people who think sheep shouldn't be held in unnatural positions unnecessarily out of concern for them, and for the message this uncaring image sends about vets as a profession. Versus the people who think that because this is the recognised best method to hold the sheep when it is necessary and it is deemed non painful or harmful that it is absolutely fine to do this to them for any reason we like and it defies logic to be concerned.That it was for charity so we have a moral high ground. It had naked men in it so that's funny, and we are training to work with animals and have learnt to tip sheep so we have the right to treat them like this.

    I understand you are not endorsing the image, and your point is to show support to the students as they swim against a sea of negative media because you feel this is unfair, they have been abandoned and they need a lifeline. Of course they must be overwhelmed and affected by the reaction. I realise your position is one of absolute attack on the RVC for not speaking with one voice to uphold the calendar and admonish the VVN for treachery. At first I found it astounding, that your statement that the complaints were made by people who just like to complain at the first opportunity and take offence at anything and everything was put forward here - amongst animal advocates as though we would all agree with your view? -  But now it is apparent to me, as Jarred said, "you are missing the point" - and as Laura said you are labelling people with different views to you as crazy. So yes, for you I'm sure it does seem that the  world (has) officially gone mad.

    I sympathise with the situation that these student vets have got themselves into, I understand that they may not be equipped to cope with the response to this directed at them. I hope this will pass and they are ok and let's just move forward from this a little more enlightened. I don't think the complaints are unfounded at all, I understand that some people consider the treatment of the sheep was harmless, but I personally think an apology and appeasement was necessary, some people take animal welfare very seriously. My empathy for the sheep does extend to the students too, the concept for the photo was flawed, I hope all involved learn from this and do not make the mistake of thinking the backlash is just the ramblings of fruitcakes.

  • Overall, I think I understand your point, though I think your choice of words misrepresents my position somewhat. It's not right to say that I am not concerned for the welfare of the sheep, as that suggests I don't care about sheep, whereas in truth the point is that I don't accept that their welfare was compromised. That may seem like a small point, but it is an important distinction.

    Second, you suggest I think anyone who feels concern about the photo is suffering mental health issues. I didn't say that, and nor do I think it. However, I do think that anyone who calls the photo 'deeply disturbing' probably hasn't been exposed to much in life. Far more disturbing things happen in nature. I think that choice of words was way over the top.

    I didn't say that the RVC should admonish the VVN for 'treachery'!

    As you say, I am not endorsing the image. And of course I can see how it might offend some people. I'm certainly not actually arguing that anyone who has taken any offence is crazy. What I DO think is that the overreaction has been crazy, because the animals didn't suffer (certainly not to any significant degree). In simple terms, I am more concerned about the welfare of a number of vet students being on the receiving end of vile social media posts, than I am of a few sheep who did not appear to have their welfare compromised at all. And if it was compromised, it would have been very transitory and minor.

    I see where you are coming from. I don't entirely agree with you, but I don't entirely disagree with you either.

  • The difference between these sheep being used for photos and a human being stuck in a crowded railway carriage is that the human has a choice.... the sheep does not.   And without being able to get into the mind of a sheep to determine how much stress this caused them (on top of all the other potential stressors they face every day) should we not rather take the precautionary view that these sentient animals may well have found this extremely distressing?   I find myself saying or thinking this about a lot of things I see and hear with regard to animals, be they wild, domestic, or farmed:  just because we can, doesn't mean we should.