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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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"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." - Bingo.
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.
utterly 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.
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.
'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.
utterly 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.
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.
Jarred Ward Exactly (your last sentence)
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.
Jarred Ward 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.
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