University of Sydney Faculty of Veterinary Science, Bachelor of Veterinary Science
1997 - 2001

In 2000 the University of Sydney Faculty of Veterinary Science became the first of the four Australian veterinary colleges to completely eliminate ALL terminal surgical laboratories, and began acquiring ethically-sourced cadavers (obtained from animals euthanased for medical reasons) for use in its surgical and other training. It also passed an exceedingly progressive faculty policy on the use of animals in teaching, and a conscientious objection policy. In 2001 it introduced a pound dog sterilisation program into its surgical curriculum, in which dogs from a local pound are sterilised by students under supervision and returned for adoption. Lucy Fish was the student who was the catalyst for these exceedingly progressive changes at the University of Sydney.

Photo: Lucy and Rupee, whom she adopted from the animal shelter where she gained much of her surgical and clinical experience.

Fish. L., 2000, “Learning to heal without learning to kill”,

in “Veterinary students making a difference”, Alternatives in

Veterinary Medical Education, Issue 15, pp. 2-3.

Ever since I first discovered what a veterinarian was, I have wanted to become one. For me it meant being in the ultimate position to help animals by having the ability to save lives and prevent animal suffering.

In 1997, I was accepted into the five-year Veterinary Science degree at the University of Sydney. Having refused to do dissections in my previous schooling and being involved in the anti-vivisection movement from an early age, I was horrified to discover that dissection and vivisection of healthy animals was a required part of the veterinary curriculum. Not only was this a fact that no one seemed to question, but also there appeared to be no other way to learn how to become a competent veterinarian. I felt that my beliefs must therefore be inappropriate in this case and started first-year anatomy dissections with the aim of "overcoming" these feelings and in a way desensitise myself. After all, it is not hard for a 17-year-old to feel intimidated by grey-haired academics in a totally unfamiliar environment. We were fed lies about the failings of veterinary graduates in the UK because they did not perform lethal surgeries and told horror stories of dogs being bandaged to stop the abdominal contents from falling out after spays.

It was not until my third year, when faced with the task of conducting post-mortem examinations on healthy dogs from the pound who had died of lethal injections, that I started to question how it was possible for my ethical beliefs to be wrong. I knew that I had survived the dissections only by distancing the flesh and blood I had before me from the living, feeling, healthy animals they had once been. Now I was faced with the grim reality of the system I had become a part of, with not only a live animal in front of me, but also one whom I was required to take for walks, anaesthetise, perform surgery on, and then kill.

The animals received for classes were surplus to an industry that I abhor: the greyhound racing industry. It discards these graceful creatures when they are no longer fast enough to be profitable. I could feel the perceived intrinsic values of the animals decreasing in the eyes of students, not only through using them to "practice" on, but also due to the utilitarian view that had been pushed onto us since first-year: because these animals were unwanted by society, for us to use them somehow made their miserable fates justified.

After a relatively brief search on the internet, I was able to gather quite a library of information through contacting animal welfare groups and other students facing similar situations around the world. I discovered that, not only was the implementation of alternative programs expanding rapidly in the US and Europe, but also there was ample evidence demonstrating their effectiveness to be equal to or better than traditional methods.

After discussions with the appropriate veterinary faculty at my university, I was told that while no alternative program currently existed at the University of Sydney, my ethical beliefs were respected and that alternative ways to teach me would be sought. I was surprised and delighted to receive such a response, as I had become quite familiar with the battles students had fought elsewhere with their uncompromising universities. I was concerned about students who would follow after me who did not want to do these practicals, and I was told that an official alternatives program would not be put in place as the university was currently making moves to phase out these practicals altogether.

I felt it was vitally important to let others know that they did not have to vivisect to become a veterinarian, as I had heard stories of students dropping out or not even applying for the program for this reason. In October 1999, Andrew Knight, a conscientiously objecting vet student from Murdoch University in Perth, came to Sydney to give presentations on alternatives. We were able to gain some publicity, with the hope that this message would get out to current and prospective veterinary students.

During the 1999 summer vacation, I spent some time at animal shelters learning surgery, anesthesia and other general veterinary skills. In preparation, I reviewed my notes, watched videos, and practiced the basic surgical preparations of gowning and gloving, as well as suture techniques, at home. My first surgical experiences were cat and dog castrations. These were followed by observing spays and other operations, then assisting with minor parts such as ligations, making incisions, and skin suturing. I then worked my way up to performing unassisted spays (but always with veterinary supervision). I have learned the principles of soft tissue handling, haemostasis, and surgical technique through performing spays and castrations. This enables me to feel confident about assisting with further beneficial operations during the remainder of my veterinary education.

I am now more confident than ever that surgery not only can be taught this way, but that it should be taught this way. Learning basic surgery by performing castrations and spays has so many benefits. Instead of taking advantage of the huge surplus of unwanted animals that society creates, you are actively doing something about the problem: preventing overpopulation by performing spays and castrations on animals who benefit from it. The student works with the same animal from pre-anaesthetic assessment, through premedication, anesthesia, surgery, and finally, recovery, until the next morning when the animal is ready to go home or be returned to the animal shelter for adoption. In addition, the student is given the opportunity to work with a variety of breeds. The experience I gained also allowed for a natural progression of my surgical skills from performing a simple cat castration through to a more complicated dog spay.

It is important for students to realize that they cannot be forced to harm animals in the name of education. The information and resources are out there with so many caring people willing to help you get started. Students should never be intimidated into thinking that their ethical beliefs are wrong. My story is testimony to the fact that there is no need to kill to learn how to heal.

Establishment of a pound dog sterilisation program

Fish, L., 2001, “Progressive Moves for Sydney Uni”, posted to the email list.

 Hi Everyone!

 I have some exciting news from the University of Sydney Faculty of Veterinary Science. They have recently introduced a spay and castration clinic as part of the undergraduate program, which is improving students’ skills in surgery, anaesthesia and medicine, and helping to tackle the problem of overpopulation of dogs and cats. Here’s the full story:

 I was fortunate to be amongst the seven fifth year students involved in the first day, when we desexed and vaccinated ten dogs from Blacktown pound, which were then returned the next day for adoption. In the past the pound has sold undesexed dogs which only perpetuated the problem of overpopulation. Instead of the veterinary faculty taking advantage of this unfortunate situation, we are now doing something to actively tackle the problem by providing a desexing service. Furthermore the pound has a no kill policy with these dogs so they must be rehomed.

 The anaesthetic and surgical experience gained from this new clinic is invaluable to final year vet students who, under veterinary supervision, are able to follow the complete anaesthetic and surgical procedure as they may be required to when they graduate at the end of the year. Many final year students are now opting to spend time during the inter-semester break to participate further, as the program continues outside university semesters.

 A great deal of time and effort has gone into the organisation and co-ordination of this program, for which the veterinary faculty must be congratulated. The University of Sydney vet school is strides ahead of other Australian universities, many of whom do not even recognise students’ rights to object to lethal practicals. It means a very positive and efficacious teaching program, which benefits all involved, including the dogs themselves.

 Lucy Fish, 2001
Final Year Veterinary Science Student
University of Sydneyup

 Knight, A., 2002, “Adoption of alternatives in teaching applied anatomy, surgery and anaesthesia at the University of Sydney Faculty of Veterinary Science”

 In 2000 the University of Sydney Faculty of Veterinary Science reviewed its terminal veterinary surgical laboratories. Reasons for the review included the impacts of NSW legislative changes, the concerns of the University, students and the general public about the use of live dogs in terminal practical classes, and some publicity in the popular press.

 The review report [Hunt, G., (2000), Working Party on the Use of Animals for Teaching Applied Anatomy, Small Animal Surgery and Anaesthesia – Final Report, Sydney: University of Sydney Faculty of Veterinary Science], was ratified by the Faculty in 2000, and since then its 11 recommendations have been largely implemented, and its Policy for Animal Use in Teaching Applied Anatomy, Small Animal Surgery and Anaesthesia was also ratified in 2000.

 In my view this report with its exceedingly forward thinking and progressive recommendations and Policy have set the standard for the future of Australian veterinary surgical training. I have gained the permission of the Working Party Chair to distribute this report.

 Recommendations included:up

“1) That live dog applied anatomy and surgery practical classes be replaced by classes using cadavers, tutorials and models.”

 This occurred in 2000, with the University of Sydney Faculty of Veterinary Science becoming the first Australian veterinary college to completely eliminate ALL terminal surgical laboratories.

"4) The Faculty intended to purchase anaesthesia and clinical skills training mannequins from the University of California (Davis) School of Veterinary Medicine and US company Rescue Critters. However as of March 2002 this had not occurred.

 5) That clinical small animal case exposure be increased by at least 50% to make up for the absence of live dogs in practical classes.”

In 2000 extra staff were employed in the Sydney clinic to run a general access practice to increase students' exposure to routine clinical practice, including spays and castrations, dentals, etc. In some areas students were seeing 50% more cases by March 2002.

 “6) That replacement of live dogs with other live species not be undertaken on ethical and educational grounds …

 That the Faculty, in collaboration with the Veterinary profession, wherever possible:

7) Design a list of options for practical classes to accommodate different philosophical viewpoints. Regardless of the option taken, all practical classes will be supported by group discussions and experience in the University Veterinary Centres.

Options might include:

A) A) Structured practical classes which may involve the use of live animals where educationally appropriate.

    B)As above, with students who abstain from classes using live animals being required to fulfil objectives from those practical classes using other teaching aids or resources.

 C) As above, with students who abstain from classes using dogs from particular sources given access to cadavers of client-owned pets (dogs, cats, other) which have been donated specifically for the purpose of teaching.

 D) Animal-based practical classes being replaced with a schedule of compulsory attendance at an approved, external clinic in order to fulfil specific learning objectives.

8) Act immediately to create a position to organise and co-ordinate extramural practical work and various clinical ‘out-rotations’, as agreed already by Faculty resolution, thereby expanding the list of clinics participating in Option D. …

9) Continue negotiations with the RSPCA, Animal Welfare League, Cat Protection Society, Ferret Rescue Society and other welfare organisations or interested individuals to enable more exposure of students to surgery, either in their clinics, or by making animals available to the Veterinary Centres for desexing.”

In fact, in 2001 the Faculty introduced a pound dog sterilisation program into its surgical curriculum, in which dogs from a local pound are sterilised by students under supervision and returned for adoption. The program is very popular with students, who are gaining invaluable experience at sterilisations – the most important surgeries new graduates need to be proficient in - with some students reportedly choosing to perform extra sterilisations during their semester breaks.

“10) Pursue the option of creating a clinic at Camden (and possibly also Sydney) for spaying and castration of companion animals belonging to the general public.

The spay/castration clinic commenced operations at Camden in early 2001.

11) Institute a mechanism for members of the general public to donate the bodies of their pets (dogs, cats and other) for teaching purposes, based on the model used by the Medical school for the collection of human cadavers. Resources be made available to prepare these animals adequately for storage, and to create a cadaver ‘bank’.”


Although no formal program has yet been created, the collection and storage of the cadavers of dogs that died from diseases or were euthanased for medical reasons was begun in 2000. In that year fourth year veterinary student Lucy Fish was able to perform simulated surgeries on the cadavers obtained from a practicing veterinarian of two privately-owned dogs that were euthanased for chronic orthopaedic problems and behavioural problems respectively.

 Faculty Policy for Animal Use in Teaching Applied Anatomy, Small Animal Surgery and Anaesthesia


 This Policy was listed in the preceeding report and ratified by the Faculty in 2000. Excerpts include:

 “Use of animals in these Units of Study will adhere to principles stated in the NH&MRC Code of Practice for Care and Use of Animals For Scientific Purposes …

1) All animals should be treated, and referred to, with care and respect, whether conscious or anaesthetised, alive or dead.

2) Students should be made aware of legal requirements and ethical arguments pertaining to their use.

3) The necessity of using live animals must be constantly evaluated against learning objectives and the impact on the animal. Live animals should only be used where suitable alternatives do not fulfil the educational objectives and learning outcomes or it is felt that alternatives will engender overconfidence or a false sense of competence in students.

4) Where live animals are considered essential for fulfilling learning outcomes, the minimum number possible should be used, and the impact on each animal minimised.

5) Students should be taught that alternatives are not necessarily an inferior substitute to live animals, indeed they may be superior in some instances, they may complement the use of live animals and may provide a useful adjunct.

6) The Faculty should continue to keep up to date with the development of alternatives to live animal use in teaching and regularly review its use of these alternatives.

7) One species should not be substituted for another on the basis of different perceived (and possibly erroneous) attitudes towards them. The species should be used that best enables the learning outcomes to be fulfilled.

8) The Faculty continues to be considerate of staff and students with varying philosophical viewpoints.

9) The Faculty continues to involve all interested parties in the formulation of policy, and show leadership and confidence in the ethical position it adopts.

Options for Practical Classes According to Philosophical Viewpoints

The Faculty recognises that students and staff have the right to object to certain activities on the basis of their beliefs, and will make other options available for students to fulfil the requirements of the Applied Anatomy, Surgery and Anaesthesia Units of Study, depending upon their philosophical views. Whichever option is chosen, it is understood that the learning and assessment process will be equally rigorous. Students should refer to the Faculty Guidelines for Conscientious Objection in Teaching and Assessment [renamed as follows] for information on how to proceed further. …”

 Faculty of Veterinary Science Policy on Conscientious Objection in Teaching and Assessment

 This Policy was ratified by the Faculty in 2000. Excerpts include:

 “1. The Faculty recognises that some students may have a conscientious belief which is in conflict with teaching and/or assessment practices in one or more units in which they enrol.

2. The Faculty will endeavour to make reasonable accommodations to meet such beliefs where it is possible to do so. Students should recognise however, that while every effort will be made, it may not be possible to do so in every instance.”

It is closely based on Murdoch University’s conscientious objection policy (see Steps to follow, Conscientious objection policies, previously), but is weaker than Murdoch’s in a few important ways:

· It only covers only the Faculty of Veterinary Science, and not the whole university.

· It states: “It is the responsibility of … staff to assess whether the claim constitutes a conscientious objection and what, if any, arrangements can be made to accommodate it. The staff member may have to ask for more information from the student and, where appropriate, from relevant religious, cultural or other certifying bodies in order to establish whether or not the student has a conscientious belief.” Presumably if there are difficulties in obtaining relevant external certification, this might cause problems for students.

· There is no mechanism for student appeals against faculty decisions.

· It does not require the policy to be mentioned in unit study guides, although a statement mentioning the policy is required in the Faculty Handbook. There is no requirement for the full policy to be listed anywhere.

This is an example of what can happen when the policy is developed by the faculty, rather than by a balanced university working party with representation from all sides and an independent chair (as occurred at Murdoch). However as of 2002 almost all other Australian universities lacked formal conscientious policies of any kind, and this Faculty Policy still has a great deal of potential to assist students.

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