To Russia (and Sweden) with Love: Taking AWRI’s Mission of Compassion Worldwide

Recently, I was invited to Russia and Sweden to represent American Humane Association and our new Animal Welfare Research Institute (AWRI). This innovative platform will advance our knowledge of the challenges facing the wellness, welfare, and well-being of children and animals and strengthen the remarkable physical and emotional bond between human beings and the creatures that share and enrich our world. I addressed the concept of a collaborative research model whereby medical and veterinary research would work together to advance health and welfare for both children and animals.

This new model is generating tremendous interest and support among the global scientific community. Did you know that there are approximately 60,000 vertebrate species on this planet? But an overwhelming proportion of the research is dedicated to just one of those species – humans. Our new model will change this.

On my trip scientists from around the world reported on the rapid advances in genetic research. At the International Conference of Advances in Canine and Feline Genomics and Inherited Diseases, the presenters explored such topics as the genetic causes for gait patterns in horses, cancers in dogs, deafness in people, and infertility in high-producing dairy cows. Genetic testing is likely to improve breeding programs and advance the health of animals. Ethical concerns were also addressed throughout my trip as scientists attempt to grasp the multiple implications of their discoveries.

I was invited to give a lecture at the newly forming genomic institute at the St. Petersburg State University. Dr. Stephen O’Brien, former head of the Laboratory for Genomic Diversity at the National Institutes of Health, is helping to create the new institute. Dr. O’Brien and I worked together in the United States to help develop a new genetic tool for identifying causes of diseases in a wide variety of cats. There I met young scientists at the institute who are very excited about their future work.

Students I met while lecturing at St. Petersburg State University, and Dr. Stephen O’Brien. They are standing in the longest academic hallway in the world.

During my downtime I did get to fulfill a dream of mine, which was to visit the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, one of the best, largest, and oldest collections of art in the world. Boasting a collection of pieces from antiquity, the Renaissance, the impressionist era and everything in between, this former palace is truly a sight to behold, and a must-visit when in St. Petersburg.

Following my time in Russia, I traveled to Sweden for another presentation. I also attended the Dog Health Workshop in Sweden where I chaired a session with attendees from 20 countries. The goal of those participating is to improve the health and welfare of purebred dogs, street dogs, and unwanted dogs throughout the world. American Humane Association has been invited to continue working with global partners on this goal.

As my husband, Jerry, has always said, you learn just as much at conferences during the breaks as you do during the sessions themselves. With so many countries represented, it was fascinating to talk to everyone and learn what they are doing in their lands. A collaborative approach is essential for expanding our knowledge base, and I look forward to the opportunity to continue sharing discoveries with our colleagues around the world.

From left to right – Panel discussing international collaboration to advance canine health and welfare:

  • Sofia Malm – Swedish Kennel Club
  • Steve Dean – The UK Kennel Club
  • Patricia Olson – American Humane Association
  • Kari Jarvinen – FCI (Fédération Cynologique Internationale) – representing 89 countries
  • Peter Friedrich – German Kennel Club
  • Urs Giger – University of Pennsylvania (geneticist) Ulf Uddman – Swedish Kennel Club
  • Ake Hedhammar – Swedish Kennel Club; Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences
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