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Veterinary Students' Views Regarding the Legal Status of Companion Animals
Developments in the law reflecting the legal status and value of animals have the potential to change veterinary medical practice; therefore, they impact veterinary education. An understanding of students' views is important in providing instruction in the non-technical aspects of the veterinary profession, but their views are unknown at this time. Using a paper-based survey, 151 third-year veterinary students (114 females, 33 males and 4 gender-unspecified students) were asked about their views regarding the legal significance, property status, and the damages valuation of dogs and cats. Data were analyzed using descriptive statistics. Non-parametric tests were used to determine differences according to gender (Mann Whitney U) and preferred field of practice after graduation (Kruskal-Wallis). Students evidenced traditional views regarding the legal significance of companion animals. They saw companion animals and human beings as markedly distinct in terms of rights they should be accorded. Students were not dismissive of the needs of animals, however, seeing humans as responsible for ensuring the well-being of dogs and cats via strong laws for animal protection. Regarding the property status of animals, students also showed traditional views, agreeing that dogs and cats are personal property and that their commercial marketing and selling is an acceptable practice. In regard to the legal valuation of pets, students supported the notion that legal monetary damages should be the fair market value of the animal in cases where liability is established. Damages for compensation for the pain and suffering of the animal or the owner received significantly less support. Some differences in responses were noted among students' preferred fields of practice, with students interested in small animal medicine showing greater support for more non-traditional views regarding the legal status of pets. Female students also endorsed more non-traditional views when compared with male students. Despite overall trends, students showed diversity in their answers. From an educational perspective and to maximize the benefits of teaching students about these topics, it appears that information should be presented in a manner that allows students of varying outlooks to understand the importance of legal issues related to companion animals across a variety of different settings and with reference to a broad spectrum of careers.
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