Dr Jeni Hood
Sentient Veterinary Member, Sentient Committee Member
I graduated as a vet in 1984 from Murdoch University (MU), after having left school in 1975 and first studying journalism and theatre arts…I really should have completed that Arts degree! I owned my first dog and horse in 1976 and lost interest very quickly in being the next Jana Wendt. Much to my family’s dismay I enrolled in vet nursing, and very soon wanted to be a vet.
I hadn’t studied in the science/maths stream at school but in 1980 I enrolled in biology at MU and gained direct entry to the vet course in 2nd year as I think the first vegetarian and quite possibly the first self proclaimed fashionista and ‘arty’ person…this led to some backlash from vet students, mostly male, who decided I wasn’t suitable to be a vet. I didn’t enjoy vet school - especially when I saw how livestock were treated and that this cruelty was the norm.
When I graduated, I worked in small animal practice. While I loved this, I became acutely aware of the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ of the animal world and threw myself into dog and cat rescue. I also saw how new graduates were treated and paid, and started an employee group (LAVAA) that morphed into the AVA’s first Employed Veterinarians Association. I represented LAVAA in the industrial commission and won the right for vets in private practice to be covered by an award for the first time. A number of people said I should go into politics or study law…career choices that I now see would have come more naturally to me. Unfortunately though, the lure of the Armani suit didn’t offset the growing number of dogs at my house, which the local rangers used as their unofficial pound when animals had overstayed their welcome at the official pound and were due to be shot.
Out of the blue I was contacted to see if I wanted to do an Honours project at MU investigating renal disease in bull terriers. I did this part-time over 18months whilst working part time in private practice. In those days there wasn’t any discipline of ‘animal welfare/ethics’ but the powers that were in the vet school decided I was just the person to teach these new fangled and airy-fairy things to a generation of vet students. Suddenly I was in charge of young minds and the wheels of the bus and was soon teaching public health of all things (which certainly was not arty farty). I mention this because I had to take rotation groups to abattoirs …this was a turning point for me. I saw I had turned my back on perhaps the most welfare needy of species by not paying attention in vet school to large animal ‘stuff’…this was very possibly because I felt alienated by teaching that demonstrated heifer ‘rape crates’ (yes that was the term used), and visits to hell holes called intensive piggeries.
Somehow I was awarded a First Class Honours degree and offered a PhD scholarship to study what I called hereditary nephritis in bull terriers as a model for Alports syndrome in humans. I started my PhD in 1990 and didn’t finish until 1999 –I married in 1989 and soon had 3 kids (1991, 1993 and 1995). I was also teaching quite a lot in the vet school and then took on the role of Animal Welfare Officer at MU. Luckily for me I had published papers as I went, so writing up my thesis was relatively easy.
Around this time I began writing more, firstly for The Veterinarian as a journalist, humour columnist (Incisor), and Abstracts Editor, which I still undertake. I also held the position of Clinical Editor of the Australian Veterinary Journal for a year or so. The big welfare breakthrough in my career came in 2003, when I was appointed WA’s first scientific inspector under the Animal Welfare Act 2002 (WA) and Manager Animal Welfare for the WA Government.
In 2006 this role was expanded to include enforcement of the Act’s general cruelty provisions. As the Government’s chief general inspector, I led a number of prosecutions that I am proud to say helped define animal welfare in WA. I was incredibly fortunate to have a small but highly motivated team who made this possible. I was also fortunate to represent the Government on national committees including the NHMRC Code Liaison Group, the Livestock Export Standards Advisory Group, and the Animal Welfare Committee. I loved this job as it combined veterinary science with the application of the law…and I got to avoid surgery of any type!
Unfortunately, the administration of the AWA moved from the Department of Local Government in 2011 to the Department of Agriculture and FoodWA. The Animal Welfare Branch was disbanded and my days of investigating animal cruelty came to a sad end…instead I was offered a role in controlling woodborers in WA. In 2012, I took a voluntary redundancy and left the public service. This was probably the hardest time in my life.
Three years on I still miss enforcing the AWA as a bold but fair investigator. However, I am really enjoying the freedom to say what I want to whom-which is not always possible in the public service. I have also got to do some amazing things like draft the policy for the Federal ALP on the Independent Office of Animal Welfare, and work as an advisor to Melissa Parke MP in her role in the Gillard government as Parliamentary Secretary for Mental Health, Homelessness and Social Housing.
Certainly I am not making as much money as before but neither am I working the crazy hours, or under personal attack (WA is very pro-farming and pro live export). I am a regular scientific contractor to Animals Australia, and I’m on staff at Sydney University helping put together the first online veterinary animal welfare curriculum for Australian and NZ vet schools (the One Welfare course), as well as undertaking a small research project.
I also do pro bono work including for the RSPCA (WA) and smaller welfare groups, and for politicians wanting policy advice. I am currently sitting on a committee convened by State ALP politician Lisa Baker on puppy farming and have drafted a report for the committee that hopefully will help end puppy farming in WA. I am also being called as a witness to the Parliamentary Inquiry into the operation of the RSPCA (WA), which is being chaired by Rick Mazza from the Shooters and Fishers party!!
About 3 years ago I made the belated decision to become vegan, and regret I did not do this much earlier. I also rejoined the AVA (aagh), and more recently joined Sentient…which I also should have done years ago.
I am now nearly 57 and my kids are in their twenties. I am still married to same long-suffering man, who is now a Supreme Court judge. This entails me being relatively well behaved at judicial soirees but I manage to sneak in a bit of animal advocacy when I can. Despite what many people seem to think about the legal profession, I have always found lawyers and judges to be ‘impressed’ I am a vet…and quite a few have said they always wanted to be vets!
What does make me a bit sad though is that the veterinary profession by and large is being left behind by lawyers in terms of achieving progress in animal welfare. As such, Sentient needs our support. It already has achieved much but has the real potential to be the stakeholder veterinary group for animals. Let’s all work together – we all have strengths and weaknesses, and many of us are at different stages of our lives and careers. In my experience personal bests are great in the short term but team bests can change paradigms…and that is what we need to change the way animals are treated …after all they are sentient aren’t they?