It is a sine qua non of the modern veterinarian that the welfare of animals under his or her care and the promotion of animal wellbeing are a lifelong vocation. This approach to animals is not a recent development but has its origins far back in history as illustrated by many different religions and cultures. To give an ancient illustration, the founder of Buddhism in India is quoted as saying "When a man has pity on all living creatures, then only, is he noble.”
What has changed is the advent of science in the 18th century. The scientific method has given us tools by which we can answer qualitative and quantitative questions such as: Is the procedure painful or not? And if so, how painful is it? Or, is this way of managing animals stressful or not? And if stressful how stressful is it? How does it compare to other stresses in life? It is no coincidence therefore that the first modern veterinary schools were founded in this same century.
Throughout the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century major advances in animal welfare were made mainly in the control of major animal diseases and the increased knowledge in the correct way to manage, feed, nourish and look after animals. However, by the second half of the 20th century, critics of the veterinary profession pointed out that while there had been many advances, the veterinary profession’s work with animal welfare was haphazard and lacked focus. Therefore the profession, while reasonably knowledgeable about animal welfare as individuals, was poor at presenting and explaining animal welfare issues to society as a whole. This left society in unnecessary ignorance and increased the risk of people not looking after their animals properly.
An example of the profession's response to this was the creation in 1986 of the first Professor of Animal Welfare at Cambridge University, Professor Donald Broom. Now all vet schools have staff who make significant contributions to both the teaching of animal welfare and animal welfare research. As a result many societies in this world are much better informed about animal welfare issues.
The Department of Infectious Diseases and Public Health recognises these matters as being fundamental to its aims. It has therefore set up a Centre of Animal Welfare which can therefore trace its lineage from the original historical origins of man’s caring for animals, through the dawn of modern science, the creation of modern veterinary schools worldwide, to the present day with the rapid development of animal welfare science. Evidence of this commitment is the International Animal Welfare Symposium held at City University of Hong Kong in November 2013 where most appropriately Donald Broom was a keynote speaker. And in 2016, an Animal Welfare Series of talks took place at City University of Hong Kong.
In addition, the Department of Infectious Diseases and Public Health considers that the Centre has a central and strategic role to improve the knowledge base of societies in this region with regard to animal welfare, since it is the only centre of its kind in this region. A region which holds a significant fraction of both the domesticated animal and human populations of the world. This is in line with the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) statement made at the Third OIE Global Conference on Animal Welfare held in Kuala Lumpur in 2012. There is a "need to promote scientific research, capacity building, education and communication in the animal welfare area". The Centre of Animal Welfare will through the University environment bring together cross-disciplinary, world class researchers to meet the wide range of animal welfare issues present in Hong Kong and South East Asia.