COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Ohio State University Extension’s new animal welfare specialist already has a win: The student team she coached in an intercollegiate animal welfare competition last November took home the first-place trophy.
Now, Monique Pairis-Garcia is working on expanding her reach throughout the state during 2015.
Pairis-Garcia, assistant professor of animal sciences in Ohio State’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences, started her dual teaching/outreach position last August. OSU Extension is the outreach arm of the college.
“I want to be a resource for livestock producers in Ohio,” she said. “Whether producers want me to come to their facility and provide an overall assessment, or they have specific questions that they want addressed, or if they want to get an idea of what to expect from animal welfare in the next 10 to 15 years, I want to be there for them.
“I’m here to help.”
Pairis-Garcia grew up in Idyllwild, California, in the mountains overlooking Palm Springs. Looking for a small liberal-arts college experience, she attended Grinnell College in Iowa and earned a biology degree, hoping to become a veterinarian.
“My idea about veterinarians was that I’d work with dogs and cats, and maybe the occasional horse,” she said.
But when she was accepted into Iowa State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, she was introduced to the field of livestock health and the concept of animal welfare.
“During my first semester, I did a project with pigs, and that’s when I totally switched,” she said. “I never did work with many cats and dogs.”
That was also when she was introduced to the Intercollegiate Animal Welfare Judging and Assessment Contest, which was created in 2002 to allow student teams to compete in assessing the welfare of animals in a variety of settings using science-based reasoning and methods.
“When I was an undergrad, I had no idea what animal welfare was,” Pairis-Garcia said.
In her current role, she is working on filling that void at Ohio State.
“Animal welfare is an objective science,” she said. “Whenever I provide information or teach students, I want to bring out the science first.
“I recognize the importance of opinion and ethics, but I believe decisions should be based on objective science and strong experimental design instead of just going with our initial gut reaction.”
During autumn semester last year, Pairis-Garcia taught her first undergraduate course at Ohio State, Animal Welfare and Behavior in Livestock Industries. She recruited volunteers from the class to compete in the animal welfare contest at Michigan State University in November. It was the first time Ohio State fielded an undergraduate team at the contest.
In preparing the team for the competition, Pairis-Garcia focused on three areas:
- Management: “This is where the students look at the protocols in place on the farm,” Pairis-Garcia said. “What treatments are being used? Is there a good system for recording? How are sick animals managed? How are we training the staff?”
- Animal-based measures: “This is looking at the animal itself. What is the condition of the animal? Does it have any signs of disease? Is it displaying normal or abnormal behavior?”
- Facilities: “Are we providing a facility that ensures an animal’s care and welfare?”
The undergraduate team — seniors Caitlyn Mullins, majoring in meat science, and Allison Pullin, Carter Wallinger and Laura Whalin, all majoring in animal science — won first place overall in the undergraduate division. In addition, Mullins received second place and Pullin fourth place in the overall individual category.
The contest also offers competitions for veterinary students and graduate students, and in 2014, 120 students participated from 14 universities. Ohio State’s veterinary student team, coached by Kathryn Proudfoot, assistant professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine, earned third place in that category.
Pairis-Garcia, who earned her doctorate at Iowa State following vet school, said she hopes her combined background in veterinary science and animal welfare research will help provide expertise needed in the industry.
“Animal welfare is about improving production and improving the livelihood of the animal for the period of time that we’re using them for our purposes,” she said. “We recognize that we have an ethical obligation to these animals because they are providing resources for us.
“We want to manage them as humanely as we can.”
As part of her teaching duties, Pairis-Garcia will be developing an animal welfare class for graduate students later this year. She hopes her work with Ohio producers contributes to its development, and wants to continue to reach out to industry.
“Producers don’t always have close ties with Ohio State,” she said. “I want to connect with any producer who has any questions regarding animal welfare and help develop a dialog to assist with challenges and opportunities for their system. I can be a resource.”
Pairis-Garcia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 614-688-1968.
For more on Ohio State’s animal sciences program, see ansci.osu.edu.