Dr. Gwen Griffith
Adjust your thinking about your love for your pet? Probably not. Adjust your thinking about protecting a healthy sustainable environment? You do your part, right? Then, recognizing the benefits we receive from both our nurturing relationships with our pets and our energizing relationships with our environment to our healthy quality of life is simple. We feel good when we are enjoying our pets and our environment.
As a pet lover, I love learning about Dr. Gwen Griffith. She’s a former veterinarian who dedicated her life full time to climate conservation. The year before she went to vet school, she took a lot of ecology classes. She graduated from veterinarian school, went into private practice and all along the way was learning about environmental issues on her own. After twenty years practicing as a veterinarian, she has worked on conservation efforts with the U.S. Agency for International Development, the US Senate Environment Committee, and the Tennessee Environmental Council. She has combined both her passions through all of these various opportunities.
She has served as the Director of Curriculum Development at Colorado State University. She has helped build Climate Solutions University as a distance learning center aimed at rural communities to develop actionable local plans at the regional level to build healthier environments and economies while adapting to a changing climate. She also serves as a program director in sustainable building and low impact development with The Cumberland River Compact.
Here’s an informative talk that she gave on “Health Effects of Climate Change at the Human-Animal-Interface.” You can learn more about her and her positive contributions to restoring our environment and adapting to the changes. I am especially encouraged by her shared thoughts on why it is so difficult to get medical professionals involved in community engagement to connect people on these critical issues. More specifically, her thoughts on ecology and conservation in relation to medical and veterinarian school curricula are provocative and far-reaching.
By helping medical professionals recognize and acknowledge the health impacts of climate change, she has really helped move away from the mainstream spin that pits science and medical evidence against conservationists. Still, admittedly, there’s a long way to go even given that there are considerable economic and community advantages.
Besides empowering local communities with the appropriate tools and strategies that deal specifically with local conditions and promoting ecosystem health at the landscape level, she participates in the veterinarian debate about the impact of climate on domestic animals. At the core of this debate, some veterinarians question the effect climate change has on domesticated animals and others wonder about whether these same effects may serve as a bigger threat to human health.
Griffith thinks that climate change is going to impact animal health. As warmer climates move north and tropical areas dry, various pathogens, parasites, and disease can also increase or change their ranges. She cites the expansion of the heartworm larvae range into higher elevation areas like Denver and farther north than they used to be.
When asked how documented increases of certain diseases in some regions translate to what kinds of cases come into the average small-animal veterinary practice, she says,
“I think what [veterinarians] might see is an increase in infectious diseases that will impact water quality. Outdoor pets drinking from local streams may pick up things from water that they didn’t before,” Griffith says.
She sees the role of the practitioners as being on the front line noticing the changes and the trends to anticipate more diseases that can be passed between animals and people and how pets are affecting owners.
She is also a co-founder of the Alliance of Veterinarians for the Environment and is on the advisory board for the American Bird Conservancy’s Veterinary Advisory Committee.
If you’re interested in pets and your ecosystems, it’s crucial to stay informed and become a part of the dialogue. I highly encourage you to keep up on the debate. I’m delighted that Dr. Gwen Griffith is at the forefront. It’s a lot more difficult to brush aside mitigation and adaptation strategies that you might see as technical jargon or too abstract, when you start asking questions to stay involved in building a healthy life for your pet. However, if you think about your relationship with your pets, your relationship with the environment, and the possibilities that increased community stakeholder involvement by medical and veterinarian professionals could mean to enhance our unique opportunities to improve our communities in our life times, you’ll notice that it’s more than you that is at risk. Look at your furry friend and your favorite outdoors and then the opportunities to cooperate seem infinite, essentially.
Sources: DVM360 Magazine, Youtube, Cumberland River Compact, UC Global Health Institute University of California, Climate Solutions University