Veterinarians step away from speaking in Moscow

Conference loses sponsors, lecturers over Russia's invasion of Ukraine

Published: April 14, 2022
By Jennifer Fiala

VIN News Service screenshot
A prerecorded lecture by Dr. DJ Haeussler in Ohio appeared on the Moscow International Veterinary Congress online schedule this week, although the veterinarian had asked that it not be used. The VIN News Service was unable to determine whether the lecture was presented.

Like most Americans, Dr. DJ Haeussler doesn't have a direct connection to Russia's war on Ukraine. So it was with surprise that the veterinary ophthalmologist near Cincinnati found himself in its political crosshairs because of an appearance he was slated to make at this week's Moscow International Veterinary Congress.

His talk on dry eye in dogs and cats was booked long ago, well before Russia's invasion. Haeussler, like other U.S. veterinarians in the conference lineup, tried multiple times to bow out, owing to anti-war sentiments. While he did not appear for livestreamed question-and-answer periods with conference-goers, his lectures were prerecorded and kept by conference officials.

With his name still on the lineup, Haeussler said he started getting emails from colleagues pushing for a boycott of the event and expressing animosity unlike anything he's ever seen directed at continuing education.

The war, Haeussler said, has fractured the global veterinary community.

"I have lectured in Russia in the past, and I have many colleagues and friends there," Haeussler wrote Wednesday in an email to the VIN News Service. "They are veterinarians like me, not soldiers. Over the last couple of weeks, a couple Ukrainian veterinarians were killed. … I understand that the world, right now, is an unforgiving place."

On a message board of the Veterinary Information Network, a membership organization for the profession and parent of the VIN News Service, a lecturer felt compelled to explain why their name was still linked to the conference, which ordinarily draws 2,000 to 5,000 attendees.

"Just an FYI: We recorded these lectures well before the terrible events unfolded," wrote the practitioner, who asked not to be named publicly.

Dr. Dottie Laflamme, a nutritionist and former research scientist with Nestlé Purina PetCare, said she recognized when the war began that lecturing at the conference in Moscow would be problematic, and withdrew. "I was very clear that I was protesting the war," she said by email.

But the lecture Laflamme had planned was prerecorded and already in the hands of show staff. "Unfortunately, since they own the rights, I cannot stop them from using it," she said.

Event officials did not respond to several emails from VIN News asking whether the lectures were presented as planned. Unlike Haeussler's, Laflamme's name was removed from the conference lineup. She said that might be because the talk was sponsored by Purina, and the company rescinded its support for the event.

Zoetis, too, isn't participating. The world's largest animal health company, like others in the veterinary sphere, has suspended all promotional activities and investments in Russia.

Even some Russian veterinarians thought twice about going to the meeting. Dr. Andrei Albul, a veterinary neurologist who was arrested last month in St. Petersburg for protesting the war and who fled to Turkey afterward, was supposed to lead four lectures at the event.

After the war started, he asked to be removed from the lineup but was persuaded by organizers to give a lecture remotely on myopathies and neuropathies in small animals. He agreed, explaining in an interview: "I'm against war, but I think people must have possibility to receive knowledge. … I do not condemn people who [are] going to go there and learn or teach.

"But," he added, "such meetings are always a kind of holiday, and this I will not be able to bear. I can't come to Congress and see happy people while other people are dying."

Albul, now living in Georgia and fined in absentia by Russian authorities on April 4 for protesting the war, said he plans to return to his home country but hopes eventually to emigrate to the U.S. or Finland.

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