The World Association for Veterinary Dermatology had its beginnings in a bar in Amsterdam at the time of a Voorjaasdagen meeting. Those present were familiar with both the North American and European veterinary dermatology meetings. There appeared to be a wonderful opportunity to capitalize on both, and develop the concept of an international, or a world meeting.
This would provide a focus for sharing the latest research and trends in treatment. By fostering interaction, the synergy and collaboration would surely yield results that surpassed the sum of the individual efforts. Thus the concept of a World Congress of Veterinary Dermatology was pursued with vigour, and culminated when some 600 delegates from 35 countries assembled in Dijon from September 27th-30th, 1989.
The goal of this first congress, which was maintained in all subsequent congresses, was twofold – firstly to provide a forum for presentation of the latest research, and secondly to present the very best of continuing education for practitioners. Thus there were state-of-the-art reviews, supporting original studies, free communications, a wide selection of practitioner-orientated presentations, and workshops that enabled informal discussions on a broad range of topics. The scientific papers were published by Ballière Tindall as “Advances in Veterinary Dermatology, Volume 1”.
The Founding of the World Congress of Veterinary Dermatology Association
In order to provide a firm foundation for the future, and continuity from one congress to the next, as well, of course for protection for those involved in organizing the congresses, it was believed that an overarching organisation should be created. We could have set up an independent company along the lines of the North American Veterinary Dermatology Forum. However this would create a competitive situation with other organizations devoted to veterinary dermatology.
In order to avoid this, a critical criterion was that the major national and international societies and colleges devoted to veterinary dermatology should be included as constituent organizations, rather than excluded as potential competitors. The services of a firm of lawyers highly experienced in charity corporate law were engaged to give advice. The suggestion was that any organization devoted to veterinary dermatology should be invited to apply for membership. The proviso was that in general this should be restricted to multinational organizations or organizations from the larger nations, and that national societies in smaller countries whose members have the opportunity to belong to multinational organizations would not be encouraged to apply. The initial members were the American Academy of Veterinary Dermatology, the American College of Veterinary Dermatology, the Canadian Academy of Veterinary Dermatology, the European College of Veterinary Dermatology and the European Society of Veterinary Dermatology. At the 2009 meeting of the Association, the Asian Society of Veterinary Dermatology and the Dermatology Chapter of the Australian College of Veterinary Scientists applied for and were admitted to membership.
Each member organization is invited to nominate a delegate to the Administrative Committee, to serve for a four year renewable term. The problem with such a structure, or course, was that there is a possibility that the representatives of all of the member organizations might change at the same time potentially leading to a dangerous lack of stability and continuity. The strong recommendation was thus made by our lawyers that the President of each Congress should (i) become a member of the Committee once appointed, and that (ii) He/she should remain a member so long as they were active in veterinary dermatology. It was envisioned that between three and five past-Presidents would so serve at any one time, thus giving an important element of stability, as well as experience in congress organization to the Committee. In addition, there is the provision to appoint up to four members-at-large.
In 2008, as the number of representatives from the member organizations was approximately equal to the number of past-Presidents, two members-at-large, recommended by the member organizations, were appointed. This was done in order to ensure that the member organizations continued as the dominant force, whilst still preserving the stability and experience afforded by the past-Presidents. This balance of membership appears to work well. For example, it was a past-President who proposed that starting with the Hong Kong congress, one third of any financial surplus resulting would accrue to the member organizations based upon the delegate numbers from that region. Had this suggestion been made by a representative of any of the member organizations, this might well have been perceived as a conflict of interest.
The Next Years
Following the success of the First World Congress, it was decided to repeat the event on a three year cycle, alternating between Europe and North America. Venues were chosen with meticulous care and according to agreed criteria. Ordinarily, two experienced individuals are assigned to make feasibility site visits which are extremely time-consuming, and in-depth reports are considered in detail.
Thus the second congress was held in Montreal on 13th-16th May 1992. Although excellent scientific material was presented at that congress, it was felt that insufficient time had elapsed since Dijon, and that a four year cycle was more appropriate. Thus the third congress was held in Edinburgh on 11th-14th September 1996, and the fourth at San Francisco from the 30th August to 3rd September 2000. At that congress, a survey was undertaken to ascertain whether future congresses should continue to alternate between the two continents, or whether we should include a third, or even fourth continent in the cycle. A significant majority favoured expanding to another continent.
Thus following on the highly successful fifth congress held in Vienna (25th-28th August 2004), and after much thought, and many visits, Hong Kong was chosen as the site for the Sixth World Congress – in part in recognition of the very high quality and volume of veterinary dermatology research being performed in Asia. A record total of 1185 delegates, of whom 1013 were fully paying, attended from 52 countries.
Over the years, the essential original format has been maintained, but with some very important additions. There have been wetlabs on otology, on cytology and on histopathology. There have been sessions designed to help residents in their training. There have been species orientated sessions on equine and feline dermatology, and the continuing education sessions have been divided into comprehensive (basic) and advanced – reflecting the wide range in dermatological expertise that is found in practice, and a desire to help at all levels. Principal sponsors are afforded the opportunity of organizing half-day Company Symposia, and facilities are provided for meetings of other organizations devoted to veterinary dermatology, such as the International Society of Veterinary Dermatopathology.
One important change was enacted at the Sixth World Congress. Although the excellent scientific papers presented continued to be published as “Advances in Veterinary Dermatology Vol xx”, when a publication comes out only every fourth year, it cannot qualify to be picked up by the major scientific search engines, and thus much of this excellent data became buried in the literature. An agreement was therefore reached with the journal, Veterinary Dermatology, to publish the state-of-the-art and supporting reviews, as well as the supporting original studies, in a special issue of the journal. This was reprinted and appeared as a hard-backed publication entitled “Advances in Veterinary Dermatology Vol 6” for delegates attending the congress. This relationship with the journal was continued for the Seventh World Congress and should remain into the foreseeable future.
None of this would be possible without the remarkable hard work and commitment of a large number of dedicated colleagues whose efforts continue to be quite extraordinary. Neither would it be possible without the generosity of our sponsors – many of whom have consistently supported our congresses at a high level over most, if not all, of the years.
The Legal Structure of the World Association for Veterinary Dermatology
The organization is in fact a company, and recognized as a charitable one for tax purposes. In turn, the majority of members of the Administrative Committee act as Company Directors. However they are well-protected in that their individual liability is limited to £(GBP)1 in the event of bankruptcy. All give their services at no cost, and thanks to their commitment and hard work, the necessity for the appointment of a permanent salaried secretariat, with its associated costs, has been avoided.
The organization is required to make an annual return to Companies House (the body with statutory powers to regulate companies in the UK) as well as to the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR). The annual accounts have to be prepared according to a prescribed format, and must be audited by a qualified accountant. They have to be accompanied by a report of the year’s activities and have to be formally accepted and approved both by Companies House and by OSCR. The annual return, the accounts and the accompanying report are a matter of public record. The Association is thus more strictly regulated, and its affairs more subject to public scrutiny than are those of many other veterinary organisations. Similarly, a separate company is set up for each congress following the same guidelines, allowing each a degree of independence as well as responsibility.
The Association was formally incorporated as a private limited company on 7th August 2000, and the first meeting of the Administrative Committee (Board of Directors) was held in conjunction with the San Francisco congress on 30th August 2000. Richard Halliwell was elected as the first President. After serving for two terms, he was succeeded by Didier-Noël Carlotti.
At the 2009 Annual General Meeting, concern was expressed that the name “World Congress of Veterinary Dermatology Association” was (a) cumbersome, and (b) not reflective of the wide range of activities in the field for which it is empowered. Suggestions were “The World Association of Veterinary Dermatology” and “The World Association for Veterinary Dermatology”. Members were equally divided, with each becoming more fervent in their views. Legal counsel was thus sought, and the resulting advice that “for” was the most appropriate was unanimously accepted.
The Role of the World Association for Veterinary Dermatology
The major role is the organization and support of each World Congress. Most important is the selection of the most appropriate site, which is done with great care, according to agreed criteria, and following a number of site visits. The Committee then appoints the President of the congress, and agrees with him/her on the chairs of each of the congress committees. In turn the chair appoints the members of their committees. The Association is now a Principal Sponsor of each congress, at a current cost of US$60,000, and makes an additional loan of start-up costs. It also funds up to 20 scholarships to applicants from countries where veterinary dermatology is relatively less well-developed.
However it is further empowered to undertake almost any activity in furtherance of veterinary dermatology. Thus it aims to assist and encourage the development of further multinational organizations devoted to veterinary dermatology. Also, it has recently agreed to fund the activities of the International Committee on Atopic Diseases of Animals (ICADA) and the recently formed International Veterinary Dermatology Nomenclature group. It will engage with other initiatives as opportunities occur. In short, the role is reflected by the recently adopted mission statement which reads: “Promoting the world-wide advancement of veterinary dermatology”.
What Does the Future Hold?
Thanks to the enthusiasm and hard work of many committed individuals, the activities of the Association have been enormously successful. It would be difficult to find any other international veterinary specialty organization that has achieved similar success. However there is no room for complacency, and the door must always be open for new initiatives and new directions. The past record is no guarantee of future success!
Edinburgh; February 2011