Writer: Blair Fannin, 979-845-2259, email@example.com
COLLEGE STATION – For 38 years, Dr. Ted Friend has walked up and down the stairs of the Kleberg Animal Science Building at Texas A&M University where he established himself as a national expert and researcher on animal behavior and welfare.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” said Friend, who will soon retire from the department, reflecting back on his career that began at Texas A&M in 1977. He was hired at A&M following graduation from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University with his doctorate and master’s degrees.
Friend, a Faculty Fellow, said he testified as a key expert witness in multiple animal welfare cases throughout the U.S. regarding cattle, horses and exotics. His fascination with circus animals brought him additional national recognition in early 2000 when he studied the transport and management of elephants and tigers that were part of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circuses and six other circuses.
In the early years, Friend spent 100 percent of his time in the classroom teaching until Dr. Neville Clarke, then director of Texas A&M AgriLife Research, split his time between teaching and animal behavior research. Since then he and his students have published research articles on veal calves, swine, dairy cattle, beef cattle, horses, elephants, tigers, companion animals and teaching.
Friend said his research on circus animals led to expert testimony in several cities across the U.S., including Seattle. Having made little headway claiming cruelty, Seattle activists then claimed the elephants were dangerous to the audience. When the manager of their arena said that he knew of no reported incidences involving elephants, but there were dozens from hockey games, laughter erupted and the attempt to ban elephants was dropped for that year.
“From a welfare standpoint there is little difference between circuses and horse, dog and livestock shows,” he said.
“You’d hear what appeared to initially be convincing arguments, but research often finds the claims have little basis. However, we still need to do better whenever possible,” Friend said. “If you look at what is happening today, some of these same welfare issues are now affecting the beef industry and diet discussions among citizens across the U.S.”
Friend was also heavily involved in studying the effects of the transport of slaughter horses. His research evaluated fatigue and dehydration of transporting horses to slaughter plants, which received U.S. Department of Agriculture funding.
“There was a need for research on evaluating fatigue, dehydration and density,” he said. “There was no better place than Texas during the summer (to conduct these studies.)”
At the time, Friend’s research helped lay the groundwork for the U.S. and Canadian regulations for the transport of slaughter horses. Several years ago, a counterproductive ban on the slaughter of horses for human consumption was implemented in the U.S. As a result, increasing numbers of unwanted horses are now being transported for much longer distances to plants in Mexico and Canada.
Friend and his wife, Kathryn, a retired wildlife biologist at Texas A&M, have two grown sons: Scott, a Texas A&M graduate, and Justin, who was recently featured in the Wall Street Journal depicting his young, successful career as a standout welder who received a degree from Texas State Technical College in Waco.
As a young boy, Justin helped his father with his initial circus animal behavior studies. Traveling with circuses was incredibly interesting, Friend said. However, it meant long hours because most circuses moved to a different town each night.
Getting someone to go along and help was initially a challenge, Friend said, because amenities such as a bed or a hot shower were not possible. But his young son did not know any better.
“These preliminary data Justin and I collected were just what I needed to get federal funding for several graduate students and a nice travel trailer with a shower,”Friend said. “I think my son’s playing with the kids traveling with the circuses gave him a great work ethic, just like ranch and farm kids. Bringing my son along also made us more welcome.”
Ted said he and Kathryn are looking forward to travel and spending time with their grandchildren.
Editor’s note: A retirement reception in honor of Dr. Ted Friend will be held from 2-4 p.m. June 25 at the Kleberg Animal & Food Sciences Center on the Texas A&M University campus.