Dr. Allan Preston, a 1974 graduate of the WCVM. Photo: D. Derlago, MFGA Aquanty Project.

Manitoba vet looks back at career of giving back

Dr. Allan Preston believes in giving back to society – that guiding principle prompted him to get involved in student politics during high school, and it has continued to inspire him throughout a veterinary career that’s spanned four decades.

By Lynne Gunville

“I think it’s incumbent on all veterinarians to give back, not only to their profession but also to the educational institutions and the society that provided them with the opportunities in the first place,” says Preston.

As Preston looks back on his veterinary career, he’s grateful that he and his family were always able to live on the family farm near Hamiota, Man. That’s where he grew up helping his Dad with the cattle and other animals, and those experiences inspired him to pursue a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM).

Preston recalls helping with the WCVM’s first Vetavision — the college’s public open house — in 1970, and he appreciates the help he received from his instructors as well as his colleagues and classmates during their four years together.

“We came together from four different provinces in the fall of 1970, and we left in April 1974, as a family,” he recalls. “We were strangers to start with and lifelong friends by the time we graduated.”

Forty-four years after receiving his degree, Preston still has a deep connection to the WCVM and points to the regional veterinary college’s long-term impact on veterinary education, research and clinical services.

“The benefits from the college extend far beyond the campus in Saskatoon and far beyond the province of Saskatchewan. All four western provinces have benefited greatly from having that centre of expertise in Saskatoon … it's been a privilege and an honour to be an alumnus of that college.”

After a year in a mixed practice in Winnipeg, Preston returned to his home community where he became a partner at the local clinic. But 20 years of reproductive and obstetrical work led to chronic arm and shoulder problems, and he knew it was time for a change.

Preston moved on to a position with Manitoba Agriculture. As manager of Veterinary Field Services for nearly five years, he was involved in extension work, oversaw the province’s veterinary service districts, managed student programs and handled animal welfare situations. 

“I really liked the extension work,” Preston recalls. “I liked the idea of being able to reach more people, and I enjoyed interacting with livestock groups and providing information through seminars and conferences.”

In 2000, Preston continued his work for Manitoba Agriculture as the provincial veterinarian and director of the Veterinary Services Branch. It was a position that required him to work with directors from a wide variety of agricultural programs, and it opened his eyes to the broader scope of agriculture and government.

When Preston’s work during the bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) crisis caught the eye of Manitoba’s Minister of Agriculture, he was named assistant deputy minister in the Agri-Industry Development and Innovation Division. He remained in that position for over seven years.

Throughout his career, Preston has been a dedicated advocate for animal welfare. He’s particularly pleased to have been part of a committee of Federal Provincial Territorial Assistant Deputy Ministers that was instrumental in developing the National Farmed Animal Health and Welfare Strategy – an important body for encouraging the agenda for farm animal health and welfare.

He was also honoured to have received the 1995 Canadian Veterinary Medical Association’s (CVMA) Humane Award which annually recognizes a CVMA member who has shown leadership and significant contributions to the welfare and well-being of animals.

“Receiving that type of recognition from my peers was very important to me,” says Preston. “The recognition of the whole sphere of animal care and how important veterinarians are to maintaining standards of animal welfare and animal health – that’s pivotal to what we do. It’s the cornerstone of our profession.”

In addition to chairing the CVMA Animal Welfare Committee for several years, Preston was also president of the Manitoba Veterinary Medical Association (MVMA) and was named the MVMA Veterinarian of the Year in 1994-1995. He was active in numerous other organizations including the Manitoba Veterinary Services Commission and the Canadian Simmental Association.

One accomplishment that stands out for Preston was his involvement with the recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST) panel – a committee investigating the use of rBST to increase milk production in Canadian dairy herds. Their conclusion that the product would have detrimental effects on the cattle influenced Health Canada to deny licensing for it. That significant decision not only promoted animal welfare but also had an impact on human and environmental medicine.

Despite his busy professional life, Preston took time to contribute to his home community of Hamiota. He coached minor sports and was involved in organizations such as the Agricultural Society, 4-H, the Community Foundation and the rodeo committee.

“I’ve been part of this community all of my life, and it’s important for me to be engaged in its activities,” Preston explains. “Without volunteers in small communities, the many activities will stumble and fall, and eventually the community starts to erode as well.”

Preston and his wife Sharon, who met in high school, spent many busy years supporting their son and two daughters as they participated in sports, 4-H, and high school activities. The family also travelled “from Victoria to Halifax” showing their purebred Simmental cattle.

Over the years, Preston has received many honours and accolades for all of his involvement. He was particularly gratified when he received the 2008 Lieutenant Governor’s Medal for Excellence in Public Administration in Manitoba.

“I was very humbled to receive the award,” Preston recalls. “It was quite something to be on a list that included people whose credentials would make your head spin. It was very important to me. I firmly believe that public service is indeed a high calling.”

Now that his cattle herd has become smaller and his career is winding down, Preston and his wife are enjoying more time with the kids and their families who have all settled in Manitoba. They’re expecting their eighth grandchild in the fall, and their son is in the process of taking over the family farm.  

Although Preston’s life is much quieter now, he’s still engaged in a variety of activities. He chairs the Assiniboine River Basin Initiative, and he co-ordinates Manitoba’s bovine tuberculosis (TB) management plan – a challenging job that’s required him to encourage a variety of government departments, agencies and stakeholder groups working to eradicate bovine TB in Manitoba’s Riding Mountain area.

As Preston looks back on a rewarding career, he’s particularly satisfied by the work he has done to promote animal welfare. But he’s not finished yet – he’s still looking ahead to new opportunities for learning and contributing to the profession.

“Even in the twilight years of my career, there are still new and different things coming along to keep me intrigued – new and different areas that engage my interest, keep me interested and keep me getting out of bed in the morning.”

Lynne Gunville is a freelance writer and editor whose career includes 25 years of teaching English and communications to adults. She and her husband live at Candle Lake, Sask.