AR-News: Activist agendas sway veterinary profession
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Activist agendas sway veterinary profession
October 1, 2003
By: <A HREF="http://www.dvmnewsmagazine.com/dvm/author/authorInfo.jsp?id=214">Jennifer Fiala</A>
As a swelling animal activist movement heads mainstream, evidence of its
influence is creeping into the veterinary profession.
To an outsider, initial moves toward amending livestock standards, drivers to
increase the economic value of pets and the legal profession's newfound
passion for animal law might not appear groundbreaking. But for those familiar
with the conservative veterinary profession, each step in line with activists
seems almost revolutionary.
The profession is evolving, says legal expert Jim Wilson, DVM, JD.
Unsuspecting veterinarians could be in for a surprise, he warns.
"On the whole, veterinarians don't grasp the importance of these issues as
they relate to the changing status of animals," says Wilson, head of Priority
Veterinary Management Consultants in Yardley, Pa. "The result is most still
think of animals as nothing more than property when society's moving to
anthropomorphize them. Veterinarians are the original animal welfarists, but these signs
from society mean life as a veterinarian will never be the same."
Pushing the envelope at AVMA
Change became most evident in July, when the American Veterinary Medical
Association's (AVMA) delegates suspended their rules and drew up an impromptu
resolution to rethink whether industry's sow gestation stalls should still be
considered welfare appropriate.
The decree, approved at the group's annual meeting in Denver, was thrown
together after more than an hour of heated debate among members. What's more, much
of the language was taken directly from a resolution submitted by Farm
Sanctuary - an activist group that's proposed the initiative for more than five
years but until now had largely been ignored.
Upping pet worth
Reformations of animal protection laws within state legislatures reflect this
trend. New civil statutes broaden legal protection of companion animals from
owners. More than 40 states now deem cruelty to animals a felony while animal
abandonment is a crime in 18 states, the American Veterinary Medical Law
But the most significant venue for increased animal value is the nation's
courts. The law traditionally nixes emotional damage remedies for the loss of
pets, but judges faced with a barrage of these lawsuits are growing reluctant to
dismiss them. Any decision to define pets as worth more than their fair market
value would expose practitioners to increased litigation thereby forcing
insurance premiums to skyrocket, experts predict.
"Court awards are getting big enough to create a financial opportunity for
lawyers to make a living; that's where the real movement is going," Wilson says.
"This will become all about economic opportunity. That's why you're seeing
more and more of these cases."
In 2000, Tennessee became the first state to grant pet owners rights to pain
and suffering damages as well as punitive damages for abuse and neglect. A
version of that bill passed in Illinois last year while others are lurking in
Rhode Island, Connecticut and New York legislatures.
Rick Alampi, executive director of the New Jersey Veterinary Medical
Association (NJVMA), is working to block a bill allowing uncapped damages for
emotional distress from resurfacing in the state Legislature. The measure currently is
dead in committee.
"These activists are pretty well coordinated and pretty smart, and it's tough
to keep them down," Alampi says. "I think that the pressure is coming to bear
on Joe and Jane Practitioner. People's attitudes toward animals have changed
No longer the radical fringe
That's because animal activism has become the "cause du jour," says Dr. Gail
Golab, AVMA assistant director for professional and public affairs. Widespread
public acceptance can be explained by society's detachment from the farm, she
"People like causes; they're looking to latch on to something," Golab says.
"They're doting on their companion animals, taking their feelings and applying
them across species. Pigs aren't dogs, yet people don't understand that so
they're equating how their animal lives in the house to how animals live on a
farm. This disconnect between the public and the scientific community, it's been
building for a decade."
Hit from all sides
Nowhere is animal activism more prevalent than in California, where state
veterinary leaders battle city declaw and cosmetic surgery bans, farm animal
welfare petitions, activist-laden legislative bills and the movement to change pet
"owner" to "guardian," which is spreading among municipalities.
Many activist organizations are based in the state, and Los Angeles is home
to the annual Animal Rights Conference, where activists gather for educational
symposiums offering guidance on how to manipulate state legislatures, lobby,
attract volunteers and raise funds.
The pressure has become so great, the California Veterinary Medical
Association (CVMA) plans to meet this month to discuss activist topics and formulate
positions on the most rampant issues.
"It's on everyone's table these days - cat declaws, tail docking, dangerous
dogs, owner/guardianship. There's a lot of disagreement within the veterinary
community on what our positions should be," says Dr. Dick Schumacher, CVMA
executive director. "This discontent is a reflection of the society we live in,
and as an association, we follow all these issues very closely."
Positive, negative impacts
For all the battling, animal activists aren't solely to blame. In fact, much
of the discontent comes from within the veterinary community as was evident at
this year's AVMA House of Delegates meeting.
"There's definitely been a push from the activist segment, but to entirely
credit them would be misleading," Golab says. "Animal welfare itself has emerged
as a science, and there is a lot of information from Ph.D. researchers coming
out as a result. Veterinarians are paying attention."
An increased number of women in the profession also has heightened
sensitivity toward animals, says veteran animal rights activist Dr. Elliot Katz.
"There will always be naysayers," he says. "But I think this movement is
raising the bootstraps of the veterinary profession."
><A HREF="http://www.dvmnewsmagazine.com/dvm/author/authorInfo.jsp?id=214">About Jennifer Fiala
</A>email: <A HREF="mailto:jfiala at advanstar.com">jfiala at advanstar.com</A>
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