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Veterinarians Should Be Leaders in the Animal Welfare Movement

Posted by at 5:03 AM | Permalink | Comments (12)


vetrenoir_girl / CC

As a veterinarian, I am the first to admit that the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), the organization purported to represent the interests of all veterinarians in the U.S., is not always a leader when it comes to animal rights and welfare issues. From my viewpoint, the group’s reluctance to take the lead on issues of humane treatment of animals casts a large shadow on all veterinarians.

There are many types of veterinarians out there–including those associated with slaughterhouses, public health (inspecting our food), laboratory animals, small animals, and research–and the AVMA has tried to be all things to all veterinarians. It has often found itself in the middle of fierce conflicts where, rather than rocking the boat by taking the moral high ground, it has often avoided addressing the issues. Where the interests of animals have conflicted with those of industry, the animals have usually lost. Some that come to mind include the following:

  • Students at Tufts veterinary school protested operating on live animals and then killing them, requesting an alternate approach to learning surgery. The AVMA was silent.
  • Whenever an attempt has been made to expand the rights of animals, the AVMA puts out a statement supporting the welfare of animals–but only in the context of animals as property.
  • Proposition 2 in California, a recent referendum to provide room to move for some animals raised for food on factory farms (which passed by a wide margin), was not supported by the AVMA.
  • Only after animal rights groups such as PETA protested the treatment of horses in the racing industry following Eight Belles’ death at the Kentucky Derby did the AVMA even make a statement.
  • The AVMA refused to take a position on foie gras, which is made from the grotesquely enlarged and diseased livers of ducks and geese who have been cruelly force-fed.

In virtually every publicized opportunity to improve the lot of animals, the AVMA is either very late to the party or chooses not to attend at all.

Yet I see recent trends suggesting that veterinarians are paying more attention to these issues and are pressuring the AVMA to step up to the plate and take the lead on animal welfare issues. Take a look at the following examples:

  • In the Journal of the AVMA, recent letters to the editor have lambasted the group’s stance on Prop2.
  • The association has recently created an animal welfare division, suggesting hope that change is in the air.
  • The group recently put out a position paper opposing ear-cropping and tail-docking of dogs for solely cosmetic purposes, putting the AVMA at odds with the American Kennel Club (AKC).

Most veterinarians are compassionate people who are naturally concerned with the welfare of all animals. The public and animal organizations look to us for guidance and expect us to manifest this concern not only by caring for sick and injured animals but also by acting as leaders in being better stewards of the animals with whom we share the planet.

I am encouraged by recent changes in the AVMA and challenge it to continue to listen to the calls for real change when it comes to animal welfare and rights.

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    Ilda Johnston says...

    January 16th, 2009, 2:08 pm

    I am so happy to read this from Dr. Barry Kipperman about “Veterinarians Should Be Leaders in the Animal Welfare Movement” there have been so many times I have asked my vets over the years how they can do certain things becuae I found htem to be cruel to animals and they have always said to me they dont take sides on animal issues. I have a probelm with someone who is supposed to care and love animals and assume thats why they went into the field that doesnt take the side of the animal. I find this business all about the money. Tufts wont even help an animal unless you put a 50% doen paymnet down first. This is very sad. many people cant afford this and have to put their pet down. Just proves how money hungry this business is.

    Marcia Parent says...

    January 16th, 2009, 2:45 pm

    I was so glad to hear Dr. Kipperman say what he said. Its the truth and vets should have compassion and concern for animals and animal rights. The public needs a role model and who better then a vet. It shouldnt be about the money. It should be about the animal. KUDOS TO YOU Thanks Marcia Parent

    ?Regina Warner says...

    January 16th, 2009, 4:18 pm

    I agree completel with Ilda Johnston regarding how many of the vets are in the business for the MONEY only and no personal feeling whatsoever for the poor little animals. I have lost count on how many I have taken in for lspay/neuter and these are animals, especially cats that are just tossed away and I feel so sorry for them and wonder how they get food as everyone has disposals today so guess the just kill birds, of which I also feed so don’t like them having to eat birds. IF WE DID NOT HAVE ANIMAL ORGANIZATIONS LIKE PETA to get new laws enacted, the animal would really have problems but we have gone a long way toward protecting them and sending cruel people to prison but still need a lot more. But,. I really THANK all the animal oarganizations and have donated often until recent and due to problems had to stop donating to all organizations. But, just hope the veternarian oarganization gets more involved. thanks for the articled…regina

    ?Regina Warner says...

    January 16th, 2009, 4:22 pm

    Sorry, if some of my article was offensive but that happens to be the way I feel about the animal world.

    Marcia says...

    January 16th, 2009, 9:51 pm

    I agree that veterinarians should be more involved on the side of animal rights–after all they are the professions who are supposed to be caring for them, saving their lives, and preventing suffering. I wanted to be a veterinarian until I discovered how I would be forced to treat (read “mistreat”) farm animals. Sad to think that many veterinarians might be so fearful of offending people who love pets only that they would refrain from aiding all creatures.

    Let’s turn up the heat!

    kerry says...

    January 16th, 2009, 11:02 pm

    I find it really ironic that the local vet who is licensed to do wildlife rehabilitation is an avid hunter.

    Chris says...

    January 20th, 2009, 10:45 am

    Is it not a bit of a oxymoron for vet to say we help animals then they will not stand up for their rights-and yes Animals have rights, if we as a society turn are back are helping the meek Human or Animal we all lose out. As a Veterinarian they make a oath to protect and help and treat all animals to their upmost ability-So why are they not shouting out the wrongs down to Animals. They have the power to make a signifcant difference, as they are know by the general public as a animal authoritys. SO ALL YOU VETERINARIANS THAT DO NOTHING ITS TIME TO WAKE UP – AND DO SOME THING, ANYTHING JUST DO SOMETHING TO HELP.

    LoraKim Joyner says...

    January 22nd, 2009, 9:52 am

    Dear Barry and Others,

    Thanks so much for putting this out. As a veterinarian I too have been following the AVMA and in particular, the Association of Avian Veterinarians. Things are shifting – we can talk more about compassion, feelings, ethics, and hope. There are many ways of getting at this and I’ve taken a path that includes the Unitarian Univeralist ministry and socioscience. How can we engage in moral reasoning and deal with the emotions/values underneath that undergird all our decisions and professions? That’s my question – and really no answers.

    In gratitude,

    LoraKim

    Elizabeth says...

    January 22nd, 2009, 3:52 pm

    All I can say is, what took so long. An organization that was supposed to be here to protect those creatures are the very ones that have caused these creatures to continue to be abused most of their lives. It is to bad that it has taken so long and that so many innocent creatures have been treated with such disrespect, and then killed.

    They should have made these stands a long time ago. Are they for sure going to DO THE RIGHT THING! Time will tell.

    Amy Brown says...

    January 22nd, 2009, 5:28 pm

    I volenteer at a veterinary clinic and want to be a vet(ever since I can remember). It’s sad that the people who are suppose to be helping animals get better are not (or were not) helping the animals recieve their rights as living breathing beings. I want to be a vet that helps reduce suffering and over population. As humans we are also animals and should respect and care for other animals!

    Kathleen says...

    January 23rd, 2009, 7:36 am

    My vet is a friend and I took PETA literature to her waiting room. She liked it. We could all take PETA literature to every vet office. People that like animals…well, they like animals and the times are a changin’ a bit…Mark Bittman’s latest cookbook is a good example of how people can change and learn and join the movement. Books are good gifts that change hearts and mind, be it his or others. Perhaps Mark would join PETA???

    Patti says...

    January 24th, 2009, 5:56 pm

    I am a veterinarian who does small animal and exotics only. I have never done ear cropping and avidly campaign against it. I try to talk my breeders out of tail docking, and will not do it for cosmetic reasons on older pups or dogs. I dropped out of large animal because of the lack of concern for pain, overcrowding, poor hygeine, lack of attention to their mental needs.
    Many veterinarians are, unfortunately, out to make a fortune. I’m trying to make a living, with very high overhead. Before you all start to think we are all heartless and money hungry, think again. WE are just as individual as anyone, we cannot be classified as a group in our behaviors. I am ashamed of those whom I call “Empire Builders”, and hope I never fall into the money trap.
    Pain management is a very big in our field now, and I think Psychologic disorders will be the next big thing.

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