In Mark’s Words

Pet medications issue stirring in Senate, FTC

DVM360 Magazine

Too soon to tell if new activity will move government closer to mandatory veterinary prescriptions.

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Rumors abound that Senators Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) are poised to file a Senate version of Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah)’s H.R. 4023, the latest Fairness to Pet Owners bill. Unlike many political rumors, these appear to be true and we anticipate the legislation to be filed shortly. We also expect the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) staff, after 22 months, to submit a draft report of the October 2012 Pet Medications Workshop proceedings to FTC leadership for review and consideration. So what to make of all this anticipated activity?

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Sourcing of dogs revisited; the clock is ticking

DVM360 Magazine

Take a page from Starbucks when looking to source foreign-bred dogs for the American market.

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Many of my dvm360 blogs this past year touched on a looming issue for veterinarians, animal welfare groups and the pet industry: namely, where is the source for humanely-bred dogs to meet the needs of American society during the next 50 years as our human population grows from 310 million to more than 400 million? Unless we turn a blind eye to human-animal bond research and the powerful evidence of the mutual value of relationships between people and companion animals, and American’s obvious love of pets, then we must start working in earnest to find a solution.

Here we’ll examine one facet of a potential solution: foreign-bred dogs. Before we do, let’s look at the list of possible sources of dogs to meet American demand:

  • Hobby breeders (doubtful as a high volume source).
  • Large-scale U.S. commercial breeders (puppy mill issues make this troublesome if not impossible, combined with lack of “positive” resources, like academia, devoted to challenge).
  • Untreated feral dogs in the American South and Midwest producing litters for delivery by local shelters to urban markets around the country (difficult to view this as an intentional, humane source of the volume needed, although it is a steady source now).
  • Foreign-bred dogs (see discussion below).

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Idaho joins battle over shelter veterinary clinics

DVM360 Magazine

Prepare to see more state VMAs weighing in on the role of low-cost shelter veterinary services.

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This blog has raised the issue before about growing concern over the scale and scope of shelter veterinary clinics, with Alabama and South Carolina being two states considering restrictions. Add Idaho to the list as the Idaho Veterinary Medical Association (IVMA) seeks to restrict Idaho shelters and humane societies from serving commercial clients other than low-income pet owners.

Shelter veterinary practices cover the spectrum across the United States:

  • Veterinary care only for pets in custody of shelter;
  • Veterinary care for shelter pets plus spay/neuter services for low-income pet owners;
  • Veterinary care for shelter pets plus spay/neuter services for any pet owner in community, generally at a lower rate than private practitioners;
  • Full-service commercial veterinary clinic serving low-income pet owners; or
  • Full-service commercial veterinary clinic serving any and all pet owners in community, ostensibly with a lower pricing model than private practitioners.

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The calm before the calm on the high seas of animal policy

DVM360 Magazine

Congress, states do little to interfere with veterinary medicine.

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This blogger has been quiet for the past month or so. Not for lack of work or interests, but to wait and see if state legislatures across the country or Congress signaled any appetite to challenge veterinarians or blaze new trails in animal welfare in 2014. After a decade of steady activity in the states, and a hint here or there in Congress, we’ve now witnessed the winds dying down and the seas calming.

Most state legislatures have wrapped up their work for 2014 (only 11 states currently remain in session), and not a single chamber took aim at veterinarians in a meaningful or threatening manner. Practice acts were not reconfigured, sales taxes on veterinary services were not imposed, professional judgment and autonomy were not undermined and political hands steered clear of the basic economics of veterinary practices.

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Much ado about the legal status of pets

DVM360 Magazine

Veterinary profession, industry would be heavily affected by changes.

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Readers of this blog are aware of my fondness for the Wall Street Journal, so it will come as no surprise that today’s blog is triggered by an April 14 Wall Street Journal guest article by author David Grimm: “Should Pets Have the Same Legal Rights as People?” Grimm is the author of a new, heavily publicized book, Citizen Canine (PublicAffairs, 2014), and is featured in recent interviews in Wired and National Geographic.

The issue has been around for decades, but the buzz is picking up as to whether modern society needs to reconsider how political systems and courts treat animals. Last year the Nonhuman Rights Project filed a lawsuit in New York on behalf of four chimpanzees contending that they should be legally recognized as people. The Texas Supreme Court recently reversed a lower court’s ruling that had thrown out the common law classification of animals as personal property for purposes of legal damages.

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Are storm clouds rising in shelter-veterinarian relationships?

DVM360 Magazine

More shelters offer full veterinary services, compete with private practices.

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Most animal shelters and local humane societies enjoy strong working relationships with private veterinarians. Area doctors often volunteer at shelters, veterinary colleges provide externs for learning and shelter assistance, often at intake, and veterinary clinics routinely advise the community that great pets may be found at local shelters. So where are these storm clouds?

At least two states, Alabama and South Carolina, are considering legislation that would place restrictions on the scope of veterinary services being delivered at shelters or humane societies. But this may be just a spring shower before the real storm begins.

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U.S. demographics should put a smile on the face of every veterinarian

DVM360 Magazine

Rising population of pet owners poised to inject $5 billion yearly into veterinary market.

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Last week this blog examined the question of where Americans will find healthy dogs to meet our needs as the human population grows from 310 million people to 420 million people in less than 50 years.

The absence of meaningful dialogue about this topic is predictable, given the volatility of issues surrounding sourcing of dogs; nonetheless, it is alarming given that no one in industry, the veterinary profession or animal welfare organizations knows the answer to this question. Imagine any other consumer sector marching into the future ignorant of how it will meet even basic needs. Imagine Apple or Samsung having no clue where they will develop or produce smartphones.

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So where do things stand with dog populations in the U.S.?

DVM360 Magazine

Crackdowns on breeding, success with shelter neutering–while good things–could leave future veterinary clients without a source for pet dogs.

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It’s been six months since the U.S. Department of Agriculture implemented rules to bring Internet breeders within the scope of its animal welfare standards governing dog breeders. This is the latest initiative by federal and state governments to clamp down on puppy mills. We have also seen more cities join the growing roster of jurisdictions banning the retail sale of dogs.

We also know that euthanasia rates in shelters continue to decline across the country, reflecting the dramatic success of a broad grassroots initiative in every region to expand the number of spays and neuters performed on shelter dogs. It is the rare shelter that is not addressing this issue in some manner. Is the job finished? No, but everyone in the animal welfare world should celebrate the significant gains to date.

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Egg production, pet owner ‘fairness’ and state freedoms

DVM360 Magazine

Two bills affecting veterinarians may have tanked because of their redundancy.

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At about the same time that the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and United Egg Producers (UEP) announced the end of their ill-fated partnership, U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah) introduced H.R. 4023 in Congress to little fanfare. This bill is the 2014 version of the self-styled Fairness to Pet Owners Act—H.R. 1406 in the last legislative session. So what do we make of this? While neither action on its face had anything to do with the other, in some manner their fates were linked. Let’s explore.

After losing battles in 2011 to impose cage-free standards for egg production in the Oregon and Washington state legislatures, HSUS rose from political ashes and stunned the animal welfare and food animal universe by announcing its alliance with UEP. The two organizations helped introduce federal legislation to impose not cage-free standards but enriched colony standards—standards that closely resembled those HSUS had opposed in the states.

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An important opportunity to improve pet food safety

DVM360 Magazine

Veterinarians, pet owners need rigorous testing to be mandatory.

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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has requested public comment on a proposed regulation called the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA, for short), intended to strengthen the safety of pet food and animal feed sold in the United States. If it’s done right, this regulation has the potential to significantly improve the safety of pet food, prevent recalls and assure the public that it can depend on the safety of the food fed to family pets.

There is currently no requirement that pet food factories test finished products for contamination from Salmonella. Finished product testing means that after a food product goes through manufacturing but before it is shipped, it goes through one final round of testing to ensure that the product is safe. Most major pet food manufacturers already undertake such procedures—and have strong internal food safety programs—but these food safety standards are voluntary and are not universally implemented across the pet food industry.

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