Rather than represent the best of their profession; rather than embrace positions that reflect the most successful accomplishments of its members; rather than aspire to a greater future; rather than issue policy based on the latest research and animal welfare, industry associations like the American Veterinary Medical Association often defend an antiquated past, legitimizing the most regressive factions within their industry and holding back progress, often with deadly results. The AVMA’s own history is littered with such examples.
In the 1970s, the AVMA opposed the endorsement of municipal and SPCA-administered spay/neuter clinics that provided the poor an alternative to the prohibitively high prices charged by some private practice veterinarians. Despite the fact that low-cost sterilization services aimed at lower income people with pets had a well-documented rate of success in getting more animals altered and reducing the numbers of animals surrendered to and killed by “shelters” in a community, the AVMA would not agree to any program that threatened the perceived profits of veterinarians, even though users of these clinics could not afford traditional veterinary services. In 1986, the AVMA also asked Congress to impose taxes on not-for-profits for providing spay/neuter surgeries and vaccination of animals at humane society operated clinics. It has successfully opposed legislation and litigation that would allow families to get damages beyond market value even in cases of wrongful injury and death because of reckless veterinary malpractice. And, to this day, the AVMA refuses to unequivocally condemn the use of the cruel gas chamber to kill dogs and cats. In short, while historically claiming that it is motivated by ensuring the greatest care for animals and the people who love them, it has — time and time again — opposed the actions necessary to ensure that very outcome. If it even considers the best interest of animals, it does so as a mere afterthought.
So it is no surprise that its Jan. 6, 2016 newly revised policy on “Free-Roaming Abandoned and Feral Cats” would ensures that cats continue to enrich its members by adopting an internally schizophrenic policy of admitting the efficacy of TNR while at the same time maligning cats, cat caretakers, and the public that have made spending on cats, including veterinary care, one of the most robust economic sectors in the U.S.
Ironically, some TNR advocates are calling the new policy “more inclusive and cat friendly” because the AVMA went from a policy of cowardly neutrality, where it “neither endorses nor opposes appropriately managed cat colony programs” to one where it calls them “controversial” but admits that they “can improve quality of life for these cats through better nutrition, vaccination to prevent disease, spaying and neutering to reduce unwanted litters, euthanasia of sick and debilitated cats, and adoption of healthy kittens.” In both the earlier policy and the current policy, however, the AVMA continues to assert that TNR is at best temporary, only for the purposes of eliminating cats through attrition.
This is progress in baby steps to be sure. But one does not call such a policy “inclusive” or “cat friendly” when it represents a step backward from where the animal welfare movement already is today, especially since it includes a statement maligning community cats:
“Millions of these free-roaming abandoned and feral cats exist in the United States. Most of these cats will suffer premature mortality from disease, starvation, weather extremes, or trauma, or euthanasia. Negative impacts are not limited to the cats themselves. Free-roaming abandoned and feral cats are non-native predators and cause considerable wildlife destruction and ecosystem disruption, including the deaths of hundreds of millions of birds, small mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and fish. They also pose a threat to public health. Zoonotic concerns include viral (e.g. rabies), bacterial (e.g. Yersinia pestis, Francisella tularensis, Campylobacter spp., Bartonella spp.), fungal (e.g. Microsporum canis), and parasitic (e.g. Cryptosporidium spp., Toxacara cati, Toxoplasma gondii, Cheyletiella spp.) diseases.”
Not only does study after study contradict its claim that community cats are disproportionately suffering; not only does study after study show that community cats pose little risk to humans (and that such a risk virtually disappears with a rabies vaccine which is already part of every legitimate TNR program), but its embrace of jingoistic and xenophobic language about “native” and “non-native” animals is anathema to both ethics and science and has given rise to worldwide campaigns of extermination, including Australia’s planned five year genocide of two million cats.
“Non-native” and “invasive species” are terms that have entered the lexicon of popular culture and become pejorative, inspiring unwarranted fear, knee-jerk suspicion, and a lack of thoughtfulness and moral consideration. They are language of intolerance, based on an idea we have thoroughly rejected in our treatment of our fellow human beings — that the value of a living being can be reduced merely to its place of ancestral origin. When the AVMA uses these words, repeats them and pays lip service to their perceived implication that we must revere the familiar and disdain the foreign, they should not only be ashamed to do so, but realize that they are opening the floodgates of expression to our darker natures and our most base instincts — impulses which have been responsible for the most regrettable moments in human history.
As if that is not bad enough, the new policy also calls on governments to prohibit the feeding of community cats unless they have been sterilized, a crime against compassion. And it further calls on all “owned” cats to be locked indoors, regardless of circumstances such as the relative safety of the community and despite the fact that studies show that cats who are not allowed to go outdoors show significantly more behavior problems than cats who are. Moreover, the vast majority of epidemiologic studies identify indoor-only policies as a significant risk factor for a variety of health problems that impact cats. That doesn’t mean that cats cannot be happy and healthy indoors; only that every “owned” cat should not have to be confined.
If this is “cat friendly,” what does it mean to be anti-cat?
Its passive-aggressive and even overtly hostile statements and calls for criminalizing compassion notwithstanding, it did “embrace” TNR. But doing so is not surprising. Remaining neutral risked consigning the AVMA to oblivion on this issue as the last three decades have seen the meteoric rise in acceptance of TNR by animal shelters, health departments, and local governments. Indeed, in terms of effectiveness in reducing numbers, impounds, deaths, and animal control costs, TNR is effectively beyond controversy or comment, except in the most regressive circles. The AVMA simply had no choice. But more importantly, it was demanded by its prime directive: profits. Quite simply, TNR makes money for its members. And to the AVMA, money isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.
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