Sunday, February 19, 2012

Calling all NY Animal Advocates and Animal Care Professionals

Animal advocates often say that our role is to speak for those who have no voice.  In the case of enacting legislation to prohibit devocalization, we couldn't mean it more literally.

Devocalization of dogs and cats is the deliberate cutting of vocal cords in order to eliminate or stifle the animal's voice.  One of the most appalling and irresponsible of all convenience surgeries, it comes with a relatively high risk of life-altering (even life-threatening) physical and behavioral complications.  However, this has not stopped some veterinarians from performing the procedure when clients request it.
In 2010, the state of Massachusetts passed legislation prohibiting the de-barking/de-meowing of dogs and cats.  At this moment, a similar ban is pending in New York that would prohibit devocalization except where used to treat a physical ailment.

Please take a minute to watch this video, courtesy of New York Against Devocalization:

As with all humane laws, even though the lack of ethics seems obvious, there is nonetheless a lobby against this ban.  It is fueled not only by the breeders who commonly seek the procedure to minimize noise at facilities where large numbers of dogs are kept. Hoarders, animal collectors, dog fighters and others who wish to keep their dogs quiet and "hidden" may seek devocalization. Still other clients request devocalization as a misguided way of dealing with a lack of training.

One contrived stance taken by the opposition is that most veterinarians do not perform this procedure, and therefore it is not worth the bother of enacting a law.  Obviously, the majority of people do not commit rapes or assaults either, but the nature of the actions has still made these illegal.

As always, there are also veterinarians - even those who would never ethically perform this procedure themselves - who are influenced by the culture of veterinary trade organizations and instantly reject any proposed societal law that encroaches on a veteinarian's decision-making, even if it is unethical decision-making.  New York City veterinarian Dr. Ina Obernesser hit the nail on the head when she stated:

"Those who advocate for access to devocalization may say the proposed law encroaches on their rights. However, in a civilized society, one’s rights stop short of causing another pain and suffering. "


Here are some additional expert perspectives from veterinarians, animal control officers, behaviorists and others who support the NY devocalization ban.  But really, it's quite simple, as demonstrated below:

If you live in New York State, this is your chance: use your voice to protect voices that will otherwise be taken away.
1.) Contact your state assemblymember and tell them to pass A3431-A.
2.) Contact your state senator and urge them to pass bill S6167. 
              It's easy to do: simply state that you are a constituent 
(provide your address) who strongly supports the legislation. You may state that the procedure is documented by numerous veterinarians and animal care professionals to be an act of cruelty.  It also creates a safety issue for both animals and people with whom the animal can no longer communicate effectively.
3.) Tell your NY friends and family to contact their representatives.  Share this blog post or the information it contains.

Thank you for your commitment to basic ethics and to animals.  Your assemblymember and senator offices await your call this week! And remember, New Yorkers: Massachusetts already passed this law - we can't ever allow them to upstage us!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

"Aren't All Vets Ethical?"

A veterinarian director at the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services was recently suspended after deliberately leaking information involving an impending animal cruelty investigation. She initially denied tipping off the industry vet at a Butterball turkey facility and then confessed to doing so. The animal advocacy group Mercy for Animals had recently submitted undercover video footage of turkeys in poor condition at the Butterball facility being beaten, thrown and kicked.

You can read more about it here.

I'm writing about this case for two reasons. First is to illustrate the answer to a question I'm often asked, which is: "Aren't all vets ethical?" The answer, unfortunately, is no. Secondly, I'm noting how the public is appalled by "beating, kicking, throwing" kinds of abuses. It gives animal advocates cause to continue raising awareness about the more accepted, patronized industry practice of breeding animals into lifelong intensive confinement...because this is also a form of animal abuse.

Logically speaking, is this kind of system (which culminates in turkey deaths between 4-8 months of age) likely to result in any profound emotional respect for the animals being handled? What would happen if people researched turkey production while eating a turkey sandwich and gasping at the horrible "beating, kicking and throwing" abuses of turkeys? It's a sad question, but would we humans rather be kicked in the stomach a few times or spend 8 months confined to a cage that didn't allow for movement? Sad, yes, but I'm sure you see my point.

Anyway, back to the veterinarian. Of course there are unethical and dishonest actions being committed in every profession, but agricultural veterinary medicine has a way of repeatedly presenting a face to the public that it is primarily concerned with animal welfare. In actuality, animal welfare reform that interferes with economics is rarely welcomed in food animal medicine.

Fortunately, the Mercy for Animals investigation did result in North Carolina state authorities charging five Butterball employees with misdemeanor and felony animal cruelty charges. The veterinarian plead guilty to obstruction of justice charges.