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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Open mouth, insert foot...What did I just say?!

Yesterday, I presented my experiences with Iowa puppy mill dogs to the Care of Animals in Commercial Enterprises Study Committee at the state house. I was nervous about two things... 1. What if my powerpoint presentation malfunctioned, and I could not show my photos which are pivotal to my presentation, and 2. the question answer session afterwards. I was okay with the actual presentation, although I know I am a better writer than I am a speaker, even I can simply read from the slide and point at the photos with my new laser pointer, purchased just for the event! Woo hoo.

Fortunately, the powerpoint presentation functioned perfectly, thank you Doug Adkisson for that! But oh, the question answer session. I am not good off the cuff. I am one of those people who will have a remark made to them and not come up with a good response for an hour maybe two, when the opportunity has certainly passed. I am my own worst critic, everyone who knows me, knows that. I will pick one bad thing out of a dozen good things that I have done, and focus on that bad one until it drives me crazy. I know I do it, yet, I continue to do it. This question answer session is a case in point.

I answered most of the questions well. I am proud of that. But one legislator asked me, "Did you report these cases, and if so what happened when you did?" I was stunned. I had no quick answer, I had no "right" answer. I had not reported them. I sat there, jaw opened, stuttering. I had heard another vet who testified earlier state that veterinarians are not like child care professionals with regard to reporting. There is no mandatory reporting by veterinarians if neglect or abuse is suspected. So that was the best I could come up with quickly and I blurted it out, "I'm not required to". No one in the room was happy with this answer, especially myself. All I could think was, "I hope they remember more of my presentation that just this bad response".

I have been stewing and brewing over this the rest of yesterday, throughout last night, and I am here to clarify my thoughts right here. My Blog! This blog helps me pull the thoughts out of my scrambled brain and organize them. It has helped me examine myself, my thoughts, my feelings, and express them in such a way that even I may be understanding them for the first time. It has been very therapeutic. It has been very good for me.

I can only describe the way my thoughts have been since the meeting as a puzzle with all it's pieces in the box. The pieces are all there, but you cannot tell what the grand scheme is until they are pulled out of the box and put together. So get ready, here comes my puzzle picture. Let's hope I like it.

I could not myself understand why I did not ever consider reporting these cases of obvious neglect to anyone. As it turns out, we had. My technician today refreshed my memory. We tried one time with a breeding kennel, and got bounced around from office to office until we gave up. And prior to that I had tried to report a neglected goat, with no luck. So from experience, I knew that it was difficult to get any action from a neglect report. I also agree that if I had continued to pursue it, that perhaps I could have, in time with a lot of effort, gotten some action in these two cases. I am certain that a person not in the animal welfare business would have been frustrated long before we were, and given up even sooner. It just is not an easy process.

So why did I not report or pursue this further?
I guess, I still don't like the answer. Reporting these kennels was never something I considered as a viable option. These dogs are coming into my clinic from Class A USDA licensed facilities, and they are in obviously terrible condition. These dogs came from facilities that ARE inspected by trained inspectors once every 12 to 18 months. The inspectors have seen these dogs...they HAVE seen these dogs, and they still exist in this condition. In my view they enter my clinic with the USDA seal of approval stamped on their foreheads. An inspector HAS seen these dogs, and said they are ok. I never felt as though reporting them would reveal anything that has not already been witnessed by the inspectors. Like it or not, that is why I have not reported them.
There are other reasons too.

If a breeder gives his or her dogs to me for rescue, and suddenly has inspectors show up, two plus two equals four. They will no longer surrender the dogs to me or other rescue groups if they figure out we are reporting them as a result of their handovers. We try to keep them happy so they are happy to give us their dogs. The alternative for these dogs is a terrible one. Living their life out in a cage, being shot and disposed of, being euthanized in some way that likely does not include a veterinarian, and in the best scenario, being euthanized humanely by a veterinarian.

If I report them and the inspector goes in to rectify the situation, what is there to say that they won't just say, "Shave these down and keep them that way". They won't see the hernias, the cherry eyes, the ear infections, the rotted teeth. All this report will do in this case is result in a citation, possible fine, and another breeder that is unlikely to hand over his retirees.

What about these inspections...

What I would like to know is what is the inspection protocol? Are the animals randomly examined outside of the cage for matting or other gross signs of neglect? Does the inspector just glance in the cage and see that the dog has fur, without feeling the matts that are pulling at these dogs' skin, closing off their ears, and blocking their eyes? Do they primarily inspect the facility, or is there a protocol for looking at a dog or two specifically. My guess is that they are not looking closely at the dogs. It does not take a veterinary degree to see the dogs I see and know that there is a problem. Also, does the inspection take place at the same time each year? Perhaps the inspection is expected, and these dogs are groomed annually prior to inspection "time".

I don't know.

I don't know why these dogs were able to be used in these kennels in such horrid condition. I don't know whether my reason for not reporting them is sound or acceptable. But I do know that I took it upon myself to make a presentation that I feel put my reputation, and my job, and my license at risk. I made a presentation that went against the recommendation of the state organization that represents all Iowa veterinarians, my peers, both large animal and small animal. I know that that organization called me and made it known that they had concerns about the presentation I was giving. AND, I know that I still made that presentation.

I took that risk because I want to see these animals treated like the wonderful beings that they are. I want them to continue to be relinquished to rescue where they will find forever homes for their retirement years. (There is another blog discussion waiting to happen...dumping your dogs on rescue groups leaving them to foot the bills for their veterinary care is an irresponsible action...but it is an action the rescue groups will bear, and they do it happily when they see dogs that have never been hugged or on grass go home with their new forever family).

I have new concerns about the extent to which these "Kennel veterinarians" are involved in these kennels. It is my understanding after yesterday's presentation by the Iowa Pet Breeders Association that each year they have a veterinarian sign a form stating that there is an existing client-doctor relationship present. I have not seen this form and am not familiar with the actual wording of the document as I have not had the privelage of signing one. I would like to see one. That being said, I believe some Senators were making an assumption about this veterinarian's kennel relationship that is not necessarily true. If I, as a vet, have seen a person's dog one time three years ago, there is an existing client-doctor relationship. It does not mean that I, as the vet, am certain that this animal is well cared for in it's home environment, current on recommended vaccines or other health protocols. The veterinarian that signs the document is likely stating that they will be there for the client when they bring a dog to them for difficult birthing, or an injury, or other requested veterinary care. That veterinarian is not likely making husbandry recommendations, examining the breeding stock routinely, or evaluating/inspecting the state of the kennel. It is more likely that the veterinarian has never been asked into that kennel. I hate to see assumptions made about the extent to which the veterinarians who may be treating animals from a kennel are involved in the husbandry practices in that kennel. That is probably not the case.

Thank goodness for blogs. I feel better. There is still so much work to be done, but I think we are a huge step up from where we were last week. Thank you to all those involved in yesterday's process.


Mary said...

I think that was a better answer than you think. Maybe it will get them thinking about how there should be mandatory reporting. If there was mandatory reporting would it them bring those who are the vets to the puppy mills and stores more accountable for their actions or lack thereof? After hearing the story from the young woman who had purchased the young dog from the pet store and watching it suffer - and to be told by the vet to just give it yogurt- made my stomach turn.
I heard you speak at the ARL the night before this meeting and I thought you were very well spoken... I think the animals have a good person on their side.

ameow2002 said...

I am sure you were wonderful. And the answer you gave me when i asked if you had reported it was " No, because if i do they will stop surrendering them" That was a VERY good answer! But if they do start mandatory preporting then you won't have a choice and it is out of your hands. All any of us can do is the best that we can...So many have been saved but still so many out there...