Letters to the Editor

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Questions location of Plum Island facility

I finally got around to reading the October 1 issue of JAVMA, and I have one question about the plans for Plum Island (JAVMA, pp 1044–1046). Has anyone thought about the implications of continuing to have an infectious disease containment facility on an island at a time when global temperatures and sea levels are rising?

Katherine Johnson, DVM

Marysville, Wash

Comments on grant dollars for veterinary schools

In his commentary titled “Veterinary schools and the profession: a search for bearings in the new century” (JAVMA, October 15, 2005, pp 1234–1238), Dr. Marshak calls attention to many of the documented issues facing our veterinary medical colleges and the profession.

One of the issues cited is that of research in veterinary medical schools. He cites National Institutes of Health data, which indicates that veterinary medical schools obtain less than 2% of competitive research grant dollars, training grant dollars, and fellowship dollars. This does remind us of the challenge to do better, but there is more to the story.

Any one of six or more medical colleges has more faculty than all faculty in all the US veterinary medical colleges. There are 4.5 times as many medical colleges (125) as veterinary medical colleges (28) in the United States. It is difficult to make comparisons with the information available, but we have looked at the funding data cited for veterinary medical colleges and for medical colleges.

Our review of this issue indicates that veterinary medical college faculty are more successful than medical college faculty on the basis of grant dollars per faculty person. The Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges looked at the total grant dollars for all faculty and also looked at the data for the top, middle, and bottom thirds of colleges ranked by total grant dollars by college. In all groups, our veterinary faculty appear to be more successful than their counterparts in medical colleges in obtaining grant dollars from the National Institutes of Health. For example, in the top third of colleges ranked by total research funding, veterinary medical college faculty receive $183,115 per person, compared with $131,857 obtained per person in medical colleges.

Yes, we all wish we were making a larger contribution to the development of new knowledge in biomedical research, but we must consider our capacity. If there were more faculty, we could get more done. Veterinary medicine is a very small profession. The number of veterinary faculty in this country reflects that fact. There should be more of us, and more veterinarians should be encouraged to pursue careers in research and teaching. Our colleges and our faculty are doing well and have developed plans to do better. Successful passage of the Veterinary Workforce Expansion Act will help them in their efforts.

Lawrence E. Heider, DVM, DACVPM

Executive Director

Association of American Veterinary, Medical Colleges, Washington, DC

The author responds:

I appreciate Dr. Heider's comments, but in comparing National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding for research, he fails to separate RO1s from all other NIH funding categories (there are several) when calculating grant dollars per faculty member in veterinary schools.a The emphasis in my paper is on RO1 grants (ie, research grants for which investigators compete for funding against their peers in the entire biomedical research community). The number of RO1s, as opposed to other NIH funding, is widely regarded as a superior measure of a school's biomedical research and training capabilities. Despite the disparity in faculty size, compared with medical schools, it seems lamentable that veterinary schools receive only approximately 1.24% of NIH RO1s, especially because they are concentrated in just a few schools. It is equally disturbing that only one veterinary school has an NIH-fund-ed Veterinary Scientist Training (combined veterinary-PhD degree) Program. The program has been supporting trainees since 1982.

Dr. Heider's comparison of faculty numbers in veterinary and medical schools, though undoubtedly higher in medical schools, is meaningless without a breakdown into categories. Many medical schools have large clinical departments as well as affiliated hospitals and satellite clinical facilities with legions of nonresearch or adjunct clinical faculty whose sole academic function is to participate occasionally in the training of medical students and residents.

As Dr. Heider observes, we are a small profession and must consider our capacity. But unless veterinary schools invest more heavily in developing a capacity to recruit, train, and retain veterinarian-scientists, we will fall short as a profession in our ability to grasp the fascinating opportunities that lie before us in what some have rightly called “the century of biology.”


Heider LE, American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges,Washington, DC: Personal communication, 2005.

Questions common use of claw to describe hoof

It was gratifying to find four reports on bovine research in the October 15, 2005, JAVMA, but the last page of the article by Hernandez et al (pp 1292–1296) included the phrase “cows with claw lesions or disorders.” Cows do not have claws. Claws are slender, curve downward, bear little or no weight, and come on dogs, cats, other carnivores, and birds. This would seem to be a no-brainer, but the use of claw for hoof in even-toed animals such as ruminants and swine can still be seen in many publications.

Septimus Sisson, in the first edition of “A Textbook of Veterinary Anatomy,”1 published in 1910, put claws on his cow, but Sisson died in 1924, and when JD Grossman published the third edition titled “The Anatomy of the Domestic Animals”2 in 1938, he changed claw to hoof for the ruminants and pigs. I must admit that early editions of my guide to the dissection of the cow were still carrying the term claw.

In 1967, the World Association of Veterinary Anatomists published “Nomina Anatomica Veterinaria.”3 On page 142 of the fourth edition, note 4 to the chapter on the skin and its derivatives states, “Ungula, hoof, applies to Ungulata.”

Dewclaw is another term applying to dogs that does not apply to ruminants. They have four digits: the main digits are the third and fourth; the first digit is missing; and the second and fifth are commonly called dewclaws, but they should be called accessory digits. Each has a rudimentary hoof.

How could hoofs have been confused with claws? I think it is a mistranslation of the German world Klaue, which means the hoof of ruminants and swine— not claw. Mispronunciation of German by English language speakers is also a factor: au is pronounced ow in German but aw in English. The German word for the claw of carnivores and birds is Kralle.

Robert E. Habel, DVM, MS, MVD

Professor of Veterinary Anatomy, emeritus

College of Veterinary Medicine, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY


Sisson S. A textbook of veterinary anatomy. Philadelphia: WB Saunders Co, 1910.


Sisson S, Grossman JD. The anatomy of the domestic animals. Philadelphia: WB Saunders Co, 1938.

International Committee on Veterinary Anatomical Nomenclature. Nomina anatomica veterinaria. Vienna: World Association of Veterinary Anatomists, 1968.

The author responds:

Thank you for reading the articles on lameness in dairy cows in the October 15, 2005, JAVMA. I agree with you; the use of claw for hoof in ruminants and swine is seen in many publications. For example, in “Veterinary Clinics of North America: Food Animal Practice: Lameness,”1 some chapter titles were as follows: Effect of conformation and management system on hoof and leg diseases and lameness in dairy cows; Functional and corrective claw trimming; Abnormalities of hoof growth and development; Sand cracks, horizontal fissures, and other conditions affecting the wall of the bovine claw; and Metabolic hoof horn disease: claw horn disruption. Mistranslation or mispronunciation of German by English language speakers? Perhaps. Klaue = claw and Kuh = cow. We have contributed inadvertently to perpetuating this mistranslation, misinterpretation, or both in relating our scientific research findings to scientific peers, veterinarians, and producers who commonly use claw for hoof in cattle. Your attention to the proper anatomical nomenclature is appreciated.

Jorge A. Hernandez, DVM, MPVM, PhD

College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Florida, Gainesville, Fla


Smith RA, Anderson DE, eds. The veterinary clinics of North America: food animal practice: lameness. Philadelphia: WB Saunders Co, 2001.

Do the victims of free-roaming cats have rights?

I am disappointed that Dr. Rick Wulff was allowed to take a gratuitous slap at his wildlife colleagues in his letter to the editor (JAVMA, November 1, 2005, p 1402). Wildlife veterinarians did not advocate or support efforts to hunt feral cats, and we have made it quite clear that we are concerned about their suffering and their welfare.1 Wildlife veterinarians are “part of a caring profession” too. But we are at least equally concerned about the suffering and welfare of the millions and millions of native birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians that feral and free-ranging cats maim, kill, and mutilate every year and the ecologic chaos and devastation that concentrations of cats in colonies create, particularly on publicly owned and park lands. Indeed, if cats are accepted “as sentient beings or something similar,” then wouldn't the 50 to 100 small animals they victimize each year be sentient beings too? Or don't they count? Repeatedly trying to wrap veterinarians in James Herriot's cloak will not solve the basic problems created by reabandonment of feral cats.2

David A. Jessup, DVM, MPVM, DACZM

President, American Associations of Wildlife Veterinarians, Santa Cruz, Calif

  • 1

    Jessup DA. The welfare of feral cats and wildlife. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2004;225:13771383.

  • 2

    Jessup DA. Believes feral cat welfare has dark side (lett). J Am Vet Med Assoc 2004;224:1070.

The author responds:

I appreciate Dr. Jessup's comments as he has published often on this subject. However, his stance is the opposite of mine, and the methods he has advocated to control feral cats are a step backward in the cause of animal welfare. Generally speaking, he has advocated capture and confinement of feral cats or capture and destruction of feral cats by euthanasia.

As to capture and confinement, I would say cats are not herd animals and do not do well crowded together. If you could get the funding for enough facilities to stay ahead of the cats that are famous for their reproductive capability, where has this type of facility been proven to be effective on a large-scale basis? Has it been proven to be cost effective?

As to capture and destroy, I think that would be a public relations nightmare for veterinarians, even without cats being “sentient beings.” Plus, a lot of cats called feral are free-roaming pet cats. Some of them may fall astray of a zealous program.

In my opinion, as a profession, we have been a step or two behind other groups that also concern themselves with animal welfare issues. I would like to see us regain some of the leadership over time. Killing feral cats is not the way to go about it.

I do agree that in some closed systems with endangered species such as Key Largo, feral cats have to be removed. But all free-roaming cats in all places? That is only going to bring us a public relations nightmare. And it has yet to be demonstrated effective and cost effective in large parks, let alone a county or state.

Animal welfare aside, endorsing the killing of these cats wholesale as a profession is tantamount to shooting ourselves in the foot. I cannot for the life of me imagine what it would be like explaining to clients why the veterinary profession would want to kill kitties.

Rick Wulff, DVM

Archer, Fla

Unexpected gift keeps on giving

Thank you, Dr. Hartsock, for your letter about Jackie, a hard-luck patient who gave back so much more than expected (JAVMA, November 1, 2005, pp 1404–1405). It was reassuring to see a reminder of why many of us entered this profession in the first place. Thank you for sharing your gift.

Robert J. Goldman, DVM

Santa Monica, Calif

Thoughts on task force report on housing for pregnant sows

The comprehensive review of housing for pregnant sows, as reported by an AVMA Task Force in the November 15, 2005, JAVMA (pp 1580–1590), dealt with “the scientific evidence relating to the impact on the health and welfare of keeping breeding sows in gestation stalls,” as stated in the introduction. Boiling down 1,500 pages of peer-reviewed science to a 10-page report certainly was an unenviable task. The task force deserves whatever plaudits may come its way for sifting out the few conclusive scientific findings from the mostly inconclusive findings and trying to arrive at meaningful interpretations and recommendations for the JAVMA readership.

My plaudits are somewhat restrained, however. I found the report to be essentially an amicus curiae in the pork industry's defense of its position on sow gestation stalls in the court of public opinion.

One salient point that captured my attention was that the review was designed to focus on animal health and welfare, as represented in the first paragraph of the report. Yet, as recorded in the final paragraph of the section titled Summary and Recommendations, one of the caveats to overcoming “problems identified” is that “improvements should be adopted as soon as … systems are economically viable.”

What is to be inferred from that curious statement—that improvements in all sectors of animal health and welfare, human health and welfare included, should be considered only if the cost is no more than responsible industries are willing to bear? If that line of reasoning makes sense, what are we to say about expensive adjustments made or being made by various industries, including the pork industry, to preclude the adverse effects of such detriments to health and welfare as air pollution, water pollution, soil pollution, and food contamination? Or what about the considerable overhead expense of human hospitals to maintain an antiseptic environment to preclude spread of introduced pathogens? Are all of these examples of expense regarded by society to be excessive or unjustifiable? Surely not.

Why, then, should the cost of enhanced health and welfare for pregnant sows be accorded a seemingly legitimate consideration in the comparison of pluses and minuses of group housing versus the pluses and minuses of solitary confinement?

The broaching of economic considerations in the already complex discussion of animal welfare imperatives would seem to serve no purpose other than to confound the issue. If I may speak on behalf of pregnant sows, they deserve better, as do AVMA members who expect the profession to take a forthright stand on questionable animal husbandry practices.

Albert J. Koltveit, DVM, MS

Port Ludlow, Wash

While reading the task force document on gestation crates (JAVMA, November 15, 2005, pp 1580–1590), I was struck by the limited scope of the group's conclusions regarding the issue. As seems to be common in such considerations, the group compared current systems of stall, tether, and group housing and came to the conclusion that “no one system is clearly better than others.” This conclusion totally misses the whole point of the controversy.

None of the people I know who oppose the use of gestation crates see the issue as one of stall versus group housing. The issue that causes the most concern is one of inadequate versus adequate space. The benefits of individual housing of sows can be achieved without confining the sows to crates barely larger than they are.

This issue, at its most basic level, has nothing to do with currently available sow housing systems or with economics. It boils down to a very simple question about animal welfare. Is it appropriate to keep an animal in a crate that limits its available living space to the point that it can't even turn around?

The answer to that question does not depend on whether an appropriate housing system is currently available or even whether it is economically feasible. It is both obvious and extremely weak to conclude that industry needs to try to resolve the problems of the current housing systems. The solution to at least one problem of gestation crates (ie, restriction of movement) is very simple—provide the animals with more space, which can be done while retaining individual enclosures, if desired. If the AVMA wants to be seen as a leader in dealing with animal welfare issues, that position is the one it should take.

There are many other issues regarding sow housing that were addressed by the task force. The AVMA should also encourage social interaction and foraging opportunities for sows because these issues are also important to sow welfare. However, the only innovation needed to correct the primary problem of gestation crates is the use of a bigger enclosure. The AVMA cannot successfully waffle out of addressing the issue by hiding behind statements about no current housing system being better than another and more innovation being needed. If it continues to try to do so, it will continue to be seen as an organization more concerned about the animal industries than about the animals themselves.

V. Wensley Koch, DVM

Loveland, Colo

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