Letters to the Editor

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Federal drug permits

I read the recent letter1 regarding the US Drug Enforcement Agency's new interpretation of the Controlled Substances Act concerning transportation of controlled substances by veterinarians and agree with Mr. Dennis that this interpretation is an overreach. I have one additional comment I would like to share. I am licensed to practice veterinary medicine in both Missouri and California, and I have to pay a separate federal DEA permit fee to prescribe and purchase controlled substances in each state. If this is a federal permit, why is it not good in all 50 states and territories of the United States of America? I can understand further regulation by individual states. In Missouri, for example, I also must have a Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs permit, but California has no such state regulation and only requires the federal DEA permit. The DEA allows a single permit fee to cover multiple registered practice sites within a state, but requires a separate permit fee for each individual state.

James P. Howard, DVM

Jefferson City, Mo

1. Dennis GM. New interpretation of Controlled Substances Act oversteps the letter of the law (lett). J Am Vet Med Assoc 2012; 241: 1560.

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The family pet

Data from a recent JAVMA article on owner willingness to treat or manage diseases of dogs and cats1 raise a question about which I have long been curious. Owners were given three options from which to designate their pets' status: member of the family, pet or companion, or property. Almost 80% chose the category of family member. However, only slightly more than 50% indicated that they would be very likely to take their pet to a veterinarian twice weekly for three months if the pet needed treatment. Pet owners often refer to their pets as having a status similar to that of children, but I think it is unlikely that almost half of all parents would be unwilling to take their children to a doctor twice weekly for three months to receive a necessary treatment. Therefore, pets claimed as family members do not seem to have the same status as human family members, such as a child or a spouse.

When surveys ask owners whether they consider their pets to be family members, those who answer yes are often treated as if they were a monolithic block of people with identical attitudes toward their pets. However, I suggest that this group of people is probably distributed along a bell-shaped curve, and that individuals in this group range from those whose bonds with their pets are quite loose to those whose pets really do have the same status as a child, with most people somewhere in the middle. I would be interested to see studies examining the differences between people in this group with regard to how they define family member when referring to their pets. How many would leave their pets behind if they moved? How many would go into debt to treat their pets? How many truly treat their pets as they do a human family member? To me, these questions would be far more revealing of the status of pets in today's society than the more usual questions about whether a pet's birthday is celebrated or whether the pet gets gifts at Christmas time.

What do people really mean when they say they consider their pets to be family members?

V. Wensley Koch, DVM

Loveland, Colo

1. Murphy MD, Larson J, Tyler A, et al. Assessment of owner willingness to treat or manage diseases of dogs and cats as a guide to shelter animal adoptability. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2013; 242: 4653.

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The authors respond:

We thank Dr. Koch for sharing her insights after reading our article.1 We agree that deeming pets to be family members likely has different meanings among animal owners. The term family member is in itself nebulous; in human society, family may include pets, close friends, adopted or foster children, and persons related by blood, marriage, civil union, or long-term commitment. The degree of attachment and commitment among these individuals is likely highly variable as well.

The scientific study of the human-animal bond is an emerging field, and various survey instruments have been developed in an attempt to determine the extent of the human-animal bond as defined by emotional attachment and commitment. A compendium of measures used to assess the human-animal bond has been published,2 and various assessments have been applied in a variety of studies on the impact of the human-animal bond on human behavior, including home evacuation during Hurricane Ike,3 depression in the elderly,4 changes in oxytocin concentrations in pet owners following interaction with their dogs,5 and how owners in Brazil respond when faced with mandatory euthanasia of their pets because of infection with the Leishmania infantum parasite.6

In our study, an assessment of owner attachment was not performed. Participants simply indicated whether they thought of the animal as a family member, pet or companion, or property. They were not provided with our definitions of these terms, and each respondent's interpretation of these terms may be different. It would be interesting to ask pet owners who identify pets as family members to describe their concept of family and explain how their pet fits into that framework.

Molly D. Murphy, DVM, PhD

Claudia J. Baldwin, DVM, MS

Christine A. Petersen, DVM, PhD

College of Veterinary Medicine, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa.

  • 1. Murphy MD, Larson J, Tyler A, et al. Assessment of owner willingness to treat or manage diseases of dogs and cats as a guide to shelter animal adoptability. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2013; 242: 4653.

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  • 2. Anderson DC. Assessing the human-animal bond: a compendium of actual measures. West Lafayette, Ind: Purdue University Press, 2007.

  • 3. Brackenridge S, Zottarelli LK, Rider E, et al. Dimensions of the human-animal bond and evacuation decisions among pet owners during Hurricane Ike. Anthrozoos 2012; 25: 229238.

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  • 4. Shearer J. Attachment to pet dogs and depression in rural older adults. Anthrozoos 2011; 24: 147154.

  • 5. Miller SC, Kennedy C, DeVoe D, et al. An examination of changes in oxytocin levels in men and women before and after interaction with a bonded dog. Anthrozoos 2009; 22: 3142.

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  • 6. Esch KJ, Pontes NN, Arruda P, et al. Preventing zoonotic canine leishmaniasis in northeastern Brazil: pet attachment and adoption of community Leishmania prevention. Am J Trop Med Hyg 2012; 87: 822831.

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Reducing the cost of veterinary medical education

With regard to the current high cost of veterinary medical education, I would recommend looking to the simplest solutions first. For example, I believe that one of the easiest ways to reduce student debt for veterinary students would be to decrease preveterinary requirements, and I would suggest that preveterinary requirements be such that they could be completed in a maximum of two years. Some students now obtain two years of college credits while still in high school, so they could probably be admitted to veterinary school after only one year of college. Examples of what I consider to be unnecessary preveterinary requirements (and, thus, unnecessary expenses) include the following:

  • • 12 semester hours of classes in the humanities or social sciences. I took a course in English history prior to 1680 because it was the only course that would fit my schedule.

  • • 3 to 6 class hours in the history of the state or federal government. Students should receive this training prior to college.

  • • 3 class hours of public speaking.

  • • 3 to 6 class hours in English composition.

  • • Foreign language training. My two semesters of Spanish were not a big help while I was living in Germany and Japan.

The price of a so-called classical education is out of reach for most students. Removing these superfluous requirements would decrease the overall cost of a veterinary education, and graduates could always take these classes later if they wanted or needed them.

William Kerr, DVM

Corpus Christi, Tex.

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