Simulation study compares cat population reduction methods

From free-roaming cats to ‘pit bulls,’ behavioral research takes aim at homelessness

By Susan C. Kahler


Reducing the size of free-roaming cat populations is the ultimate goal of a study on a new formulation of GonaCon. It is hoped that the immunocontraceptive injection may have an even longer efficacy period in female cats than an earlier formulation. The cats are being studied in a colony-type setting. (Photo by Valerie Benka for ACC&D)

Citation: Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 248, 8; 10.2460/javma.248.8.852

Is a temporary, nonsurgical contraceptive for free-roaming cats worth pursuing? How would it compare with trap-neuter-return or with cat removal in confronting overpopulation?

Research on those questions stirred dialogue at the National Council on Pet Population's third research symposium, Nov. 15, 2015, in St. Pete Beach, Florida, where John Boone, PhD, described ongoing work by the Alliance for Contraception in Cats and Dogs in this pivotal area.

The event linked behavioral scientists sharing useful research findings with shelter professionals eager to apply them and to provide the researchers with data and suggestions for future projects.

For those who weren't researchers, keynoter Dr. Janet Scarlett explained how to determine the quality of a study before implementing policy on the basis of research, since “not all studies are equal.” Dr. Scarlett, outgoing chair of the NCPP board of directors, is founder of Maddie's Shelter Medicine Program and professor emerita of epidemiology at Cornell University. During the symposium, she received a certificate of appreciation for her outstanding leadership and unwavering compassion for animals.

Besides the ACC&D study, topics ranged from the pitfalls of labeling dogs in shelters as certain breeds to enhancing the welfare of cats in shelters.

A bioeconomic simulation model

Dr. Boone, a wildlife biologist, noted that the focus of his talk would be the study target—outdoor cats. As a volunteer with the ACC&D and a current board member, he has been involved in work on the population dynamics of free-roaming cats.

“What I'll talk about is the latest manifestation of the work we've been doing to try to understand these targets a little better, specifically to understand how one gets the most bang from the buck when it comes to having an impact on outdoor cat populations,” he said.

The premise of the study was to reduce the number of free-roaming cats, keeping animal welfare of individual cats as the goal within the context of population medicine. From a population standpoint, it was important to know whether it was even worthwhile to develop a contraceptive. The immediate challenges in designing the study were the time and expense that would be involved and the fact that no temporary contraceptive is yet available to use in the study.

“Our resolution to this problem was virtual reality,” he said.

Virtual reality, in this case, took the form of bioeconomic stochastic simulation modeling. “The stochastic part means that, like the real world, this particular model doesn't assume that everything's nice and tidy; it has messiness in it and unexpected events that occur, and that's factored into our outcome to make it more realistic,” Dr. Boone said.

The first phase of the work, the biological part of the model, resulted in publication of the article “Simulating free-roaming cat population management options in open demographic environments” in the online journal PLOS One, Nov. 26, 2014. Dr. Boone said it is a technically dense paper, but a guidance document is posted on the ACC&D website at http://jav.ma/guidancedoc.

“To summarize the biological lessons from that work, we did learn that a temporary, three-year contraceptive like GonaCon could accomplish population control under the right set of circumstances,” Dr. Boone said.

Even if a method can work, that doesn't automatically mean it will work, he said. The key factor is applying the method at a sufficient intensity, whether it is use of a temporary contraceptive, TNR with spay-neuter surgery, or provisional removal and euthanasia.

GonaCon is a gonadotropin-releasing hormone immunocontraceptive vaccine that was developed by the National Wildlife Research Center to provide a nonlethal option for controlling wildlife populations, according to the ACC&D website. Relative to development of a temporary contraceptive, Dr. Boone said, “The near-term thing we're most excited about is GonaCon, which ACC&D is in the process of doing a pseudo field test on, which is a fully approved test.”

The GonaCon research is building on work by Dr. Julie K. Levy, whose much-cited paper (Theriogenology 2011;76:1517–1525) showed that a single injection of the vaccine could be an effective contraceptive for female cats for several years. Her abstract concluded “that GnRH immunocontraception is an ideal candidate for further development for feral cat control.” The ACC&D study is using a newer formulation that may have an even longer efficacy period, and the test is being conducted in a colony-type setting.

Cost and societal acceptability

Returning to the simulation study, Dr. Boone projected a slide showing cost estimates for spay-neuter surgery, euthanasia, animal holding, and nonsurgical sterilization. The economic part of the ACC&D study began with the assumption that reducing population size was the goal and with the question: What are the comparative costs to get to the same point?

The study found that nonsurgical sterilization “shines” if early efforts are sufficiently intense to reach a maintenance phase, the trapping effort is partly or fully subsidized by volunteer labor, and trapping is efficient. As with TNR, the trapping effort required to effectively manage cats will be relatively high, but the overall cost of sterilization will progressively decline as sterilization rates increase.

Dr. Boone recognized his coauthors, particularly lead author Philip S. Miller, and “modeling gurus” Aaron Anderson and Chris Slootmaker. He cited the sheltering and TNR organizations that were involved and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and Merial for funding the work.

In an interview, Dr. Boone said the body of work in the PLOS One paper showed that if there were a goal to reduce a given number of cats by a given percentage in a specified time frame, it is possible to estimate and compare how many procedures that would require for each method and at what time intervals.

“But that doesn't factor in the cost, and doing a hundred TNR procedures doesn't cost the same as doing a hundred lethal removals, and that doesn't cost the same as doing a hundred contraceptions. That's where the economic model comes in: It puts cost on all of these parts of the process so we can make an economically based comparison between our options, which we couldn't do with the PLOS paper,” he said.

So, the second phase of work will be refinement of the economic model, especially to get a better handle on the costs associated with trapping cats for whatever method is used, an area where little quantitative information is available.

Dr. Boone told JAVMA that the investigators think the ACC&D simulation study went a step beyond what's been done before in three ways. They went to greater lengths to include elements of cat population dynamics that were typically left out of simpler models. An example was factoring in the movement of cats in and out of the area instead of treating them as if they were isolated in space.

Second was their use of a software framework called Vortex, which is used for understanding the population dynamics of various species. “It has all kinds of bells and whistles and adjustable things and realistic elements that you probably wouldn't have time to put in if you were just saying OK, this year we're going to build a cat simulation model,” he said. “We just have to supply the particulars.”

Third, they assembled a diverse group with expertise in population dynamics and feral cats, veterinary medicine, and the humane field to define the study parameters. A thorough literature search revealed hard numbers for data such as birth and death rates of cats at various ages, but where data were lacking, the group expertise was tapped.

“The real take-home message from all of this is that many methods either may work or may not work, depending on whether the intensity and the persistence with which they're applied are sufficient to meet the goal that you set,” Dr. Boone told JAVMA. “A lethal removal strategy can work just fine for reducing populations if you do enough of it and if you do it long enough, and TNR can work, and a temporary contraceptive can work.

“Given this reality, the debate about appropriate management strategy should really focus on factors like cost and societal acceptability.”

He continued, “Different techniques for managing cats have different requirements in terms of what's actually sufficient for achieving a given goal. The question should be: To meet a given goal, if this is our preferred technique, are we prepared, are we able, do we understand how much of this will be enough to accomplish that goal, and are we well-prepared to go into this effort with a reasonable chance of success?”

There is nothing inherently wrong with a goal of sterilizing as many cats in a colony as possible, he said, as long as it is understood that this doesn't necessarily achieve population size reduction.

“But if we're in a situation where one or more parties has a vested interest in achieving population control or population size reduction, we're dealing with a very different kind of goal, and if you don't put in enough time and spend enough money to get over that hump and start to achieve population reduction, then you are wasting your effort and your money,” he said. “It's not an incremental thing. You have to get up to a threshold before you even start to achieve population size reduction, so that's the initial investment.”

Dr. John Boone, wildlife biologist and board member, Alliance for Contraception in Cats and Dogs, on a simulation study of free-roaming cat population management options:

Dr. Boone sees the veterinarian as “potentially a truly critical middleman” in this work.

“One of the challenges in cat population management is translating even the most fundamental messages into terms that will resonate with the people working in the field,” he said.

“Because so many veterinarians are involved in TNR programs, they're really, as I see it, the best hope for distilling down the more technical information into terms that can be more widely implemented in the field.”

A holistic model of population dynamics

The next speaker, Tyler Flockhart, PhD, added another dimension to the discussion of free-roaming cats: a holistic model of population dynamics. Dr. Flockhart, who is with the Department of Population Medicine at the University of Guelph Ontario Veterinary College, has a wildlife ecology background. In his talk, he addressed responsible and cost-effective solutions to the urban cat overpopulation crisis.

The research by Dr. Flockhart and his colleague at OVC, Dr. Jason Coe, goes beyond the bioeconomic components in the ACC&D study to encompass all factors that can bear on outcomes with free-roaming cats, such as how a change in attitudes one way or a law can impact the whole animal-human system.

Stakeholders that must be considered in population dynamics decision-making are the animal welfare, public health, and environmental sectors. “The key is biology fits within society,” he said.

The overarching goals are to improve cat welfare, reduce euthanasia and move toward no-kill policies, reduce the unowned cat population size, mitigate impacts on the environment, and reduce the risk to public health.

The important factors to apply in his holistic model include the neuter, survival, and reproduction rates for owned, shelter, and unowned cats. For cats in transition, the model includes the rates of being reunited with owners, surrendered, adopted, abandoned, lost, or relinquished. He quoted the introduction to a paper on humane strategies for controlling feral cat populations by Drs. Julie K. Levy and P. Cynda Crawford (J Am Vet Med Assoc 2004;225:1354–1369): “The lines between loosely owned outdoor cats, tame strays, and feral cats are often blurred…. Individual cats may occupy different categories at various stages of their lives.”

Dr. Flockhart said, “The very small changes in reproductive rates and very small changes in sterilization rates of unowned cats at any point in time influence population size as a whole. Basically, (the model) allows us to rank all these rates and all these different transitions collectively at the same time to figure out the impact on different sectors. This is really important when you talk about prioritizing resources and efforts.”


Officers of the National Council on Pet Population include Dr. Janet Scarlett, Cornell University, immediate past chair of the board of directors; Jim Tedford, Walland, Tennessee, president and CEO; and Patricia Mercer, Houston SPCA, board chair. Not shown: James Bias, SPCA of Texas, vice chair; Pamela Burns, Hawaiian Humane Society, secretary; and Robert Rohde, Dumb Friends League, treasurer. (Photo by Susan C. Kahler)

Citation: Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 248, 8; 10.2460/javma.248.8.852

He stressed that any action taken in the network reverberates through the whole system.

“First, we're going to talk about shelter cats,” he said. “You can say that as the neuter rate of owned cats increases, the number of shelter cats decreases. As the survival rate of owned cats increases, the number of shelter cats increases.

“Next, we're going to talk about owned cats. As the neuter rate of owned cats goes up, the number of owned cats goes down. As the survival rate of owned cats goes up, the number of owned cats goes down.”

Users of the model must input location, urban area size, and human population size. To make optimal decisions, they need to list measurable goals and objectives, which he said are often missing, along with actions, costs of the actions, how the actions influence population dynamics, a time horizon, and constraints such as financial, legal, and social.

When breed becomes a barrier

“It's true; looks do matter,” said Lisa Gunter, a graduate student at the Canine Science Collaboratory at Arizona State University in Tempe. She talked about the effect of breed perceptions and breed labeling of dogs in shelters on attractiveness, adoptions, and length of stay for pit bull–type dogs.

Appearance is the single most important reason adopters chose their dog, she noted, citing the 2012 study “Why did you choose this pet?: adopters and pet selection preferences in five animal shelters in the United States,” by Weiss et al (Animals 2012;2:144–159).

Breed is also an important factor in adoption. In one study (Protopopova et al, 2012), fighting breeds such as pit bull–type dogs, Bulldogs, Boxers, and Shar-Peis had the lowest adoption success. Pit bull–type dogs along with Rottweilers and Chows had higher euthanasia rates in another study (Clevenger and Kass, 2003).

How dogs are labeled in terms of breed may have a lot to do with it, Gunter said. Usually, shelter staff list the breed(s) on the basis of a dog's appearance. But a 2009 study by Voith et al comparing adoption agency breed identification with DNA breed identification of dogs found that in 87.5 percent of dogs, the breed labeling didn't match their DNA.

Comparing photos of adult dogs labeled as pit bull–type breeds with look-alikes labeled as another breed, Gunter studied their lengths of stay. The photos were of dogs adopted from the Arizona Animal Welfare League in 2011–2014.

“Pit bulls stayed three times as long as their look-alikes,” she said.

But potential adopters at the Arizona facility in late 2013 to early 2014 who were shown those matched photos without breed labels perceived the pit bull–type dogs and the look-alikes the same in terms of attractiveness.

In another study showing videos of dogs, the pit bull–type dogs were seen as less attractive with breed labels, but without breed labels, they were rated as more attractive than the look-alikes. Breed labels for the look-alikes (such as a Labrador Retriever and a Border Collie) did not have a positive impact on attractiveness, compared with no breed label.

When Orange County Animal Services in Florida removed breed labels from all its dogs' kennel cards and online profiles, it achieved a 72 percent increase in adoption of dogs that would have been labeled as pit bull–type dogs and a 12 percent decrease in euthanasia of those dogs, Gunter reported.

Gunter said a 1965 study by Scott and Fuller (“The genetic diversity of the dog”) demonstrated that mixed-breed dogs can show a tremendous range of physical diversity, making the premise of breed labeling moot.

“Removing labels is a low-cost option, and it could have some good outcomes for pit bulls and other breeds,” Gunter said.

Rather than “using breed labels as shorthand,” she suggested that shelter staff give adopters information they want about appearance and focus the conversation on the individual dog's behavior.

Gunter acknowledged when asked that there is some uncharted territory, such as what a shelter can do when online sites such as Petfinder ask for breed information to list adoptable dogs, risk tracking and insurance implications, and whether the breed label would also be removed from the dog's medical history.

Jill Perry, manager of consumer market insights for Nestle Purina PetCare, talked about the perceptions of people who avoid adopting their pet from a shelter. Her study, commissioned by Purina, focused on why some people shun shelters, exploration of an ad campaign to try and shift misperceptions and increase openness to adopting from shelters, and identifying how to overcome each barrier, with the ultimate goal of better understanding consumers so more dogs and cats can find homes.

Several main reasons account for some people's tendency to shun shelters. Some think that most dogs and cats in shelters are mixed-breed, so shelter staff will not know what those breeds are, and finding a certain purebred dog or cat is unlikely. Others think shelters have primarily older animals, but they may want a younger one, perhaps a puppy or kitten. And some people mistakenly assume the facility will have little or no information about the animal's health or behavioral history or pedigree.

The ad campaign proved effective, eliciting a 10 percentage point shift among those who had been considering only an animal from a breeder and a 57 percentage point shift among those who had been neutral or negative about a shelter.

“Overall, just short of a majority think a shelter is the best place to find a pet,” Perry said. There are more positive than negative perceptions about animals in shelters; it's the consumers with negative perceptions to focus on, she said.

“Consumers are really looking for transparency,” Perry said, so it's important to make the animal's history available. She said what was most important to potential adopters was knowing about the shelter's intake procedure. Make potential adopters aware that evaluations were done before the animal was cleared for adoption, emphasize the staff's expertise, and say whether the animal gets along with children and other animals. Disclose any potential behavioral concerns and related care that was provided by veterinarians or behaviorists. And provide additional resources.

When policy or protocol becomes an obstacle

Dr. Margaret Slater and Emily Weiss, PhD, of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals talked about closing the door on policy-based adoptions. Dr. Slater is the senior director of veterinary epidemiology, and Dr. Weiss is vice president of research and development.

Compared with a traditional shelter setting, volunteers in a foster home might make the best adoption counselors, Dr. Weiss began. Dogs in the ASPCA Adoption Ambassadors program are placed in foster homes, and the fostering family looks for an adopter, taking the dog to public places in an “adopt me” vest and using social media. Prospective adopters benefit from detailed information about the dog's behavior in a home.

Dr. Weiss summarized results of the AA pilot study conducted at the Louisiana Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in New Orleans and the primary study conducted at the Charleston Animal Society in Charleston, South Carolina, as reported March 24, 2014, in the online journal PLOS One.

A survey of adopters in both studies showed that the ambassadors program was effective in getting dogs adopted, and they were returned much less frequently than dogs adopted in-shelter, she said. Although length of stay was substantially longer, the dog spent that time in a foster home.

What if adoption were free? Dr. Slater related a Canadian study of cats adopted for a fee and cats whose fee was waived. The study found that in each group, 85 percent of owners took their cat for the free veterinary checkup offered, and more than 95 percent still had the cat three months later. Adopters in the fee-waived group could afford the fee but preferred free adoption; twice as many of them made a donation, and they were more likely to adopt a second fee-waived cat.

That research supports earlier research conducted by the ASPCA on fee-waived adoptions that found no difference in attachment between a group that adopted their pets with waived fees and those who paid fees.

“Owner attachment is the same with or without a fee, and waiving the fee could mean a shorter stay,” she said.

What about giving pets as gifts? Dr. Weiss cited three earlier studies, two by NCPP-affiliated researchers, that essentially found that pets obtained as gifts are rarely relinquished and in some cases are at less risk than those obtained from a shelter or friend, as a stray, or at a pet shop.

To get one more piece of data, Dr. Weiss surveyed owners who had and hadn't received a dog or cat as a gift and found no meaningful correlation between owners who had a role in the selection, even if it was a surprise, and their love or attachment for the pet or whether it was still in their home.

Finally, Dr. Slater asked, “What happens when policies are removed and replaced with dialogue?”

She, Dr. Weiss, and co-investigators conducted a study of adopters, reported Oct. 24, 2014, in the Open Journal of Animal Sciences. Some had undergone a policy-based adoption process, others an informative conversation with shelter staff. The study found the adopters in the latter group formed the same degree of attachment to their pets, which slept on the bed in similar numbers. These adopters took the pets to a veterinarian and provided ID tags just as often and declawed with the same frequency.


Play groups were used by the Fairfax County Animal Shelter In Fairfax, Virginia, to socialize dogs with other dogs and identify any shelter-based behavioral issues. (Photo by Artful Paws Photography)

Citation: Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 248, 8; 10.2460/javma.248.8.852

Kristen Auerbach, deputy chief animal services officer of Austin Animal Center in Austin, Texas, talked about placing dogs with behavioral issues in foster homes while she was assistant director of Fairfax County Animal Shelter in Fairfax, Virginia.

Fairfax had a mean annual intake of 4,500 to 5,000 animals. Prior to 2012, the shelter was euthanizing dogs for common behavioral challenges, and there was a lengthy adoption process.

In 2013, the shelter stopped euthanizing dogs for failing a standardized behavior evaluation or for space or time limitations, and it overturned restrictions on adoption of dogs identified as pit bull–type dogs, helping communities do the same. Play groups were used to socialize dogs with other dogs and identify those with shelter-based behavioral issues.

The program placed 52 medium and large dogs of various breeds and types with 16 foster families. Each family fostered a total of one to four dogs from May 2013 to March 2015. “We agreed to give them full (behavioral) disclosure and vice versa,” she said, with support as needed.

Over 80 percent were age 3 or under, and many were “rowdy, obnoxious, and challenging,” she said. Seventeen had fear-based aggression. Secondary behavioral issues included being extremely energetic.

“In two years, we roughly doubled adoptions and cut euthanasias in half,” Auerbach said.

Thirty-three of the study dogs were adopted directly from the foster home, and 16 were taken back to the shelter and adopted. The return rate was 9.6 percent.

“This surprises people: 88 percent were in foster care less than 30 days, 40 percent of them one week or less,” Auerbach said. “Live outcomes were 90.4 percent. Had we not done this, all would have been euthanized.”

At the conclusion of the study, the fosterers shared that they thought the full disclosure better equipped them. Most didn't witness the behavior the shelter had described. Some who did witness it said it disappeared within a week, whereas others reported a new behavior, most often separation anxiety.

In follow-up six to 18 months after adopting, 96 percent of the owners said the dog was still in their home, and the same percentage would readopt it. Most reported only typical challenges such as digging or barking. The word owners most often used to describe their once behaviorally challenged dog: “smart.”

Socializing cats to aid adoptability

Kristyn Vitale Shreve, a doctoral student and National Science Foundation graduate fellow in the Human-Animal Interaction Laboratory at Oregon State University, said that behavioral issues or cat-owner incompatibility account for at least 27 percent of the cats surrendered to shelters by owners.

Once in a shelter, dogs and cats spend more time in close proximity to an inattentive human than pets do, Vitale Shreve noted. She conducted a sociability test of 23 cats in a shelter, comprising an inattentive phase and an attentive phase of human interaction. The cats were aware of the attention or lack of attention. Meowing vocalization sometimes served as a cue that a cat was seeking human attention.

“Cats are facultatively social and display various levels of social behavior, depending on their environment and upbringing,” she said.

She said that human interaction through touch and vocalization can increase a cat's affiliative behaviors and activity levels, cause it to seek close proximity with humans, and potentially decrease stereotypic behaviors, cortisol levels, and stress behavior.

“Cats in shelters that were given up were more stressed than strays,” she said. “You might want to focus (your efforts) first in the shelter on them.”

Vitale Shreve suggested implementing a shelter interaction protocol and enrichment activities such as providing food balls filled with treats to increase adoption rates, reduce return rates, and reduce stress-related behaviors.

The human side

Drs. Slater and Weiss also talked about a changed perspective of relinquishers and other re-homers (see JAVMA, Feb. 1, 2016, page 252), reporting on an ASPCA study that found more than a million U.S. households re-home their cats or dogs annually. What was unique was that the study looked not only at animals being re-homed to shelters but also, for example, to a friend or family member.

Dr. Sara White, executive director and veterinarian for Spay ASAP Inc., spoke on characteristics of clients and animals using nonprofit, high-volume spay-neuter clinics. She led a two-phase study funded by the ASPCA to determine whether such clinics were seeing a population different from regular veterinary clients.

Twenty-two geographically representative clinics were ultimately selected—five in the Northeast, eight in the South, five in the Midwest, and four in the West. Limitations were that data were not captured from mobile clinics, and only large clinics and English-speaking participants were included.

Dr. White said the study found that clients' median household income was below $30,000, with 24.8 percent falling at or below the federal poverty line. Cost was the biggest factor in their choice of a nonprofit clinic. The clientele were similar among the four regions.

Most cats had never been seen by a veterinarian, and only half the dogs had. Most of the cats and one-fourth of the dogs had never been vaccinated against rabies. Of the animals that had had litters, one-third of the cats and half the dogs had had two or more litters. “Use of previous veterinary care for pets coming to clinics is much lower than in surveys of veterinary usage by the AVMA,” she said.

Dr. White said, “I hope we can use the data in promoting it being a different population.”

During the discussion period, attendee Henry Aruca, director of national marketing and corporate partnerships for VCA, commented, “This is something we look at and we're interested in not just from a business perspective but also from the standpoint that we have a huge overpopulation problem…. This is a dialogue that we should definitely take head-on because we're not against pets being spayed or neutered, we're actually for it, and however that happens, that's a good thing. So, I think that somehow from this, we should all get together and address the issue and make sure we're all working together.”

Counting animals in shelters and sharing data

At the Society of Animal Welfare Administrators annual conference this past November, the National Council on Pet Population, SAWA, and several other animal welfare organizations launched Shelter Animals Count: The National Database Project as a platform for the collection and reporting of animal shelter data.

The database is located at www.shelteranimalscount.org. As of March 24, 352 shelters had registered to participate, and all 50 states were represented in the database.

“This database is precisely what the animal welfare world needs to guide good decision-making and help enable a greater understanding of the issues facing shelters in this country,” said Jodi Lytle Buckman, board of directors chair for Shelter Animals Count, in a press release.

“While significant progress has been made, we still need accurate and comprehensive nationwide data for our industry. The numbers really do count when it comes to saving lives.”

As membership increases, the database project will measure progress, inspire collaboration and increased public engagement, and work toward a positive impact on dog and cat homelessness.

Besides the NCPP and SAWA, the following organizations are represented on the Shelter Animals Count board: Animal Assistance Foundation; Animal Humane Society, Minnesota; American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals; Association of Shelter Veterinarians; Best Friends Animal Society; Humane Society of the Pike's Peak Region; The Humane Society of the United States; Maddie's Fund; National Animal Care & Control Association; Petco Foundation; PetSmart Charities; University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine; University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine; and Wisconsin Humane Society.

Once an initial baseline of data has been gathered, Shelter Animals Count plans by midyear to provide comparative reports, including shelter and U.S. census data, through a Tableau Software interface. These reports will be viewable and sortable on the Shelter Animals Count website to allow for community comparisons, using variables such as population, education, and income levels.

Making their voices heard

Veterinarians and students lobby Congress for the profession

Story and photos by R. Scott Nolen


Participants in the eighth annual AVMA legislative visit on the steps of the Supreme Court

Citation: Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 248, 8; 10.2460/javma.248.8.852

Almost 100 veterinarians and veterinary students lobbied congressional lawmakers earlier this year for student loan debt relief and against a veterinary prescription bill the AVMA describes as unnecessary.

The convergence of veterinarians on Capitol Hill was the culmination of the eighth annual AVMA legislative visit to Washington, D.C., an intensive workshop hosted by the Association's Governmental Relations Division, which trains participants as advocates for veterinary medicine.

This latest visit, held Feb. 28-March 1, drew a nearrecord 95 attendees, including 73 veterinary students and 18 veterinarians. A host of speakers educated participants about the federal legislative process and how political advocacy promotes and protects veterinarians and the animals they serve.

Florida's delegate in the AVMA House of Delegates, Dr. Ernest Godfrey, has participated in three previous AVMA legislative visits. These annual events, he said, are immensely important because they empower veterinary students to be politically engaged. “The ability to educate congressmen and senators on how laws and regulations affect veterinary medicine is priceless,” said Dr. Godfrey, who is also treasurer of the AVMA Political Action Committee Board.

AVMA President Joe Kinnarney was one of three AVMA officers in attendance. “We are a small profession, but we are a highly respected profession by the public and on the Hill,” he said. “What makes us so effective is that when we speak to representatives and senators, we speak with one voice.”

On the final day of the visit, attendees met with members of Congress and their staff, requesting they prevent the Fairness to Pet Owners Act (HR 3174/S 1200) from becoming law. The bill would require veterinarians to provide a written copy of every prescription for a companion animal, regardless of whether the client needs or wants it. The AVMA says the mandate is unnecessary because clients already have the ability to fill a prescription at a pharmacy of their choice.

Veterinarians and veterinary students also requested better terms and conditions on federal student loans when the Higher Education Act is finally reauthorized. Congressional members and staff learned that 88 percent of veterinary students take out federal student loans and that the mean debt for veterinary graduates is just over $141,000. Potential remedies include eliminating origination fees on federal student loans, maintaining current annual and aggregate borrowing limits, and removing restrictions on refinancing.

Following the legislative visit, Student AVMA President-elect Matt Holland, a third-year veterinary student at the University of Illinois, sought support for retaining the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program in its current form by means of a petition (http://jav.ma/Loanpetition), although the deadline passed without the petition meeting the signature requirements. The loan forgiveness program offers student debt relief in exchange for working in public service; potential budget cuts have put its future in doubt, however.

Natalie Heitz, a second-year veterinary student at Auburn University, attended the AVMA legislative visit because she wants to one day be a voice for the equine industry. “This experience truly inspired me,” Heitz said. “It opened my eyes to a larger role we as veterinarians have to impact the veterinary profession. I hope one day to make a difference in the betterment of animals, veterinarians, and the public.”


Aaron Judson (Tuskegee ‘19) and Denae Campanale (Florida ‘18) listen as Rep. David Jolly from Florida's 13th Congressional District speaks about the skyrocketing cost of advanced education.

Citation: Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 248, 8; 10.2460/javma.248.8.852


Dr. Rachel Cumberbatch shares her experiences as an AVMA Fellow currently working as an adviser to Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota.

Citation: Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 248, 8; 10.2460/javma.248.8.852


Natalie Heitz (Auburn ‘18), second from the right, and Allison Siu (Auburn ‘19), right, make their case for student loan relief to Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky.

Citation: Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 248, 8; 10.2460/javma.248.8.852


Paul, recently a Republican presidential candidate, said during their meeting that his niece is a veterinary student at Cornell University.

Citation: Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 248, 8; 10.2460/javma.248.8.852


Representatives Kurt Schrader and Ted Yoho, two of three veterinarians currently serving in the House of Representatives, offer advice on how veterinarians can be more engaged in the political process.

Citation: Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 248, 8; 10.2460/javma.248.8.852

Old, new deputy CEO see AVMA moving profession forward

By Katie Burns

What kept Dr. Elizabeth A. Curry-Galvin on the staff of the AVMA for two decades? She said, “The mission and the people. It's very gratifying to work for an association that is the leading advocate for the entire veterinary profession.”

Adrian Hochstadt was on the staff for a decade and is returning after a brief hiatus. He said, “I see tremendous untapped potential for this profession, and I am confident that together, AVMA and its partners will lead the way to an exciting and prosperous future.”

Dr. Curry-Galvin became assistant executive vice president of the AVMA in 2009, later adding the title of deputy chief executive officer; she is retiring this April. Hochstadt is taking the reins as the new deputy CEO. Dr. David Granstrom is transitioning from associate executive vice president to assistant executive vice president.

After graduating as valedictorian from the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine in 1988, Dr. Curry-Galvin completed an internship in small animal medicine and surgery at the University of Minnesota. She went on to work in companion animal practice and as a technical services veterinarian for Sandoz Animal Health. She joined the AVMA in 1996 as an assistant director in the Scientific Activities Division, now the Division of Animal and Public Health, and became division director in 2006.

Working with leaders of the profession, she helped represent veterinarians' interests during crafting of regulations by the Food and Drug Administration to implement extralabel drug use and during changes to vaccine labels by the Department of Agriculture to feature clinically relevant information. She participated in creating the AVMA “Vaccination Principles” and in influencing the Animal Drug Availability Act and the Minor Use and Minor Species Animal Health Act.

As assistant executive vice president, Dr. Curry-Galvin said, “I enjoyed the broad involvement across the whole organization, its strategy and operations and full complement of products, programs, and services for AVMA's professionally diverse membership.”

She said the AVMA recently has been “operationalizing a membercentric strategy that grows our knowledge of member needs and assesses our performance to help us better plan—in an associationwide fashion—the best use of our resources to satisfy members.”

The AVMA also has been seeking to tell its story better to its members. She said, “The AVMA protects, promotes, and advances veterinary medicine in tandem with its members, and we do that through public policy and advocacy, tangible products and services, and accreditation and certification to maintain standards. It's a great story to tell.”

Dr. Curry-Galvin wrestled for more than a year with the decision to retire. She plans to spend more time with her 9-year-old daughter, Jennifer, and her husband, Paul.

After earning a law degree in 1985, Hochstadt went on to work in governmental affairs and association management for the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, American Bar Association, and Accreditation Association for Ambulatory Health Care. He earned designation as a certified association executive from the American Society of Association Executives in 1999.


Dr. Elizabeth A. Curry-Galvin

Citation: Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 248, 8; 10.2460/javma.248.8.852


Adrian Hochstadt (Photos by R. Scott Nolen)

Citation: Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 248, 8; 10.2460/javma.248.8.852

Hochstadt joined the AVMA staff in 2005 to create a program to provide support in governmental relations for state VMAs and other veterinary associations allied with the AVMA.

He said, “We turned a fairly vague notion into the reality of a proactive center that provides real value to the profession and its state and allied leadership.”

In 2015, Hochstadt joined the North American Veterinary Community as senior director of industry services and executive director of the Veterinary Innovation Council.

As deputy CEO of the AVMA, Hochstadt said, “I look forward to playing a key role in operationalizing the strategic plan into real-world deliverables, making it come alive, so to speak.”

He said, “The AVMA is and will continue to be the recognized voice of the profession, speaking to key constituencies on the issues that matter.”

Dr. Granstrom, while taking on the role of assistant executive vice president, will continue to oversee the Accreditation and Certification Strategic Business Unit and serve as chief operating officer of the AVMA. He previously was director of the Education and Research Division, currently the only division in the Accreditation and Certification Strategic Business Unit.

Association appoints directors of finance, animal welfare

The AVMA has appointed Joann Vocalino as director of the Finance and Business Services Division and Dr. Cia Johnson as director of the Animal Welfare Division.


Joann Vocalino

Citation: Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 248, 8; 10.2460/javma.248.8.852


Dr. Cia Johnson (Photos by R. Scott Nolen)

Citation: Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 248, 8; 10.2460/javma.248.8.852

Vocalino worked in the banking industry before joining the AVMA in 1996 as an accountant. She went on to become a senior accountant, finance and accounting manager, and assistant director of finance.

Among her recent accomplishments, Vocalino developed and managed a project to revise the entire chart of accounts to meet new financial reporting requirements and depict the progress on key performance indicators. She also developed and managed the deliverables of a comprehensive, 60-page monthly financial report that represents multiple levels of financial data. In 2014, she earned a Certificate in Strategic Management from DePaul University.

In late 2015, Vocalino became director of the Finance and Business Services Division. She said the division's main focus is helping implement the strategic operating plan.

“I am developing an improved budget and financial analysis process,” she continued. “This includes detailed financials that incorporate metrics and comparison data that will aid in the decision-making process.”

With a family background of working with livestock and horses, Dr. Johnson earned her veterinary degree and her master's degree in animal science from the University of Missouri. After completing her veterinary degree in 2009, she became an assistant director in the AVMA Animal Welfare Division.

She is proud of the steps that the AVMA has taken recently to stop soring in show horses, the infliction of pain to create an exaggerated gait. She said, “Several staff members have been involved in this initiative, and we continue to press forward.” She also is proud of the AVMA's role in the expansion and maturation of the Intercollegiate Animal Welfare Judging/Assessment Contest.

In early 2016, Dr. Johnson became director of the Animal Welfare Division. Among the division's current priorities are drafting guidelines for depopulation, working on projects relating to education in animal welfare, and assisting the Animal Welfare Committee with planning sessions for the AVMA Annual Convention.

Dr. Johnson succeeds Dr. Gail Golab, who now leads the Advocacy and Public Policy Strategic Business Unit. The unit comprises the Governmental Relations Division, Animal Welfare Division, Division of Animal and Public Health, and State Relations Department.

AVMA celebrates ‘Lifetime of Love’ for National Pet Week

“A Lifetime of Love” is the AVMA theme for National Pet Week 2016, May 1–7, and the Association is reaching out to members and the public to spread concepts of responsible pet ownership.

The AVMA and AVMA Auxiliary created the annual event in 1981 to foster responsible pet ownership as well as recognize the human-animal bond and increase public awareness of veterinary medicine.

“National Pet Week is a wonderful opportunity for us to highlight the bond we have with our pets and all the fulfillment and benefit they bring to our lives,” said Dr.

Ron DeHaven, AVMA chief executive officer and chairman of Partners for Healthy Pets. “It also allows us, as a profession, to emphasize the value of veterinary preventive care to ensure our pets live the healthiest, happiest lives possible.”

The AVMA is providing a toolkit to help members celebrate National Pet Week, available in mid-April at www.avma.org/petweek. The toolkit includes resources such as a template for a press release, images and posts to share on social media, and ideas for how clinics can promote the event.

The Association has chosen a focus for each day of National Pet Week, starting with selecting the right pet for the family. The focus for each day is as follows:

  • • Choose well. Commit for life.

  • • Socialize now. New doesn't have to be scary.

  • • Exercise body. Exercise mind.

  • • Love your pet? See your vet!

  • • Pet population control: Know your role.

  • • Emergencies happen. Be prepared.

  • • Give them a lifetime of love.

The exercise theme for the third day ties in with the surgeon general's call to action on walking. The AVMA supports U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy and his office in efforts to promote walking and walkable communities. The call to action mentions walking the dog as one reason that people walk.

The National Pet Week website at www.petweek.org is focusing on messaging to the public. The AVMA also will be conducting a campaign on social media.

Education council schedules site visits

The AVMA Council on Education has scheduled site visits to four schools and colleges of veterinary medicine for the remainder of 2016.

Comprehensive site visits are planned for the Murdoch University School of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences in Western Australia, July 10–15, and the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, Dec. 4–8. Consultative site visits are scheduled for the University of Bristol School of Veterinary Sciences in the U.K., Oct. 16–20, and the University of Cambridge Department of Veterinary Medicine in the U.K., Nov. 6–10.

The council welcomes written comments on these plans or the programs to be evaluated. Comments should be addressed to Dr. Karen Martens Brandt, Director, Education and Research Division, AVMA, 1931 N. Meacham Road, Suite 100, Schaumburg, IL 60173. Comments must be signed by the person submitting them to be considered.

Specialists seek to enhance trust in their credentials

By Katie Burns

Starting this year, new veterinary specialists must take steps to maintain their certification.

The AVMA American Board of Veterinary Specialties sets criteria for recognition of veterinary specialty organizations. There are currently 22 organizations comprising 40 specialties.

The ABVS requires these specialty organizations to issue time-limited certificates for individuals passing board certification requirements in 2016 and beyond. The specialty organizations must set criteria for these diplomates to maintain their certification on a cycle of no longer than 10 years.

All the specialty organizations have developed or are finalizing a framework for maintenance of certification, with most using a point system rather than requiring re-examination. Diplomates may accrue points via a variety of activities, such as specialist-level continuing education, teaching, or publication.

Dr. Bill Fenner, who represents the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine on the ABVS, said the ACVIM is among the organizations using a point system for maintenance of certification. Diplomates may accrue points through pathways such as attending or presenting CE, submitting questions for the certification examination, and publishing papers.

Each of the five specialties under the ACVIM may add to the organization's overall template for maintenance of certification. The ACVIM is working on an online system for diplomates to submit documentation as they accrue points.


Dr. Carl Sammarco, a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine in cardiology, practices in Tinton Falls, New Jersey, at Red Bank Veterinary Hospital. (Courtesy of Red Bank Veterinary Hospital)

Citation: Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 248, 8; 10.2460/javma.248.8.852

Dr. Mike Murphy, who represents the American Board of Veterinary Toxicology on the ABVS, said the ABVT is examining a point system for maintenance of certification. Diplomates may accrue points via avenues such as CE, publications, and other contributions to the advancement of the specialty.

Many diplomates of the ABVT are familiar with maintenance of certification because they are also diplomates of the American Board of Toxicology, which requires maintenance of certification on a five-year cycle.

Dr. Ed Murphey, AVMA staff consultant to the ABVS, said, “Requiring individuals to maintain their expertise and knowledge provides the public and profession some assurance that board certification represents a contemporary standard rather than a onetime achievement from some point in the distant past.”

Dr. Fenner said ACVIM diplomates in areas of public practice such as industry, government, and academia already have a strong expectation from employers that they will take steps to maintain their credentials. He said diplomates in private practice have the same expectation from referring veterinarians.

Dr. Murphy of the ABVT said veterinary toxicologists work in settings such as animal poison control centers, veterinary diagnostic laboratories, veterinary colleges, industry, and government. The ABVT produced an educational video about the relatively small specialty, available at www.abvt.org/public/video. He said diplomates also have an expectation in their workplaces that they will maintain their credentials.

Drs. Fenner and Murphy believe that requiring maintenance of certification will help enhance the credibility of veterinary specialists with the public and others.

“We are saying that we are going to do these things in order to maintain the trust that you have given us,” Dr. Fenner said.

Dr. Murphy added, “It's more a matter of documenting it and making people aware of what we've actually been doing for quite some time.”

Need, fairness debated in nonprofit roles

Legislation could determine who receives subsidized care

By Greg Cima

Legislators and VMA leaders in several states have been pushing for limits on veterinary services provided by nonprofit organizations. The Humane Society of the United States opposes those efforts and wants an agreement that could avoid future legislative fights.

The South Carolina Association of Veterinarians has advocated in favor of a state Senate bill that would limit who could receive nonemergency veterinary services from nonprofit organizations, where nonprofit mobile practices can operate, how nonprofits distribute pharmaceuticals, and what records they keep. The Idaho VMA sought similar legislation, then reached an agreement with the Idaho Humane Society a year ago that the latter would provide many veterinary services only to clients with incomes below a certain threshold.

New Jersey's VMA backed legislation that was introduced and withdrawn this year that would have required that nonprofits render veterinary services only to clients receiving state or federal public assistance. A 2013 bill in Alabama would have limited veterinarians employed by spay-neuter clinics to sterilization, rabies vaccination, and antiparasitic treatments.

Richard Alampi, executive director of the New Jersey VMA, said that, in recent years, nonprofit organizations have caused financial pain for member veterinarians by providing veterinary services near private practices. The VMA takes no issue with clinics that perform high numbers of spay and neuter procedures, but routine heartworm tests and vaccinations are the bread and butter of small practices, he said.

Leaders of the HSUS and local humane societies argue that limiting services can hurt pets of families with financial shortfalls and that income from the clients who can afford to pay subsidizes services for those who cannot. VMA leaders argue that the tax benefits enjoyed by the nonprofits, as well as government funding for some organizations' sterilization services, give them an unfair competitive advantage over private practices.

Dr. Michael Blackwell, chief veterinary officer for the HSUS, said the Humane Society VMA estimates millions, if not tens of millions, of people lack the money to give their pets adequate health care. This estimate is based on a mix of U.S. census data on incomes and AVMA pet population data. And he said an unknown number of communities lack veterinary clinics.

The HSVMA and its parent, the HSUS, have published guiding principles that express opposition to limiting the scope of services provided by nonprofit veterinary practices, including limits based on income. The HSUS is opposing the legislation under consideration in South Carolina.

Dr. Blackwell said HSUS leaders want a coalition of veterinarians across practice types and organizations in veterinary medicine to develop solutions to disputes over the role of nonprofit veterinary services and avoid airing disagreements before the public.

“As a veterinarian, I can tell you we don't look good in the eyes of the public when it appears we are trying to block loving pet owners from having access to veterinary care,” he said.

He sees valid arguments for restrictions on government-funded services but is alarmed that veterinarians would petition for controls on who can be served with private nonprofit funds.

The HSVMA gave away about $1.5 million in veterinary care to about 8,000 animals in 2015, according to the organization.

Varied issues in South Carolina

The bill introduced in South Carolina's state Senate in April 2015, S 687, would prescribe which procedures animal shelters could provide to the general public—such as sterilization, vaccination, or emergency care—with exceptions for clients who provide documentation they are unemployed, receiving public assistance, or otherwise in need. It also would prohibit mobile veterinary practices affiliated with or supported by nonprofit animal shelters from operating within 2 miles of private veterinary practices in the 24 counties with the combined highest unemployment rate and lowest per capita income and within 1 mile of private practices in the other 22 counties.

Dr. Patricia Hill, legislative chair for the South Carolina Association of Veterinarians, said the need for legislation arose as some nonprofits increasingly provided veterinary care to animals owned by the public, sometimes without oversight, accountability, or veterinarians. Shelters have been exempt from some oversight applied to private practitioners because of their history of caring for unowned animals, she said. SCAV members told her stories of animals receiving inadequate treatment or sent home with prescriptions lacking proper labels and packaging, she said.

“This is an issue of the public thinking they are getting well-managed veterinary care by a veterinarian, and in many of these shelters, they are not even seen by a veterinarian,” she said.

The legislation is aimed at limiting services provided by nonprofit organizations that receive state money for sterilization activities. She was involved in writing the legislation, which she said is intended to have no impact on services that improve public health.

Wayne Brennessel, executive director of the Humane Society in Columbia, South Carolina, said the Senate legislation would limit treatment of sick and injured pets owned by people unable to pay for full-price veterinary services. Families with mortgages and college tuition payments and seniors on fixed incomes are examples of people in need who could fail to qualify for care, he said.

He fears that pets will go without care or be forfeited to shelters already “bursting at the seams.”

While the Senate bill lists pay stubs and Medicaid documents among examples of proof pet owners can use to show they need subsidized veterinary services, Dr. Hill said the language in the bill would let people submit signed declarations instead.

Brennessel has heard horror stories of shelters giving pet owners unknown prescriptions in unlabeled plastic bags and failing to keep adequate treatment records. His organization agrees with the bill's provisions on prescriptions and record keeping but disagrees with limits on who can be served and where.

Dr. Hill said the required distances between private practices and mobile clinics are a response to nonprofit organizations parking mobile clinics across the street from existing veterinary practices, sometimes across from the only private practice in a county. The different distance requirements are intended to address that problem by assigning greater minimum distances in rural counties.

Brennessel also has heard of other nonprofit organizations parking within sight of existing veterinary clinics, and he described the Humane Society as more conscientious than that. He and Dr. Hill both described the mobile clinic provisions as legislating manners, the former as a criticism and the latter as an unfortunate need.

Competition in Boise

Vicki Smith, executive director of the Idaho VMA, said an agreement between the IVMA and the Idaho Humane Society addresses the tough question of who should receive pet care from nonprofit organizations.

She said the humane society's hospital in Boise had been providing middle-income clients some services at prices close to those provided by private practitioners—a few dollars difference, for example, on an annual examination. The issue gained importance in 2013 as news media published details on the Humane Society's plans to build a multimillion-dollar hospital in Boise, enraging private practitioners concerned about what they saw as unfair competition with an organization with tax advantages and greater resources.

She said private practitioners are further disadvantaged because people feel good about buying services from a nonprofit.

Dr. Jeff Rosenthal, CEO of the Idaho Humane Society, said the hospital had provided a full range of veterinary services with a focus on low-income clients but no restrictions on access. Clients who could afford to pay were charged prices similar to those at private clinics, and that income subsidized care for those in need.

A copy of the agreement, provided by Smith, indicates the society will provide the following services only to pet owners with household income below 80 percent of their home county's median: wellness care, annual examinations, preventive dentistry, vaccination, and nonemergency and nonreferral orthopedic surgeries. It includes exceptions for government agencies and humane society employees and volunteers, according to the copy, which is signed by two state representatives.

Humane society information indicates the organization is applying the limitations above 75 percent of the median annual household income, or $45,000 in Ada and Canyon counties, the state's two most populous counties. Sterilization and microchip services are available without consideration of income.

The April 2015 agreement led to a substantial decline in income, Dr. Rosenthal said, but the hospital has increased fundraising and benefited from a fund established by a benefactor and income from training Washington State University veterinary students.

Dr. Rosenthal wants to work in harmony with colleagues in private practice, and he said the conflict has been difficult for veterinarians working for the humane society. But he is certain the society is doing what is right for the community, veterinary practices, and veterinary medicine.

He hopes the agreement will endure but expects courts and the Federal Trade Commission someday will determine the roles of nonprofits and limits on competition.

Technicians pushing for new name: veterinary nurse

NAVTA also wants a national standard for credentialing

By Malinda Larkin

The National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America is starting a “veterinary nurse initiative” this year that would rename veterinary technicians as veterinary nurses. The initiative includes trying to establish a national standard for credentialing.

The proposed timeline for the next five to 10 years is for NAVTA to enact such sweeping changes that they would require each state to revise its veterinary practice act. NAVTA says it will spend 2016 researching the best options, consulting with attorneys, professional organizations, and legislatures along with global, national, and state VMAs. The association will then develop a strategic plan on the basis of feedback from these entities, according to NAVTA's position statement on the term “veterinary nurse.”

The end goal is to work with the AVMA, other professional veterinary organizations, and legislators “to create common terminology, practice acts, policies, and procedures to ease the burden that could be placed on individual states and associations in credential governance,” says the statement, available at www.navta.net/?page=VeterinaryNurse.

Specifically, NAVTA would like to use the term “veterinary nurse” as a standardized title in all 50 states, just as it is used in the U.K. and Australia, for example, in addition to a standard that would be set in all 50 states for maintenance of credentials.


The National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America would like to use the term “veterinary nurse” as a standardized title in all 50 states, just as it is used in the U.K. and Australia, for example, in addition to a standard that would be set in all 50 states for maintenance of credentials.

Citation: Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 248, 8; 10.2460/javma.248.8.852

Preliminary survey results from the 2016 NAVTA member survey indicate that 97.3 percent of those polled support a national standardized credential, and 73.3 percent support NAVTA campaigning for a title change from “veterinary technician” to “veterinary nurse.” More survey results will be released this summer.

For years, NAVTA has encouraged members to work with their state legislatures, especially those with practice acts that do not include licensure for veterinary technicians, resulting in no distinction between a credentialed technician and a noncredentialed one, who is essentially an assistant. Credentialed technicians generally have gone through a two- or four-year program accredited by the AVMA Committee on Veterinary Technician Education and Activities and have taken the Veterinary Technician National Examination.

Results of the 2011 NAVTA survey revealed that 15 percent of veterinary technicians were trained not in school but informally on the job. Credentialed technicians were almost evenly split, with one-third being licensed, one-third registered, and one-third certified, depending on the state.

Dennis Lopez, a former NAVTA president, told JAVMA in 2013, “It's frustrating, because these (credentialed) people have worked hard for their education, gone to conferences, and gotten continuing education, and yet, someone can get hired right off the street, and according to the law (in some states), can do the same advanced skills.”

NAVTA says in its position statement, “The current credentialing systems, which vary state to state, have led to confusion for the veterinary consumer and within the veterinary profession. Establishing a single and standard title is the first step in the process to clarify the important role of the profession and provide enhanced patient care. Pets and pet owners are best protected and cared for by formally trained and credentialed veterinary nurses.”

In 2011, the AVMA revised its Model Veterinary Practice Act to address the Association's views of veterinary boards' authority over veterinary technicians and the credentials needed for such technicians. The document says, “No person may practice veterinary technology in the State who is not a veterinary technician or technologist credentialed by the Board. A veterinary technician or technologist who performs veterinary technology contrary to this Act shall be subject to disciplinary actions in a manner consistent with the provisions of this Act applicable to veterinarians. Credentialed veterinary technicians and technologists shall be required to complete continuing education as prescribed by rule to renew their credentials.”

Commentary from the Model Veterinary Practice Act also clearly states, “If credentialing of unlicensed assistants and certified non-veterinarian practitioners continues to increase and evolve in the future, the AVMA may need to study how the MVPA should treat the use and activities of these non-licensed individuals.” To view the model practice act, visit http://jav.ma/avmamodelpracticeact.

This year, NAVTA will update its own Model Practice Act and speak with leaders in the veterinary profession regarding credentialing. “The states without credentialing may want to step into the conversation at the national level,” according to the “NAVTA Veterinary Nurse FAQ.” To read the document, visit http://jav.ma/veterinarynurse.

New animal care leader at USDA

Bernadette Juarez is the new deputy administrator for Animal Care in the Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

She had been acting deputy administrator since Jan. 4, taking over from Dr. Chester A. Gipson, who retired Jan. 1 following 13 years in that position. APHIS Administrator Kevin Shea announced her selection as deputy administrator Feb. 22.

Juarez worked before as deputy director and director of the APHIS Investigative and Enforcement Services, which investigates Animal Welfare Act and Horse Protection Act violations, according to APHIS information. She focused resources on priority investigations and implemented business process changes, cutting investigation and enforcement action times almost in half, according to the announcement.

She also has worked as a trial attorney in the USDA Office of the General Counsel.


Bernadette Juarez

Citation: Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 248, 8; 10.2460/javma.248.8.852


Dr. Chester A. Gipson (Photos courtesy of USDA)

Citation: Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 248, 8; 10.2460/javma.248.8.852

In a January announcement following Juarez's selection as acting deputy administrator, Shea expressed confidence Juarez would be invaluable to APHIS efforts to provide more humane and healthy conditions for animals and work toward ending the “cruel and inhumane” practice of soring, the infliction of pain to create an extravagant or exaggerated gait in horses for training or show.

Army Veterinary Corps: 100 and counting

Join the Uniformed Veterinary Medicine Association June 1–3 as it celebrates the Army Veterinary Corps centennial in San Antonio. The culminating event will be the unveiling of a sculpture honoring the corps at the Army Medical Department Museum at Fort Sam Houston; it will be dedicated at the AVMA Annual Convention in August. Other June festivities will include a tour of LTC Daniel E. Holland Military Working Dog Hospital, a reception, and a banquet. The Army Retired Enlisted Veterinary Personnel will hold its reunion at the same hotel, the El Tropicano Riverwalk. Visit www.uniformedvma.org for event and lodging details or contact Buzz Bacon at bbacon2632@aol.com or 210-288-4687.

Veterinary leaders change at FDA


Dr. Bernadette Dunham

Citation: Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 248, 8; 10.2460/javma.248.8.852


Michael R. Taylor

Citation: Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 248, 8; 10.2460/javma.248.8.852


Tracey Forfa

Citation: Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 248, 8; 10.2460/javma.248.8.852


Stephen Ostroff, MD (Photos courtesy of FDA)

Citation: Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 248, 8; 10.2460/javma.248.8.852

Two Food and Drug Administration executives overseeing veterinary medicine are leaving the agency.

Dr. Bernadette Dunham, who had been director of the FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine since 2008, planned to leave that position at the end of March to become a visiting professor at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. She will continue working with the FDA as senior adviser to the Office of Foods and Veterinary Medicine, and, in a message, she described her new job as a one-health collaboration between the university's Milken Institute School of Public Health and the FDA.

She will help develop interdisciplinary education and training for public health professionals, she said.

“Broadly, I will advise and assist the Milken Institute School of Public Health on developing curriculum and collaborations in the One Health area, workshops, and other initiatives,” she wrote.

Michael R. Taylor, deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine since 2010, also plans to leave the agency, June 1. An FDA announcement published March 8 indicated Taylor plans to continue working toward helping people access safe and nutritious food, but further details were unavailable.

Dr. Dunham had been director of laboratory animal medicine and an adjunct professor of pharmacology at the State University of New York Health Science Center from 1989–1995, followed by eight years at the AVMA Governmental Relations Division. She started as a policy specialist and advanced to acting director, and she built coalitions, advocated for veterinarians, and provided opinions on legislation and regulations, according to JAVMA archives.

Dr. Dunham became CVM director in January 2008, 10 months after the discovery that many pet foods were tainted with melamine and a month before the FDA announced indictments related to the contamination. During her tenure as director, the agency also started a process of restricting administration of certain antimicrobials to livestock and increasing veterinarian oversight of those drugs, investigated pet illnesses and deaths connected with jerky-type treats, clarified how the agency would enforce compounding laws, implemented animal feed rules intended to prevent spread of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, worked to promote management practices to reduce the risk of antiparasitic drug resistance, and approved an rDNA construct used to grow a company's transgenic Atlantic salmon to market weight more quickly.

Tracey Forfa, who has been a CVM deputy director since 2008, will be acting director during the search for a permanent director.

Taylor's previous work included serving as administrator of the Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service, USDA acting undersecretary for food safety, a research professor, and a member of National Academy of Sciences expert committees on food-related issues, FDA information states. At the FSIS, he led public health reforms, guided development of safety requirements for meats, and addressed hazards of Escherichia coli O157:H7 in beef.

FDA information also describes him as a food safety expert who led implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act, guided nutrition initiatives, oversaw efforts to eliminate certain antimicrobial uses connected with antimicrobial resistance development, worked on regulations to improve seafood safety, worked to implement nutrition labeling requirements, and gathered opinions on how to provide a safer and more wholesome food supply.

Stephen Ostroff, MD, who had been acting FDA commissioner before Robert M. Califf, MD, was confirmed as commissioner in February, will replace Taylor as deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine. He started working for the FDA in 2013 as chief medical officer in the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition and senior public health adviser to Taylor, and he became the FDA's chief scientist in 2014, according to the announcement. He also has been deputy director of the National Center for Infectious Diseases in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and director of epidemiology and acting physician general at the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

Vet Set Go guides aspiring veterinarians

For many veterinarians, their calling came early in life. For example, 57.4 percent of applicants who responded to the 2015 Association of American Veterinary Medical College's Veterinary Medical College Application Service survey said they knew they had wanted to be a veterinarian since they were 10 or younger.

New resources, in the form of a book and a website, aim to foster this passion in the latest generation. Vet Set Go, created by Dr. Christopher Carpenter (Auburn ’89), provides information for tweens and teens to feed their interest in animals by opening doors to veterinary medicine.

“Classroom presentations are fine,” says Dr. Carpenter on the website, www.VetSetGo.com. “I wanted to give today's aspiring veterinarians something much more powerful. I wanted to give them a way to go behind the scenes and meet veterinarians. I wanted them to hear from veterinarians and see what they do.”

The newly released book, “Vet Set Go!” available through the website for $21, outlines many ways young people can gain experience working with animals now—from shadowing a veterinarian and attending veterinary or zoo camps across the country to pet-sitting and fostering a pet through an animal shelter.

Dr. Carpenter has created “Vet Set Go!” as a how-to resource, particularly for tweens, providing checklists, action plans, introductory letters, and thank-you notes. To complement the book, the website allows visitors to explore the science of taking care of animals, meet veterinarians from all over the country, and take a peek into their practices through the video series called “Meet the Vets.”

The website also offers free games that help prospective veterinarians explore everything from dog breeds to the basics of anatomy in a fun and interactive way. Vet Set Go may offer mobile apps in the future that allow users to learn on their phones.

In addition, program managers from camps, zoos, veterinary colleges, foster programs, and animal shelters as well as veterinarians who hold open houses at their hospitals are invited to post their programs and events at www.vetsetgo.com/join/activities.

Like these young aspiring veterinarians, Dr. Carpenter discovered his passion for animals when he was 11 years old.

“I knew I wanted to be a veterinarian, but all I ever heard from both my family and others was, ‘Well, you better learn science then.’ I didn't know any vets to talk to about my dream and I never knew about veterinary camps for kids until I started this research for Vet Set Go,” he said in a Jan. 19 press release. “But the reality is there are many creative ways to foster an interest in animals and teach science concepts. Future vets learn science through the love of animals. Animals are a great way to get more kids involved in science—and guide young minds to our profession or related science professions.”


Dr. Christopher Carpenter, creator of Vet Set Go, a new resource meant to help kids learn about the science of animals, says veterinary medicine is a true calling, not just a whim or fancy of a child, but rather, a critical path in life. (Courtesy of Vet Set Go)

Citation: Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 248, 8; 10.2460/javma.248.8.852

Advocate for veterinary technicians wins top honor

The National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America has named Janet McConnell, a certified veterinary technician, as the 2015 Veterinary Technician of the Year. McConnell is being recognized for her dedication to the profession over the course of her 35-year career, according to a Jan. 26 press release.

Early on, McConnell realized the potential role and value of the veterinary assistant, both as an entryway into the veterinary technology field and in the support an assistant could provide technicians. Because of this vision, she co-developed a veterinary assistant program at Brookdale Community College in Lincroft, New Jersey. As program director and instructor, she led the program in becoming the first NAVTA-approved veterinary assistant program in New Jersey in December 2011.

NAVTA created a veterinary assistant approval program in 2010 to better define the veterinary health care team and the role of credentialed technicians. Once a program is approved, its graduates can take the national test; with successful completion, they become an approved veterinary assistant. So far, more than 80 approved veterinary assistants have graduated from Brookdale.

McConnell is also director of education and professional development at Red Bank Veterinary Hospital, which has five locations throughout New Jersey.

Within the Red Bank Network, McConnell has developed and implemented an in-house continuing education requirement for all veterinary technicians and assistants in addition to a CE fund policy for them. She counsels technicians daily on options for educational and career growth and is responsible for helping over 20 technicians within the network gain their licensed veterinary technician or certified veterinary technician credentials.


Janet McConnell (Courtesy of NAVTA)

Citation: Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 248, 8; 10.2460/javma.248.8.852

McConnell has also developed several in-house externship programs for high school students and undergraduates to shadow and gain experience working alongside veterinary technicians and veterinarians. Further, she developed a weeklong summer camp at Brookdale called “Journey to Veterinary Careers” for children in grades 6 through 9.

Her passion for the highest standards for hospital and patient care led her to drive the Red Bank hospitals to accreditation by the American Animal Hospital Association in 2012, with the most recent accomplishment being AAHA recognizing the system as a specialty hospital in December 2015, according to the release.

McConnell began working at Red Bank Veterinary Hospital in Tinton Falls, New Jersey, in November 1992. She graduated in 1981 from the veterinary technology program at Harcum College in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania.

McConnell has been an active member of NAVTA for many years and is currently the New Jersey state NAVTA representative. She is also on the executive board of the New Jersey Veterinary Technicians and Assistants.

“Since her involvement with our state organization NJVTA, she has taken our membership numbers from 80 to almost 800. She is constantly promoting and recruiting members,” said Libby Landry, who nominated McConnell for the honor, in the release.

Obituaries: AVMA member AVMA honor roll member Nonmember

John T. Anderson

Dr. Anderson (California-Davis ’65), 88, Ontario, Oregon, died Feb. 11, 2016. He owned Diamond Pet Clinic, a small animal practice in Oakland, California, prior to retirement. Dr. Anderson was a veteran of the Marine Corps and Air Force. His daughter survives him.

Charles H. Campbell

Dr. Campbell (Colorado State ’45), 92, Healdsburg, California, died Sept. 11, 2015. In 1948, he founded Healdsburg Animal Hospital, focusing on ovine medicine. Dr. Campbell later served as state veterinarian and worked at the Bay Meadows and Golden Gate Field racetracks. Early in his career, he practiced briefly with his father, the late Dr. Harvey Campbell, in Petaluma, California. Dr. Campbell was a past president of the American Association of Small Ruminant Practitioners and was instrumental in establishing the Cloverdale Ram Sale. He served on the Sonoma County Fair Board and was active with the 4-H Club, National FFA Organization, and Masonic Lodge. Dr. Campbell was an Army veteran of the Korean War, attaining the rank of captain. Memorials may be made to Healdsburg Future Farmers Country Fair, P.O. Box 763, Healdsburg, CA 95448.

James H. Lilley Jr.

Dr. Lilley (North Carolina State ‘87), 55, Hubert, North Carolina, died Dec. 20, 2015. A mixed animal veterinarian, he was the co-founder of AniMed Veterinary Hospital in Hubert. Earlier, Dr. Lilley owned Tidewater Animal Hospital in Plymouth, North Carolina. He was a past chair of the Washington County Chamber of Commerce and a member of the Rotary Club. Dr. Lilley is survived by his daughter. Memorials may be made to First Baptist Church of Swansboro Building Fund, 614 W. Corbett Ave., Swansboro, NC 28584.

James A. Mayer

Dr. Mayer (Auburn ‘68), 73, Elizabethtown, Kentucky, died Sept. 10, 2015. A small animal veterinarian, he owned Radcliff Veterinary Clinic in Radcliff, Kentucky, for 32 years. Dr. Mayer served on the Hardin County Board of Education for 17 years. His wife, Elizabeth; four daughters and two sons; and 18 grandchildren survive him. Memorials may be made for Masses to St. Christopher Catholic Church, 1225 S. Wilson Road, Radcliff, KY 40160.

Howard G. Miller

Dr. Miller (Washington State ‘56), 84, Spokane Valley, Washington, died Dec. 15, 2015. He was a small animal veterinarian.

James T. O'Connor

Dr. O'Connor (Michigan State ‘53), 86, Polo, Illinois, died Feb. 19, 2016. He co-owned Polo Animal Hospital, a mixed animal practice, for 42 years prior to retirement in 1996. Before that, Dr. O'Connor practiced in Platteville, Wisconsin. He was a past president of the Northern Illinois VMA. Dr. O'Connor is survived by his wife, Dorothy; eight children; 21 grandchildren; and 17 great-grandchildren. His son-in law, Dr. Michael R. Rosek (Purdue ‘78), is a semiretired small animal practitioner in Crystal Falls, Michigan, and his granddaughter, Dr. Sarah Novak (Wisconsin ‘06), practices small animal medicine in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. Dr. O'Connor's son-in-law, the late Dr. Irvin L. Zook (Iowa State ‘85), also practiced in Stevens Point.

Daniel E. Scott

Dr. Scott (Texas A&M ‘54), 84, Murchison, Texas, died Jan. 21, 2016. Following graduation, he joined the Air Force as a first lieutenant, attaining the rank of captain after two years of service. In 1957, Dr. Scott began practicing in Tyler, Texas, joining the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas later that year. After graduating with his medical degree in 1961 and completing a residency in obstetrics and gynecology, he joined the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School faculty as an assistant professor. In 1978, Dr. Scott was appointed chair of the OB-GYN department and director of residents at Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas. He retired from the hospital as a distinguished professor of obstetrics and gynecology in 1998.

Dr. Scott bred and raised Pinzgauer cattle and served multiple terms as president of the American Pinzgauer Association. He was also a past president of the Texas Perinatal Society. In 2014, Dr. Scott received an Outstanding Alumnus Award from the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. He is survived by three daughters and five grandchildren. Memorials may be made to the Alzheimer's Alliance, 211 Winchester Drive, Tyler, TX 757501; First United Methodist Church, P.O. Box 8, Murchison, TX 75778; or Mount Calvary Missionary Baptist Church, 837 N. Prairieville, Athens, TX 75751.

Peter Sofian

Dr. Sofian (Michigan State ‘49), 101, Troy, Michigan, died Dec. 20, 2015. A small animal veterinarian, he owned and served as president of Lafond Veterinary Hospital in Detroit from 1949–1981. Dr. Sofian was a past president of the Southeastern Michigan VMA. He served in the Army during World War II, receiving two Bronze Battle stars for his service. Dr. Sofian's two daughters and four grandchildren survive him. Memorials may be made to Michigan State University, College of Veterinary Medicine, Veterinary Medical Center F & G wings, 784 Wilson Road Room G-100, East Lansing, MI 48824.

Steve R. Sulsberger

Dr. Sulsberger (Iowa State ‘78), 61, Mapleton, Iowa, died Aug. 24, 2015. In 1980, he established Mapleton Veterinary Clinic, where he practiced mixed animal medicine for 35 years. Earlier, Dr. Sulsberger worked in Dodge City, Kansas. His wife, Colleen, and a son and daughter survive him. Memorials toward a scholarship in his name may be made to the Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine, Ames, IA 50011.

Carl K. White III

Dr. White (Louisiana State ‘77), 62, Downsville, Louisiana, died Nov. 5, 2015. He practiced small animal medicine at Animal Hospital of West Monroe in West Monroe, Louisiana, for 35 years. Dr. White was a member of the Louisiana and Northeast Louisiana VMAs. His wife, Janet; two daughters; and three grandchildren survive him. Memorials, with the memo line of the check notated to the Dr. Carl Kenneth White Memorial Scholarship, may be made to the LSU Foundation, c/o Tracy Evans, LSU SVM, Skip Bertman Drive, Baton Rouge, LA 70803.

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