AAHA miffed by AVMA refusal to donate $75,000

AAHA miffed by AVMA refusal to donate $75,000

May 01, 2003

Schaumburg, Ill.-A task force formed in 1996 to address vaccine-associated soft tissue sarcomas is nearing an end as leaders debate the group's relevancy. At the same time, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) is declining requests for $75,000 in financial support.

To back Vaccine-Associated Feline Sarcoma Task Force (VAFSTF) research endeavors, the American Animal Hospital Association's (AAHA) foundation promised the group $15,000 a year for five years contingent on AVMA matching the award. When the AVMA refused, surprised AAHA leaders consequently pulled their own $75,000 pledge, lowering the contribution to $15,000 for one year.

"We truly thought the AVMA would support the task force because compared to their budget, the donation was a real small amount of money," AAHA President Dr. Link Welborn says. "We're very disappointed. It seems they have decided this is something they don't want to support."

AVMA and AAHA join the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) and Veterinary Cancer Society (VCS) as VAFSTF founders and members. AVMA has never financed the task force aside from a $50,000 grant in 1997, however, the group does provide resources and staff support.

In AVMA's defense

The decision to reject AAHA's request for matching donations came down to the AVMA's status as a membership organization, says Dr. Bruce Little, the group's executive vice president. AVMA's budget can sustain a $75,000 donation, he admits, but the association's mission does not include acting as a source for research dollars.

"AAHA feels like we've abandoned them, but backing research is not our job," Little says. "We're not going to commit membership dues to research. We have a foundation that determines what should be funded, and they're already supporting a vaccine study."

While not linked to VAFSTF, the foundation has backed a three-year, $25,000-a-year grant supporting Kansas State University professor Dr. Melinda Wilkerson to study vaccine reactions in dogs. The money came from a special bequest to the foundation dedicated for the research of diseases affecting companion animals, says Paul Amundsen, the foundation's executive director.

"The task force did submit a request for funding," Amundsen says, "but the foundation has decided to get into more significant, larger research projects that have clinical applications."

Future hazy

It's unclear how the AVMA's money would have been invested by VAFSTF. Dr. Jim Richards, American Association of Feline Practitioners president-elect and a VAFSTF founding member, says the task force is considering six research proposals but adds its future is "uncertain at this point." At presstime, VAFSTF stakeholders were meeting by conference call to debate disbandment.

"Right now, its existence is all contingent on gaining sufficient financial support," Richards says.

No matter the outcome, Richards is pleased with the task force's accomplishments.

VAFSTF surfaced when little was known about vaccine-associated malignancies and brought the disease to the attention of veterinarians and pet owners. It was an unprecedented problem at the outset, Richards says, the most common elective procedure in cats being directly associated with the development of aggressive cancers.

"I'm proud of the way the profession responded to this problem across association lines, which previously was unheard of," Richards says. "I think we've been amazingly successful. If the noise has died down, I'd like to think it's partly due to the task force addressing the issue so aggressively. My belief is that the task force has a future, but I'm only one member."