AAHA takes stand on animal welfare

Association taskforce redefines position on declawing, convenience euthanasia, other topics pertinent to profession; statements are "Phase 1" of taskforce plans
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Dec 01, 2003

The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) has some choice words to contribute to the evolving animal welfare dialogue.

Responding to its membership, the association's recently developed taskforce on animal welfare and ethics has written, rewritten and adopted five animal welfare position statements pertaining to animal abuse, convenience euthanasia, declawing, devocalization and ear cropping/tail docking. AAHA's board of directors approved the statements in mid-October.


Dr. Link Welborn
"Animal welfare has been a topic of increasing importance to the profession recently," says Dr. Link Welborn, AAHA president, private practitioner and taskforce member. "We felt it was important for the association to give our members guidance as far as the association's perspectives."

The issues surfaced following the six-member taskforce's spring discussions with its "Council of 100" assembly of practitioners and practice team members, university and industry leaders, who are occasionally called upon to identify issues relevant to the profession. When the association queried the so-called "brain trust" on animal welfare-related issues, the group identified more than 60 different, yet pertinent, issues.

Dr. Merry Crimi, taskforce chair and private practitioner, says AAHA received a "very powerful response" from individuals who were "very passionate" about the issues, which not surprisingly, are the pinnacle of many discussions within the profession at-large.


Dr. Merry Crimi
The taskforce then formed criteria to narrow down the number of issues. "We looked at what was most apt to affect AAHA members … and industry; where we get the most requested media talking points; and, in the end, what would give most value to AAHA members," says Crimi.

Statement highlightsIn determining AAHA's stance on the issues, the taskforce collected statements worldwide from Australia's veterinary associations, the World Veterinary Association, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and AAHA's previous statements. Three of AAHA's statements are revisions: ear crop/tail docking, animal abuse and euthanasia; declawing is an original statement.

(To read the entire statements, visit DVM Newsmagazine's Web site at www.dvmnewsmagazine.com.)

Canine devocalizationWhile four of the five statements are exclusive to AAHA, the canine devocalization statement reads like the version from the AVMA.

That's intentional, says Crimi, who adds AAHA adopted AVMA's statement because "what we had to say was very simple and AVMA had already said it very simply."

The statement reads "Canine devocalization should only be performed by qualified, licensed veterinarians as a final alternative after behavioral modification efforts to correct excessive vocalization have failed."

Animal abuse and reportingFour major revisions encompass this statement, Crimi notes.

"We acknowledge the profession recognizes the link between animal abuse and domestic violence," she says. "We say our profession has an obligation to take an active role; we actively support state legislation for mandatory reporting of animal abuse; and veterinary hospital teams need to be educated so we can actively participate in identifying and reporting."

EuthanasiaThe strongest component to this statement, according to Crimi, is that AAHA actively states, "adoptable animals should not be victims of 'convenience euthanasia.' "

Three additional points:

  • Euthanasia always should be pain- and anxiety-free and carried out with a sense of dignity.
  • There should be written protocols to prevent compassion fatigue among hospital team members.
  • New to the statement: "euthanasia is a very delicate decision best left to animal owners and the attending veterinarian."

DeclawingThis new position builds on other veterinary groups' previously written material.

Several major points:

  • Declawing of domestic cats is not medically necessary;
  • Declawing should be considered only after attempts have been made to prevent the cat from using its claws destructively, or when clawing presents a significant health risk to humans;
  • Veterinarians have an obligation to educate cat owners completely on declawing before performing the procedure.

Ear cropping/tail dockingThe ear cropping/tail docking statement represents a shift in ideology.

"We went from a position of just wanting practitioners to educate the clients that they're optional, to actually stating we oppose them when done for cosmetic reasons," says Crimi.

AAHA states these procedures only should be performed if medically necessary.

Adds Crimi, "We're actively encouraging elimination of the procedures from breed standards, which is a very clear message to outside industry, breeders and AKC."

Expected word on streetCrimi remains hopeful regarding the profession's response to the statements. "Veterinarians are animal welfarists at heart. For us to be tackling these tough issues and leading the profession with these strong statements, I think they'll say, 'I feel AAHA really does represent me.' "

Welborn hesitates to gauge estimated impact, saying, "Like any statement the association might make, it can be used as a resource for practitioners to (formulate) their own opinions."

Adds Crimi, "Our overriding mantra is to do the right thing."

Glimpse of futureThe statements are "Phase 1" of the taskforce's upcoming plans. AAHA is working on nine related projects designed to be collaboration among groups including the AVMA.

Welborn says certain projects will address guardianship; the feral cat situation, evolution of the companion animal bond and its implications on pets' value.

When asked whether AAHA plans to lobby for legislation pertaining to animal welfare issues highlighted in its position statements, Crimi hedged, saying "I guess I won't go there right now."