Defining the movement
The humane movement, with its associated animal welfare efforts, is a worthy cause that's more than 100 years old. Over the
years veterinarians have generally supported it with free labor and at the very least moral support. Unfortunately, the humane
community often regards veterinarians with suspicion.
The humane movement is above all a political movement. It boasts an army of volunteers who operate with a zeal and methodology
similar to an endless political campaign. It's fueled by emotion. It's fractured and without unity, but the cause overwhelms
this deficiency. And even with support from the our profession, it opposes what veterinarians need to survive—adequate fees
for our services.
Competitive forces are everywhere in our profession, and the animal welfare movement has moved into our field in unprecedented
numbers. Of course, the veterinary profession has always advocated animal welfare. The Animal Medical Center (AMC) in New
York City has operated as a not-for-profit since 1910 and started with volunteer veterinarians much like the veterinarians
who volunteer in shelters around the country now. Today AMC employs more than 80 veterinarians.
The problem is that if we oppose these not-for-profits at any level, people we will see us as capitalists and as opposition
to the causes within the humane movement. This is a poison pill. Many of our clients overlap with the rescue and animal welfare
movement, so outright opposition is counterproductive.
Finding a way forward
We need one more rescue organization: Save Private Practice. How do we rescue the traditional for-profit practice? Saving
large populations of animals is worthy, but it's outside our abilities. And if animal welfare becomes the predominating cultural
norm for our society, veterinary medicine may simply become a subcategory. If society looks first to the humane movement when
animal issues arise, we will have diminished our place in the culture.
Veterinarians must adapt. And so far we've adapted poorly. Our priority is to avoid the poison pill—direct opposition. Swallowing
it result in separation from the movement and loss of business and credibility.
Do we need to directly embrace the movement? Well, yes and no. We must enter the movement and change it to give it our perspective
on the inside. Most people within the movement don't understand what makes our practices tick, which is lots of clients. If
we have a diminished caseload, expenses overwhelm necessary profits. Profits in veterinary hospitals in the private sector
are plowed back into the practice and into the community. If they're not, people view the practice as unprogressive and clients
will go elsewhere as they sense its decline. On the other hand, good clients may divide their loyalties with humane organizations
in order to get discounted services they perceive as equivalent to services in the private sector. This is the crux of the
So what can we do? The American Veterinary Medical Association and other organizations must push these issues to the forefront.
Some veterinarians have opposed welfare initiatives and pain issues—especially with regard to livestock and housing. This
resistance provides these veterinarians with short-term pride but creates problems between humane organizations and our profession.
The time is now for meaningful dialogue and not simply position papers.
Veterinarians need to find ways to engage humane movement leaders in their area. Programs that move clients from humane organizations
into long-term care at private veterinary offices should be the model. The humane movement must help in this regard. Shelter
veterinarians and their umbrella organizations need to create dialogue wherever and whenever they can with veterinarians.
We cannot survive without each other.
It's not too late, but it's approaching midnight and we are wearing glass slippers.
Dr. David Lane owns and manages two practices in southern Illinois. He has a master's degree in agricultural economics and
is a consultant, speaker and author of numerous practice-management articles. He can be reached at email@example.com