The Indianapolis Star “Pets at Risk” Articles and The AVMA Response

I read the Indianapolis Star articles on “Pets at Risk” and the AVMA’s response, and after doing some more research, I am disappointed in the AVMA. Their response was emotional and although they accused the Indianapolis Star article of not citing enough experiences (personal experiences, maybe?) the article did cite a long list of pet symptoms/reactions to popularly prescribed drugs. The AVMA’s response did -not- cite any “experiences” to refute this, and instead said that they are waiting on a Reuters article with an alternate tone to follow up with. Not only does that seem lazy, it is very unconvincing.

Indianapolis Star articles: 
Article 1
Article 2

AVMA response:
AVMA Response Letter

Which doesn’t surprise me, actually. The AVMA feels offended because they read the article as an attack on veterinarians. I personally read the articles as an open question for information that is being withheld from pet owners, and as a simple warning to do something very logical: research and question the person you trust with your pet’s life, as you would with your own doctor!  Doctors for human patients will often tell you to seek a second opinion or do some personal research on what you are consuming and/or medicating with.

If they really feel it is offensive to call this idea into question, then that is a good reason someone might question the integrity of a veterinarian. Many veterinarians are professional, DO care about their patients and their human clients, and work very hard to secure happiness and health for your beloved pets.  These veterinarians do need to keep their business running, but will not over-prescribe or promote based off of kickbacks.  However, the reality is that, like with any human being in a position of medical authority, not all Veterinarians are 100% on board with putting your pet’s health as a top priority when money is being marketed to them in the form of product kickbacks.  In fact, it is legal in the veterinary industry to do this, but illegal in the human health industry!

Take into consideration that in my area, there are over twenty-five 24 Hour Vet Clinics and zero comparative clinics for human health. This alone should tell you how many veterinary clinics are out there, especially in places where owning animals is overwhelmingly common. The chance for at least ONE of them in a given area to be more concerned with the monetary kickbacks they receive from selling products like Science Diet or Trifexis is pretty high. To ignore this as even a potential problem is irresponsible and delusional.

I personally have had several negative experiences with money-focused veterinarians through out the course of my animal-raising lifetime. This is partly what lead me to want to become a veterinary technician and go to school for it. I felt that I could do better than charging a child on their birthday $300 for a beloved pet’s euthanasia that cost the clinic a total of $20 (maybe $50 for the room in the freezer for the corpse and disposal of the body). I felt that I could better explain to a mother of four, busy but concerned for her dog, that the reason she had to sign a release form for the use of anesthesia during a routine neutering was not just to keep her dog from feeling pain, but because anesthesia is even less of a perfect science for animals than it is for humans.  This way, if her dog never woke up from the anesthesia (it happens more commonly than you may think), she would have been aware of the risk and not caught off guard, then fed a load of cheap comfort regarding the situation.

So, I went to an accelerated, accredited Veterinary Technician college program.  I was excited to learn, but quickly saddened to see that I was being taught by emotional opinions and that actual science and factual evidence was not a primary concern for several of the instructors.  For example, one instructor went on a tirade about how evolution is entirely false.  Another instructor, an actual veterinary technician, spent an entire forty-five minute session complaining about how whiny clients are in the clinic and making fun of the efforts of a woman who tried to find a more natural means to control potential flea infestations…  only to reveal at the end that there are a few natural ways to help prevent fleas in the household!  These sort of lectures were common.  Instead of simply learning about the medicines we would be dispensing by the Veterinarian’s request, we were inadvertently taught to judge clients harshly and mock their opinions when the doors were closed.

I found this to be absolutely disgusting.  I thought to myself, “What if the owner lives with someone going through chemo, or has an auto-immune disorder, and harsh chemicals hurt them, but they still want to care for their beloved pet?”

There will be plenty of clients with opinions that are not based in facts and putting their pets at risk because of this.  Unfortunately, there was a large amount of hypocrisy here in which the veterinary staff were doing the same, but taking the holier than thou approach to it.  Even when a method was taught with factual evidence, which was sadly hard to decipher in these classes due to poor presentation, an emotional opinion was almost always present to persuade the students to act a certain way.  I learned more from personal research and reading than from these lectures, and felt genuinely awful for clients who dared to ask questions that were even a little bit outside the box.  Likewise, I felt awful for the veterinary technicians that work so hard to legitimately care for their patients, only to be tainted by this attitude from their co-workers.

[There were a few great vet tech instructors at this location who taught with actual scientific evidence, and interjected personal experience for the sake of enhancing these facts.  The veterinarian working there was also extremely professional and invested in the well being of not only the animals, but the students.]

I ended up leaving this school for a number of reasons ranging from poor organization, nonfactual based teachings, personal reasons, and an over all disappointment in the local industry I was hoping to work in.  While I recognize my college experience in a Veterinary Technician program was personally negative and does not reflect the experience one may receive at another college location, it was very evident that I would be facing a lot of the same disappointments in the work place.  In some ways, it became a moral decision to not subject myself to, or perpetuate the money marketing based techniques used to sell medicinal products to loving pet parents.

It is important to question and research procedures and medicines that will be used on your pets.  This does not mean that clients should take an abrasive know-it-all stance with a veterinary staff who is trying to help them.  It means that you, as the pet owner, have the right to know why your pet is being prescribed a certain medication, the risks involved, and what your options are.  You also have the right to decline a treatment  you feel was not made in your pet’s best interest and look for a second opinion.  You have the right to ask questions without judgment.  There is nothing offensive about that, and if a veterinarian is truly looking out for your pet’s health, his/her integrity is not under attack.

The AVMA is not an evil organization.  I respect the AVMA’s mission statement and studied it well enough while in school for veterinary technology.  This is why I am disappointed in their response to the Indianapolis Star articles.  What could have been a wonderful opportunity to impress upon the public the standards the AVMA holds for veterinarians, and promise to better enforce these standards, turned into a shady showing of weakness.  Any veterinarian guilty of failing to educate a client and prescribing solely based off of kickbacks could be better spotted by the public if the AVMA chose to take a stronger stance against the issues in the veterinary industry, while professional veterinarians (and often times business owners) would receive the respect they deserve.

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