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California pushes cosmetic surgery ban


SACRAMENTO, CALIF.- A state initiative to outlaw canine ear cropping has been affixed to the California Veterinary Medical Board's (CVMB) sunset review, and if passed, would enact the first cosmetic surgery ban in the nation.

SACRAMENTO, CALIF.—A state initiative to outlaw canine ear cropping has been affixed to the California Veterinary Medical Board's (CVMB) sunset review, and if passed, would enact the first cosmetic surgery ban in the nation.

Sunset review is regular assessment by legislators of the continuing need for a state agency to exist. While California Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) leaders claim to favor the ban per the group's position against cosmetic surgery, rumors abound that politics are at play. In addition to ear cropping, SB 1548 seeks to raise the threshold for reporting malpractice settlements to CVMB from $3,000 to $10,000 awards. It also allows the Veterinary Medical Board Contingent Fund to pool CVMB income separately from state coffers. If the bill fails, these provisions die, too.

Passage of SB 1548 would deem ear cropping a misdemeanor crime in California. Normally poised to fight such restrictions, organized veterinary medicine does not oppose the ban. At presstime, the bill was scheduled for hearing Aug. 4.

"The CVMA is in a very difficult position with this bill," says Dr. Duane Flemming, California practice owner, attorney and CVMA member. "Considering CVMA recently fought a declaw ban on the basis lawmakers shouldn't legislate against surgical procedures, their actions point to political positioning. It's interesting that they're taking a low profile now."

False objective

CVMA Executive Director Valerie Fenstermaker states otherwise: "Our board voted to support the ban of ear cropping, and that's it. As far as declaws go, our board sees ear cropping differently."

Like CVMA, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has not spoken out against the measure and is in the unlikely position of siding with the Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights, viewed by mainstream veterinary medicine as an extremist group that happens to be the bill's backer. The AVMA position states: "Ear cropping and tail docking in dogs for cosmetic reasons are not medically indicated nor of benefit to the patient. These procedures cause pain and distress and, as with all surgical procedures, are accompanied by inherent risks of anesthesia, blood loss and infection. Therefore, veterinarians should counsel dog owners about these matters before agreeing to perform these surgeries."

Making noise

The ear cropping amendment, along with the CVMB's review, is scheduled for hearing Aug. 4 before the Assembly's appropriations committee. Outraged dog fanciers have hired lobbyists to work against it.

"This anti-ear cropping bill does not belong in the reauthorization for the veterinary medical board," says Jeffrey Helsdon, corresponding secretary for the Doberman Pinscher Club of America. "It was snuck in last minute so that no one involved in the care or raising of dogs could oppose it. This creates a new crime, and we can't even testify against it, since it's not going to the floor. This is designed to prevent us from having our say."

Losing battle

Breeders and dog fanciers claim ear cropping prevents chronic infection among dogs with large, hanging ears. But those against the procedure view it as strictly cosmetic, related to point requirements for show dogs.

If passed, the following language will be added to the state penal code: "Any person who crops the ears of any dog or procures the cropping of a dog's ears, except for treatment of disease or injury of the dog, is guilty of a misdemeanor."

The crime carries six months in prison and a $1,000 fine.

"As long as this limits the rights of owners to do this in their own garages, it's a not an argument for us," CVMA President Jon Klingborg says. "Personally, I think it's the right thing to do."

National reaction

Many of the calls and e-mail filtering into the Assembly Committee on Business and Professions, which passed the measure, suggest otherwise, spokesman Bill Gage says. Lobbyists have hit the statehouse, too, he adds.

"Most of what we're hearing comes from national groups and national associations, but we're focused on California," Gage says. "What we hear from our own districts weighs more, and 80 percent of the opposition is coming from out of state."

At presstime, the American Kennel Club addressed the issue on its Web site, asking California veterinarians as well as owners to contact the bill's sponsor Sen. Liz Figueroa in opposition of the ban.

"Veterinarians should understand that once the government determines it can ban certain elective procedures, it may be just a short step away from removing veterinarians' and owners' rights to make informed decisions about animal care and treatment," the Web site says.

Veterinarian response

AKC and the Doberman Pinscher Club of America consider ear cropping essential to a dog's health, citing risk of infection as a popular rationale for cropping ears. But as Helsdon considers the prime motivator behind the ban to be "radical extremists," the majority of veterinarians contacted by DVM Newsmagazine say they favor the measure. Dr. Cathy Wilkie, a practice owner in British Columbia, Canada, joins a growing list of veterinarians refusing to perform the procedure.

"It's a bit of an ethical dilemma, but I really don't think there's any use for it in this day and age," she says. "I find the argument that it prevents ear infections to be facetious. If this ban comes through, it will bring this issue to the forefront."

In 39 years of practice, Dr. Ray Emerson estimates he's performed thousands of ear crops. Now, the owner of Emerson Animal Hospital in Waco, Texas, says he guards against the surgery for different reasons.

"I think the issue is completely blown out of proportion," he says. "Everybody talks about the pain, but I have never really seen any dog that acted like it was in pain after the surgery, especially when we give them pain medication. I try not to do it because I compare it giving a lady a nose job. It's getting harder and harder to get the results clients are happy with."

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