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HSUS readies launch of new veterinary association


GAITHERSBURG, MD. - Consumers are driving a new animal-welfare agenda, says Humane Society of the United States front man Wayne Pacelle. And he wants veterinarians to join his cause by spearheading a new veterinary association.

GAITHERSBURG, MD. — An association founded by welfare and animal-rights activists is gearing up to compete directly with the profession's largest membership body, the American Veterinary Medical Association.

It's called the Humane Society Veterinary Association (HSVA). The 501c-3 will serve as the newest arm of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). HSVA represents a merger with the Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights (AVAR) and now will advocate on behalf of that group's 3,000 DVM members.

The union, quietly announced last month, has a major goal: to cut the AVMA's lock on veterinarians who purchase the group's business insurance programs by offering alternative programs.

While AVMA officials refuse to forecast HSVA's impact on the profession, Executive Vice President Ron DeHaven counters with numbers showing AVMA continues to grow. Most of the group's 76,000-plus members join because "AVMA represents the entire scope of the veterinary profession and effectively approaches the myriad of issues faced by veterinarians, he says.

Still, HSUS President Wayne Pacelle predicts many veterinarians, especially recent graduates, will flock to HSVA because its philosophy mirrors their own welfare thinking, as long as they're not saddled with a need to buy AVMA insurance plans.

"Many AVMA members are hostages of the insurance programs," he says. "They don't belong because they agree with the group's conservative approach on animal welfare. The food-animal vets have too much power at AVMA. They thwart reasonable reforms and have set up a major divide among the group's members."

AVAR President Paula Kislak agrees: "I know my colleagues will appreciate having another organization that can supply their business-practice needs."

AVMA response

It is clear that AVMA leaders in DeHaven's office aren't wringing their hands concerning the establishment of an HSUS-linked veterinary medical association. In an e-mail interview with DVM Newsmagazine, DeHaven defends AVMA policies:

"All of our information, policies and guidelines are reviewed by a broad range veterinarians with extensive subject expertise and experience," he says. "The AVMA's broad scope allows the association to thoroughly evaluate aspects of animal issues across all disciplines within the profession. Animal-related issues, especially those related to animal welfare, do not exist in a vacuum. The AVMA's multidisciplinary focus permits evaluation of the entire animal-care system, as opposed to focusing on a single piece of the system that may misrepresent the situation."


Pacelle is not convinced.

With a $120 million budget, HSUS promises to provide a financial cushion for marketing HSVA, boosting AVAR's $425,000 budget and dumping the group's "rights" designation, which officials admit burdens their quest to gain legitimacy within AVMA's ranks. Incorporating AVAR sensitivities, HSVA mission is animal protection advocacy.

The nation's largest humane organization also gives AVAR the footing it's long needed to effectively challenge of AVMA's defense of industrial farming practices such as sow gestation stalls and foie gras production.

"It's easy to be against animal fighting. It should be just as easy to stop jamming tubes down the throats of ducks," Pacelle says. "AVMA needs to get off its high horse. Their positions defending horse slaughter, for example, have the American public increasingly upset with them."

Student outreach

Students, he says, are more likely to lean in HSUS' direction, although 95 percent are Student American Veterinary Medical Association members.

Pacelle projects HSVA will grow fastest by marketing within the nation's 28 accredited veterinary schools, and its core brand is already entrenched. HSUS has a long history of hosting forums and retreats for students. It offers professors and students coveted awards and scholarships. In February, the group presented an $800,000 check to the Louisiana State University veterinary school to launch a community companion-animal health program.

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