Opinion: "Pets at risk" series the work of irresponsible journalists

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A recent article in Indianapolis newspaper has this veterinary management consultant steamed.

Editor's note: The Indianapolis Star recently published a three-part series titled "Pets at Risk," which explores the connections between veterinarians and pharmaceutical companies and questions whether veterinarians have pets' best interests in mind. This letter is a response to "What's a dog's love worth? Legally nothing" by John Russell, who interviews Louis Gallo about his dog, Peaches, who died.

The story of Mr. Gallo as told in this article is heartbreaking. As I write this, I watch my own dog Rye sprawled out on my bed. I sometimes imagine what my life will be like when she passes. I never imagine that it will be good. I'm truly sorry for Mr. Gallo's loss.

But while I appreciate the impact of raw emotions as experienced by the pet owner, using his story to make a case that veterinary professionals or pharmaceutical companies don't value pets' lives is not only false, it's destructively rash.

'Veterinarians give away 1 to 3 percent of annual revenue'

If the reporter really had reviewed "thousands of pages" of documents before writing the article, then he must be aware that veterinarians in the United States donate a tremendous amount of time and expertise for the care of unwanted stray animals. He must have also read that on average veterinarians give away 1 to 3 percent of a practice's annual revenue in services and products throughout the year simply in an effort to be kind to clients or to ensure that pets receive the treatment they need-not just what their owners can afford. Today's veterinarian graduates school with $200,000 or more in student debt yet still earns just $65,000 to $85,000 as a starting salary. If veterinarians are in the business of being mercenary, they're lousy at it.

'Vaccines ... have saved millions of pets' lives'

He is also too quick to dismiss the revolutionary impact that pharmaceutical companies have made on the well-being of companion animals. Vaccines against rabies, distemper, leptospirosis and Lyme disease have not only saved millions of pets' lives but made our society safer. The number of heartworm cases is a fraction of what it once was, thanks to the promotion and sale of affordable prevention by veterinary pharmaceutical companies. The same can be said for the decrease of intestinal parasites, fleas and ticks. These parasites not only have a long history of debilitating and even killing pets, but of infecting humans as well. It's simply impossible to think of our society-living as it does with pets in homes, cars and beds-without the existence of efficacious preventive medications as produced by our veterinary pharmaceutical companies.

'Undermining the soulful work of veterinary professionals'

Communicating a tragic event like Mr. Gallo's is one thing, but blaming an entire industry for a pet's loss is not responsible journalism. The reporter ultimately does little to comfort Mr. Gallo and winds up undermining the truly invested, soulful work of tens of thousands of veterinary professionals who ethically and unselfishly help companion animals to live and to be well.

Bash Halow is a Firstline Editorial Advisory Board member and co-owner of Halow Tassava Consulting based in Indianapolis and New York City.

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