This article originally appeared in the February 11, 2011 issue of Dog News. It is posted here by permission of the author.
The Disappearance of Animal Husbandry
Animal husbandry has been practiced for thousands of years; it’s been practiced ever since humans began domesticating and keeping animals. Yet today there are many people who don’t know what animal husbandry is. Recently the editor of a book on farming asked me if husbandry meant breeding or mating, which is a sad reflection on our educational system and her own knowledge. Just to clarify, animal husbandry is the practice of breeding and raising animals. The term is often applied to agriculture and livestock but it can be applied to all of the animal sciences which relate to domestic animals. Thus, I would say that breeding dogs is an animal husbandry practice. Cleaning your dogs’ ears on a regular basis is good animal husbandry. Practicing good grooming falls under animal husbandry, and so on.
Recently in Virginia (December 2010), a woman named Jean Cyhanick was convicted of cruelty to animals largely due to the fact that several of her dogs needed to have their teeth cleaned. I am not making this up or exaggerating it. You can read accounts of the woman’s trial on the Internet.
. It was stipulated at the trial (both sides agreed) that most of Ms. Cyhanick’s dogs were in good condition. There was no seizure or raid in this case. However, Virginia law contains a provision that defines emergency veterinary treatment in the following terms:
... veterinary treatment to stabilize a life-threatening condition, alleviate suffering, prevent further disease transmission, or prevent further disease progression.
§ 3.2-6570. Cruelty to animals; penalty.
A. Any person who: ... (ii) deprives any animal of necessary ... emergency veterinary treatment ... is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.
A Class 1 misdemeanor is the highest misdemeanor in Virginia law and is punishable by up to a year in jail and/or a fine of up to $2500. The next step up is a felony.
This is the law that was applied to Ms. Cyhanick’s dogs and their teeth, making tartar build-up into a veterinary emergency leading to animal cruelty.
There were several other charges. Ms. Cyhanick was a commercial breeder of small and Toy dogs. She had fewer than the 30 dogs allowed under Virginia law. However, because she had two relatives living with her, their dogs were also counted in her total, putting her one bitch over the limit. She was also charged with animal cruelty because two old dogs had old, healed eye injuries. And, she was charged with improper record-keeping and for selling two underage puppies. She sold a puppy that was six weeks old; Virginia law requires puppies to be seven weeks old. The original puppy sold was returned by the buyer. She asked him to choose an older puppy from another litter. He refused and insisted on getting another puppy from the same litter. After he did so, he turned her in to the authorities.
As a result of her convictions, Ms. Cyhanick will never again be able to sell dogs. She is facing several thousand dollars in fines, plus court costs and attorney fees. And, she must get rid of all but four of her dogs.
Virginia law also requires that commercial breeders obtain a pre-breeding vet approval before each bitch is bred. Ms. Cyhanick did not obtain those approvals.
It was obvious to observers that Ms. Cyhanick was railroaded in court on these dubious charges because she was a commercial breeder and the locals wanted to put her out of business, despite the fact that she had a very clean and well-run establishment. However, what interests me here is the role that veterinarians are increasingly playing in determining who can breed dogs and who can’t. Instead of allowing breeders to rely on traditional animal husbandry methods to determine when a dog’s teeth need to be cleaned; how to care for dogs with an old, healed injury; and to make decisions about breeding; it seems to have become necessary to consult with veterinarians on virtually every aspect of breeding and raising dogs. For instance, when did it become necessary for a breeder to have pre-breeding vet approval before breeding a dog? How and why should such a provision be part of a state law? Why should veterinarians be breed wardens? And, in what world is tartar on a dog’s teeth a life-threatening condition making someone guilty of animal cruelty?
It seems we should ask the American Veterinary Medical Association about some of these recent changes. Under fire from animal rights groups, the AVMA has moved further and further toward AR positions on many issues. Just recently they have changed the oath that new veterinarians are required to take. The new oath reads as follows:
"Being admitted to the profession of veterinary medicine, I solemnly swear to use my scientific knowledge and skills for the benefit of society through the protection of animal health and welfare, the prevention and relief of animal suffering, the conservation of animal resources, the promotion of public health, and the advancement of medical knowledge."
The changes include the addition of “animal welfare” and the “prevention” of animal suffering. These changes may make veterinarians much more proactive about involving themselves in the activities of their clients and their clients’ animals. According to statements issued by the AVMA, the organization wants to be a “global leader in animal welfare.”
Of course, other recent changes by the AVMA include the release of their AVMA Model Legislation report a few months ago — a report which was, unfortunately, praised and “embraced” by the AKC Board of Directors. This model legislation, which has already been used, in part, in Guildford, NC, to create a severe law against breeders, is certainly not in the best interest of dog breeders or of dogs. It contains many flaws, incorrect assumptions about breeders (both hobby breeders and commercial breeders), and it, again, makes veterinarians into breed wardens by requiring pre-breeding vet approvals for bitches. In addition, it stipulates that dogs should be raised together with other dogs, despite the fact that not all dogs are dog-friendly or do well when raised in a group. If you don’t raise your dogs in this group format, you risk being labeled as practicing animal cruelty by depriving your dogs of proper socialization or companionship.
Once again, I think we have to ask why veterinarians are making these decisions for breeders instead of breeders being allowed to use good animal husbandry skills and relying on their own experience in raising dogs. Should any veterinarian with no particular expertise with dogs have the right to make breeding decisions instead of an experienced breeder? Should veterinarians be determining how dogs are properly socialized when breeders know that this is something that needs to be done on a breed-by-breed, and even a dog-by-dog basis? I would say, definitely not. To put it succinctly, the AVMA needs to butt out of dog breeding and raising dogs. And, I would say that the AKC needs to take a much closer look at the AVMA’s model legislation and rescind their “embrace” of it before it is used further at the local and state level to make more bad laws against breeders. It makes no sense to have a Government Relations Department trying to fight bad laws against breeders when you have the Board of Directors condoning the kind of anti-breeder guidelines put forth by the AVMA.
The AVMA, perhaps sensing an untapped revenue source, is also very concerned with your dogs’ teeth. When I first began writing about dogs years ago, it was standard to suggest to owners that they should have their dogs’ teeth checked when they took their dogs to the veterinarian for their vaccinations. IF the teeth were bad, then you would probably opt for a professional cleaning under anesthesia once in your dog’s life. Several years ago that suggestion became a yearly mandate with a push to give your dogs dental chews and other products endorsed by the American Veterinary Dental College (who knew such a thing even existed?). $$ In the last year or so, the AVMA and the American Veterinary Dental College have been putting out news releases trying to encourage owners to take their dogs to the vet for a dental check-up every six months! $$$ Of course your dog’s teeth are important, but let's be reasonable! That’s more often than most people go to the dentist. How many people are really going to take their dogs to the vet for a dental exam every six months? Yet, if we're not careful, we will soon see six-month dental check-ups written into state laws as something that is necessary to prove you are not being cruel to your dogs.
Not only are the AVMA and its offshoot the American Veterinary Dental College encouraging more visits to the doggy dentist for your dog, but they are not very happy about laymen cleaning a dog’s teeth. If you get your dog’s teeth cleaned at a pet store where your dog is groomed, or by a non-veterinarian, the AVMA is watching. In many states it is perfectly legal for laymen to do teeth cleaning on dogs and other animals and the AVMA is not happy about that fact. Watch for more bills, known as CAVM, or Scope of Practice: Complementary and alternative veterinary medicine (CAVM) and other practice act exemptions in your state legislature. The AVMA has threatened to go to court before to sue laymen for cleaning dogs’ teeth.
And, it’s not just cleaning dog teeth which upsets the AVMA. The AVMA is taking over many traditional animal husbandry procedures in agriculture as well. In Tennessee a woman named Bonnie Cady was sued by the Tennessee Veterinary Medical Association a few years ago because she did artificial insemination and obstetrics work with horses. It was perfectly legal at that time in Tennessee for her to do so, and she was backed by the Tennessee Farm Bureau, which generally rules in all things agricultural. After several years of court proceedings, Ms. Cady won her case. However, the TVMA reached an agreement with Tennessee Farm Bureau, crafted a bill, and had the state legislature pass a law last year which prevents laymen from performing similar work in the future. The bill is so broad that it could even be applied to dog breeders helping each other do an AI breeding if the TVMA wanted to be picky about it. Similar laws are being passed in other states.
I haven't even tried to go into the AVMA's opposition to cropping and docking of dog breeds, a decision they reached without consultation with the AKC — a very animal rights position; or the aggressive push by veterinarians today to spay and neuter every dog they see, regardless of the dog's age, breed, or health. In my opinion, these are irresponsible actions.
While people have been practicing animal husbandry for thousands of years, the first veterinary school only dates to 1761 in France. Veterinarians were not recognized as a profession until 1844. The AVMA was not founded in this country until 1863. My question is, why are proven animal husbandry practices being swept aside by a profession which does not specialize in dogs or dog breeding? Why are dog breeders, the AKC, and state legislatures accepting as gospel the pronouncements of the AVMA when so many of them are self-serving and/or flawed?
I do not intend to attack any individual veterinarians. I have the greatest respect for good vets and I appreciate all that they have done for my animals over the years. However, I do call into question the AVMA as an organization, especially when its goals seem to be in direct conflict with the goals of dog breeders. As long as the AVMA seems to care more about appeasing the animal rights movement and making money than listening to dog breeders, or what is really in the best interests of dogs and other animals, then I think that their motives and actions should be questioned.