The annual contest, which highlights the work of veterinary professionals, ended early after activists opposed to declawing used controversial tactics to influence the vote. The American Veterinary Medical Association chose to give all 20 finalists an award.
An effort by the American Veterinary Medical Foundation (AVMF) to find a standout vet ran into a wall of cyberbullying this week.
The foundation, part of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), shut down an annual contest that invites the public to vote on the best veterinarian in the country. In the past, the contest has gone off without a hitch, but this year the competition took a harsh turn.
Many of the 20 finalists for this year’s contest were hit with a barrage of complaints related to the use of declawing as a way to control a cat’s behavior. Animal-rights campaigners harassed many of the candidates through phone calls, rude comments on social media, and negative reviews in an effort to support a candidate who is opposed to declawing.
The harassment drove Tina Roggenbeck, owner of the Veterinary Health Center in Saginaw, Michigan, to withdraw from the competition.
“These aggressive tactics have taken a contest intended to promote a finalist’s contributions to the profession and their respective communities and turned it into a platform to advance a personal agenda,” the health center wrote on its Facebook page.
Dr. Kirsten Cooke, another finalist, expressed her disappointment in an interview with The Gainesville Sun.
“I was really sad to hear it, because a lot of clients took the time and effort to nominate a lot of vets,” Cooke said.
The foundation announced this week that all 20 finalists would receive the “America’s Favorite Veterinarian” designation. AVMF board chair Dr. John Brooks condemned the harassment.
“Apparently many of the so-called animal activists have no problem practicing cruelty to human beings,” Brooks said in a statement. “We have always respected the rights of others to have differing opinions, but to do so in a way that is personally destructive and disruptive is inexcusable. We ask all of the activist groups whose members and supporters engaged in such behavior to ask them to stop doing so immediately.”
Once as common as spaying or neutering, declawing has become an increasingly controversial procedure because it inflicts pain and impairs normal feline behaviors like stretching and marking territory.
Last year, AVMA amended its position statement on declawing, encouraging client education and describing declawing as a form of amputation.
“The decision to declaw a cat should be made by the owners in consultation with their veterinarian,” the policy states. “Declawing of domestic cats should be considered only after attempts have been made to prevent the cat from using its claws destructively or when its clawing presents an above normal health risk for its owner(s).”
The new policy was championed by Dr. Marcus Brown, a member of the AVMA House of Delegates, who was president of the American Association of Feline Practitioners at the time the policy was drafted.
“I think many cat owners just had no idea that a declaw is an amputation, and public education has changed minds,” Brown told the Chicago Tribune last year.