Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Disappearance of Animal Husbandry

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
Carlotta Cooper

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.


  1. AKC is already buying into some of these notions. For instance, they require that AI be performed by a veterinarian. They recommend that all dogs not intended for breeding be sterilized, when the evidence suggests that this route is not always beneficial. There is also a push for Canine Good Citizen certification...which is fine and dandy for most breeds, but what about the guardian breeds? Are they really supposed to be docile "good citizens"?
    Such notions are becoming pervasive in the dog world and I think we are already well along this slippery slope to ARdom.
    Thank you for a very thought-provoking article.

  2. You are exactly correct. When the HSUS makes and drafts the laws, this is how it is enforced as "politically" correct. Now that Whole Foods and Peta-HSUS have made their 5 Step program for animals/birds it wouldnt be surprising to see the same for any household pet, maybe even fish. signed, Petdefense

  3. Welfare considerations aside, we shouldn’t be surprised at veterinarians pushing for inclusion in husbandry decisions that were once the sole purview of the owner. It’s perfectly rational behavior for those holding a monopoly on a service to try to extend that monopoly to more services – or to defend that monopoly against encroachers. Don’t misunderstand me, there is absolutely nothing wrong with highly trained professionals trying to maximize their incomes. Isn’t that what we all try to do in our employment?

    The problems begin when the profession is allowed to define which services should be included in the monopoly. Let’s take a look at how the AVMA (basically a trade association of veterinarians) sells itself to new members. Here are the benefits of membership, in order of presentation, that the AVMA touts on its Web site:

    Legislative advocacy
    Setting standards for quality veterinary medical education
    Setting standards for veterinary practice
    Public relations
    Supporting scientific research
    AVMA Emergency Preparedness
    Wellness programs, information and resources

    Interesting that legislative advocacy is at the top of the list. And arguably three of the four benefits (and maybe four out of four) are activities that are focused on limiting entrants to the profession or supporting the monopoly.

    (I’m not profession bashing, really. I’m a licensed CPA, and the AICPA and state CPA societies look pretty much the same as the AVMA and the state veterinary medical associations. But while I digress, I would like to point out one difference between CPAs and veterinarians, at least in California. Most professions require continuing professional education, to qualify for license renewal every two years, CPAs are required to have completed 80 hours of CPE, veterinarians are required to have completed only 36 hours. In all fairness, MDs are only required to complete 50 hours of continuing education every two years.)

    It should be no surprise that Animal Rights extremists have focused on the veterinary medicine monopoly. DVMs and AR extremists both would like to see higher prices for veterinary medical care and more services included in the monopoly – the DVMs to make a better living and the AR extremists to make it prohibitively expensive for the public to own animals. The AR extremists also like operating under the cloak of the state-sanctioned monopoly – if you can dictate appropriate standards of veterinary medical care that you can regulate whole sectors of animal activities illegal. Is there any doubt why Judie Mancuso, a noted California animal activist, finagled an appointment from the Speaker of the Assembly to the California Veterinary Medical Board?

    The AVMA and the state veterinary medical associations can be allies in advancing animal husbandry practices, but they will always balk at solutions that do not include the involvement of the profession (read, income to the profession). And as noted above, the AR extremists will certainly take advantage of the profession’s blind spot.

    Chuck Bridges

  4. Thanks for a great piece, and also for the great comments.

    Most of you will have noticed that HSUS took an interest in pet health insurance a few months ago, and that legislation is already being proposed in at least one state to make that mandatory.

    I agree wholeheartedly with the positions offered here, and have often asked why a vet should be considered an expert, not only in the matters of basic husbandry, but also of nutrition and training. Vets are trained in animal medicine, not in any of these fields, and surely medical training for so many different species should be enough for any individual to take on, shouldn't it? Even given that there is so much veterinary specialization these days, I would certainly settle for a great medical practitioner who was willing to leave the rest up to me. In dogs and horses there have always been enough training experts to offer plenty of scope for consultation in those rather specialized fields, though in dogs, the AR activists are shrinking our options on that score pretty steadily.

    Please keep writing. We need to hear the voice of reason more often, and more loudly.

    (I can't get this thing to recognize my personal google account)

  5. Terri in Cape Breton:
    When many PEOPLE can't afford health insurance, how are they going to provide it for their pets?
    And when they can't, pets will be turned loose to fend for themselves, euthanized, turned in to shelters, where they might otherwise have had a happy and healthy life.

    It is like everything else - emotion often causes people to make decisions without first educating themselves, either that, or money causes it.

    And as so often happens the pendulum swings to the extreme before people see the resulting damages caused, and then back pedal. But by then it is too late for those who've suffered (responsible and loving owners, and their pets).

    1) I do not see the dentist every year, my pets need not either. I know them well enough to notice behavioural changes that signify something needs attention.
    2) Are stud pre-breeding inspections required? I understand that the stud doesn't have as much to do with offspring health, but it seems unfair.
    3) We don't require women to have pre-breeding inspections, at least not in my country... I'll tell you this - most breeders will give more care to the health of the female, environment, nutritional needs, health needs, than many women out there do.
    Fix the people (mentally and physically), and we won't have so much to worry about with the animals. The whole thing is it is easier for many people seeing unhealthy/abused animals to cry out against it than it is for them to report the spouse beating their kids or significant other, the unemployed living on the streets, the drug addicts.

    Finally, my vet knows less about some of my pets than I do. I have had a beloved cat go to her for treatment for convulsions (he does not leave the house, he was not poisoned), only to be given a sedative and left to die alone in a cage (which I found out afterwards). No bloodwork, no exam, just the comment, "I heard the agonal breath at such and such a time. Come pick up your cat".

    Vets are like doctors. There are stupid ones in it for the money, and there are good ones who care about animal welfare and reasonable care, and have common sense and knowledge.

    I wouldn't rely on their word alone to make a law. Bring in people from all aspects of the field - vets, owners, breeders, breed associations. THEN start deciding on things.

  6. The AVMA is working on prohibitions for anyone but a licensed vet to do accupuncture, chiropracty, and other 'procedures' on animals. This also means that the vets will control when/if your dog can have these procedures. As we all know, there are vets out there that have little knowledge of or don't support alternative treatment methods.

  7. In Canada the Vets are passing laws making it illegal to remove dew claws, dock tails on puppies or ear crop. They are taking over "what" we can do with our dogs.

  8. I have to comment on what Starbreeze said about the CGC... Starbreeze asks:
    "There is also a push for Canine Good Citizen certification...which is fine and dandy for most breeds, but what about the guardian breeds? Are they really supposed to be docile "good citizens"?"

    As a handler of a service dog who has been attacked by various "Guardian" breeds among other dogs, I would love it if the people of these (and all) dogs would take the time to get their dog the Canine Good Citizen. Guard work should be trained and controlable. They need to know when they are working and when they are not so as to act accordingly. That way not just service dogs are protected (service dogs being dogs specially trained to do work or tasks that help a disabled individual mitigate his/her disability... like guide dog work) but so are other dogs and people. There is a big difference between "protective" and "aggressive". They do not have to go together in order to work. It would be great if people were at least required to cover all the basics of obedience and socialization. Doesn't have to be the CGC or CGN.

    It is scary that people who really don't know what they are doing or, because of money don't care are trying to take control of seemingly every aspect of animal husbandry when the responsible, well-educated breeder probably knows more. Makes one weary trying to keep up with everything.

  9. I agree with Heather that all dogs owners should strive to attain something similar to the CGC. Protection is an obedience sport whereas the CGC works to mitigate aggression (which should be bred out of most dogs due to the fact that they are rarely used for their original purpose).

    On another note, a couple of years ago. The Pennyslvania AVMA attempted to make bute a prescription drug. For those of you that don't know, bute is basically horse aspirin. It's an anti-inflammatory and pain reducer. Could you imagine going to your doctor every time you had a headache just so you could take some aspirin? Well, they wanted people to call a vet every time a horse received a bruise or had some swelling so that they could give the poor animal some bute. An average farm call costs approximately $85 and then the owner would have to purchase the couple of bute that the vet would allow them to have. Fortuntely, this was overturned.