Veterinarians pounced on the opportunity to attend the American Association of Feline Practitioners' 2005 Fall Conference from Nov. 12-15 in Chicago, and the turnout could be a good omen for the growth of the organization in 2006.
The conference, with a special emphasis on feline gastroenterology, drew a record crowd of almost 600—up from about 300 the previous fall. The event encompassed a selection of sessions, including a full schedule of continuing education, the annual business meeting, and introduction of the 2006 board of directors.
"We were just delighted with both the attendance and the feedback from the attendees. From the quality of the CE to the camaraderie to the energy of the membership, it was a hugely successful conference," said Richard Alampi, who became AAFP executive director at the beginning of 2005.
Alampi added, "I think the AAFP is really poised to have a breakout year. I think they're blessed with extraordinarily dynamic leadership."
The fall conference emphasized a new campaign for feline health through the AAFP and Fort Dodge Animal Health. The Great Cat Watch encourages twice-a-year wellness visits for cats and urges owners to watch for behavior changes that can be subtle signs of sickness. The Great Cat Watch and the AAFP's Cat Wellness Month complement AVMA programs for pet wellness.
Other highlights of the AAFP event were a student meet-and-greet, a reception for new members and first-time attendees, exhibits and lectures, a silent auction to benefit student chapters, dry labs, and a daylong fellows institute on feline critical care.
Steve Dale, a Chicago-based, syndicated journalist who reports about pets, was the speaker for the Barbara Stein Memorial Lecture. Dale, a cat owner, advocated giving the same respect to cats as to dogs (see story).
Howard E. Rubin, chief executive officer of the National Commission on Veterinary Economic Issues, presented an update about how feline practitioners are using NCVEI benchmarking tools (see story).
Annual business meeting
The annual business meeting and annual business report addressed developments in AAFP guidelines, grants, procedures, and membership.
"Much has changed, but many more important changes are on the horizon," Dr. Steven Dullard, outgoing president, said in his remarks.
The AAFP released feline behavior guidelines in 2005, and the association plans to print 10,000 more copies to meet demand. Bad behavior is the most common cause of euthanasia and abandonment of cats, according to the AAFP, even as behavior changes can indicate an illness.
Along with feline guidelines, the AAFP has offered grants for feline research for many years. But its first topic-specific grant met with little success. The association received and rejected one proposal in 2005 for research on the efficacy of treatments for chronic renal disease in cats.
Dr. Jane Brunt, incoming president, said in her remarks that the AAFP also reorganized the organization in 2005. It revised the bylaws and budget process, and it is creating a comprehensive manual of policies and procedures to ease transitions on committees and the board. The committee on leadership development is focusing on recruiting candidates for the board.
Despite the high turnout for the conference, AAFP membership has been level in recent years. Therefore, the group's goals for 2006 involve nurturing student chapters and promoting the association to nonmembers.
One of the goals is to add more materials to the association's Web site, www.aafponline.org, for veterinarians and the general public. The Web site now features sections such as "Find an AAFP Doctor," news, forms, membership renewal, conference registration, classified advertisements, and AAFP guidelines and position statements.
The new president
The 2005 business meeting also saw the introduction of the new board, featuring a familiar face in the position of president.
Dr. Brunt began her career in mixed practice in northern Maryland before transitioning to cats and dogs and then focusing on cats. She opened the Cat Hospital at Towson in 1984 and Cat Hospital Eastern Shore in 2001.
"The most enjoyable aspect is working with cats every day, and the more challenging the case, the more rewarding it is," she said. "Interestingly, as the years have passed, the most rewarding aspect of practice to me is working with people—pet owners and my co-workers."
Dr. Brunt is a past president of the Maryland VMA, and she has represented feline practitioners in the AVMA House of Delegates for the past eight years.
She'll promote new and ongoing AAFP programs during her year as president—such as the association's publications, student chapters, and feline guidelines.
Dr. Brunt said the most exciting activities revolve around developing alliances between AAFP and other organizations to address feline health issues such as feral cats, overpopulation, and zoonoses.
The AAFP is part of the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy, for example, and it is communicating with the American Animal Hospital Association to coordinate guidelines and positions.
The new board
Dr. Dullard said the fall AAFP conference brought the strongest representation ever from the AVMA, and he thought that the AVMA presence indicated that the AAFP had definitely arrived.
Dr. Henry E. Childers, AVMA president, addressed AAFP members during the business meeting. He recalled becoming a diplomate of the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners in the Canine & Feline practice category.
"And I'm really proud to be a diplomate. You all mean a lot to me," Dr. Childers said. "I'm proud to have the honor to bring greetings to you from the AVMA."
He updated the AAFP members about AVMA activities and administered the oath of office to the new president and board of directors.
Rounding out the officers are the president-elect, Dr. Margie Scherk, Cats Only Veterinary Clinic, Vancouver, British Columbia, and the secretary-treasurer, Dr. Valerie Creighton, The Cat Doctor, Thousand Oaks, Calif.
The directors for 2006 are Drs. Karen Miller Becnel, Metairie, La.; Elizabeth J. Colleran, Chico, Calif.; Fern Beauchamp Crist, Falls Church, Va.; Michelle Gaspar, Chicago; Roberta K. Lillich, Abilene, Kan.; Matthew Sturmer, St. Paul, Minn.; and Sherri Williams, Springfield, Ill.
Drs. Letrisa Miller, Norman, Okla., and Vicki Whyte, Calgary, Alberta, are the representatives for the fellows—members who have completed a minimum amount of continuing education and fulfilled several other requirements.
The AAFP's 2006 Winter/Spring Conference, focusing on practice management with the theme of "Cat Hospitals are not Small Dog Hospitals," is from Feb. 4-6 in Lake Tahoe, Calif. The 2006 Fall Conference, with a focus on geriatrics and pain management, will be from Oct. 22-24 in Toronto.