"We are trying to be more proactive and less reactive to the true needs of animals."
The AVMA is becoming more proactive about addressing veterinary and animal needs, according to Dr. James O. Cook, the 2008-2009 AVMA president.
Alleviating shortages of veterinarians in rural communities and showing that the AVMA is the go-to organization on animal welfare issues are among the areas in which the Association is making progress, he said.
Dr. Cook, a mixed animal practitioner from Lebanon, Ky., and 1976 graduate of Auburn University School of Veterinary Medicine, was speaking to the AVMA House of Delegates July 18 in New Orleans. Delegates elected Dr. Cook as the Association's president-elect last year at their session in Washington, D.C. He succeeded Dr. Gregory S. Hammer as president at the conclusion of the 2008 AVMA Annual Convention.
Dr. Cook credited his presidential predecessors—Drs. Roger K. Mahr and Hammer—for advancing the AVMA's mission by promoting the One-Health Initiative and expanding the veterinary workforce.
The One-Health Initiative championed by Dr. Mahr recognizes that veterinarians and physicians can, together, more effectively combat infectious diseases affecting millions of people. "Never did I realize that the veterinary profession would rise to the point of being so influential in the promotion of both animal and human health together," Dr. Cook said.
Dr. Hammer's advocacy of the Veterinary Public Health Workforce Expansion Act under consideration in Congress has, Dr. Cook said, made correcting veterinarian shortages in rural communities a priority among many legislators.
Despite growing recognition of the many contributions of veterinarians, politics and influence often trump expertise on Capitol Hill. That is why, Dr. Cook explained, issues pertaining to animals can end up before committees other than health and agriculture.
In the animal welfare arena, for instance, "our identity as the go-to organization, unfortunately, is far from preeminent," Dr. Cook added.
"Changes at the AVMA are hopefully making us more able to address these problems," Dr. Cook said. "We are trying to be more proactive and less reactive to the true needs of animals."
When welfare matters arise, the AVMA must respond quickly with compassionate and scientifically based information, Dr. Cook explained. A camera-ready studio at AVMA headquarters would make it easier for the news media to cite the Association when reporting such stories, he said.
Dr. Cook would like to see the AVMA address the issue of making food animals and pets easier to identify. Most, if not all, animals in the United States are transported without a means of rapid traceback or a valid certificate of veterinary inspection, he said. Delegates should pass Resolution 8, he added, which expresses the AVMA's support for a program such as the National Animal Identification System. (The HOD voted in favor of Resolution 8; see page 688.)
If premises I.D. and animal I.D. are not mandated by the federal government, then the AVMA must encourage greater voluntary response, Dr. Cook said.
In addition, Dr. Cook wants the AVMA to redouble its efforts to convince the pet microchip industry to come together and allow a means for different microchip technologies to be easily detected and read.
Dr. Cook called on AVMA members to contribute to the Association's political action committee. The AVMAPAC has approximately $500,000 for the current two-year election cycle. This compares with the Humane Society of the United States' $123 million budget, much of which is dedicated to so-called educational efforts.
"Instead of worrying about them," Dr. Cook said, "do something for us: contribute!"