You know how sometimes you want to pinch yourself because you feel you're in a dream? That happened to me recently.
Dr. Niall Finnegan
I was sitting at a table in a quiet Washington, DC, restaurant looking out at the Capitol dome, softly lighted against the night. Seated at the table were about eight bankers who, like me, were attending a fund-raiser for Sen Wayne Allard, DVM (R-CO). I sat with delight listening to Sen Allard discuss bovine spongiform encephalopathy and foot-and-mouth disease, the dangers they pose to America, and why a bunch of bankers should be concerned.
He held their attention in the palm of his hand, and I couldn't help but think back to what Colonel (Dr.) Bill Clark once told me when I was a captain in the US Army Veterinary Corps. "What we need," Dr. Clark said, "are a few friends in Congress." As I listened to Sen Allard I can't begin to tell you how nice it was to hear a US senator expound on veterinary medicine and the importance of veterinarians in America's agriculture and public health. It was like being in a dream.
This story is only the start of what is beginning to happen in the US Congress. A few months ago, Sen Robert Byrd (D-WV), one of the most senior and well-respected members of the Senate, spent about 15 minutes on the Senate floor singing the praises of veterinarians and announcing that the floor now held the distinguished company of two doctors of veterinary medicine (see JAVMA, April 1, 2001, page 1072). Senator John Ensign, DVM (R-NV) was presiding over the Senate for the day and Sen Allard had risen to speak when Sen Byrd asked for time to speak.
When you consider the numbers of physicians or dentists in the country and then look at how many of their profession are in the Senate (one physician and no dentists), you will understand why having two veterinarians out of only 65,791 AVMA members is a remarkable feat. But there are other factors beside this that are making this 107th Congress particularly favorable for veterinary medicine.
The public is becoming more aware of the role veterinarians play in America's agriculture and public health. The outbreak of BSE and, most recently, foot-and-mouth disease in some of the European Union countries has sent shock waves around the world and made people aware of the economic and public health impact of animal diseases. The important role pets play in our lives and our health is receiving increased documentation, and the courts are reflecting this trend with a few juries now awarding pain and suffering compensation to grieving pet owners.
All of these facts and trends clearly demonstrate to Congress and the American public that veterinarians play an important part in understanding and resolving some of the more difficult health and agriculture problems in the United States and internationally.
Listening to Sen Allard talk so knowledgeably to those at the table and knowing that he and Sen Ensign are doing the same thing with their fellow senators is a wonderful boost to increasing the recognition and understanding of the wide scope of our profession.
I truly believe the veterinary profession is now in a position that we have never been in before. We have two United States senators who are veterinarians. We have veterinarians working in key regulatory positions throughout the government. We have a US public and international community that need veterinary medicine badly to overcome the dramatic and frightening outbreaks of zoonotic diseases that have occurred and prevent future epizootics. We have a well-organized grassroots network and political action committee. And last but not least, we have a representative professional organization in the AVMA.
With a situation as strong and as promising as we have right now, we can look forward to some great results.