Conference fosters leadership development

House of Delegates convenes during gathering
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More than 400 veterinary leaders assembled in Chicago for the AVMA Veterinary Leadership Conference and House of Delegates Informational Assembly. Representatives from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Canada, Ontario, 15 veterinary organizations, the World Veterinary Association, and various AVMA entities came together for the Jan. 9-11 event. Underscoring the importance the profession places on future generations of veterinarians and on mentoring, the various constituent organizations brought a total of 58 recent graduates to participate.

Dr. Ron DeHaven, the Department of Agriculture's chief veterinary officer, left the epidemiologic investigation of the nation's first case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy long enough to provide a firsthand report to veterinary leaders on Sunday, the final day of the conference (see JAVMA, Feb. 15, page 489).

Dubbing himself "the bookend guy," Jeffrey Cufaude of Idea Architects was the opening speaker Friday afternoon and closing speaker late Sunday morning. Cufaude facilitates association management planning sessions. During Friday breakout sessions, Cufaude asked attendees to draw on the discussion from his keynote, and identify the questions their associations must consider and the actions they must take to remain relevant in the years ahead.

General assembly, workshops
A general assembly Saturday morning brought all attendees together for reports on emerging issues and updates on ongoing activities. Executive Board Chair Joe M. Howell reported that board members, officers, and staff cited 65 issues of most concern to them, and those were narrowed to four and ranked according to frequency of mention. First was raising the economic base of the profession; second, animal welfare issues; third, solving the ECFVG/PAVE issue; and fourth, the shortage of veterinarians in food supply and other areas.

AVMA President Jack O. Walther talked about how the new Legislative Task Force will be a partnership between the state associations and AVMA; the need for funding for the diagnostic laboratories at Plum Island and Ames, Iowa (see related article); the tremendous value the National Commission on Veterinary Economic Issues has added to the profession; and legislative updates.

AVMA Governmental Relations Division Director Michael Chaddock invited veterinarians to stop at the Washington office when visiting the capital and AVMA staff will set up visits with their legislators (see related article). Veterinarians are well-received in Congress because they bring science-based information, according to Dr. Chaddock. AVMA Political Action Committee Chair George Bishop reported that, even though an AVMA needs assessment survey showed that members think legislative advocacy is their most important member benefit, only 4.7 percent of eligible AVMA members contributed in 2002.

Dr. Grace Bransford, who was a recent graduate when elected to the Council on Public Relations in 1998, talked about volunteerism as a rich, rewarding experience. The candidates for elective office in July gave brief addresses—Dr. Henry E. Childers, who is running for president-elect, and Dr. Rene Carlson, a candidate for vice president.

Saturday workshops covered crafting a public relations program, practical applications in mentoring, running a committee or board meeting, seven essential leadership skills, and transgenerational communications.

House of Delegates
The House of Delegates Informational Assembly, held concurrently Saturday, brought members of the HOD up-to-date on issues, including those they will vote on in July.

House Advisory Committee Chair Charles Stoltenow moderated the assembly. At this session, two speakers elaborated on topics they introduced at the general session. Dr. Lawrence E. Heider, executive director of the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, predicted that "change is afoot." Noting that the veterinary curriculum has evolved from its focus on food animals, veterinary public health, and animal research to an emphasis on companion animal clinical practice, clinical veterinary medicine and surgery, and animal models of disease, Dr. Heider touched on what the curriculum could become.

The other speaker, attorney Greg Dennis, spoke about two important areas of animal law that are becoming more intense in state legislatures: lawsuits seeking compensation for emotional pain and suffering resulting from the death or injury of a pet, and pet guardianship. Dennis, who is a lawyer and member of the American Veterinary Medical Law Association, noted that Harvard and 25 other U.S. law schools now have animal law courses.

Most courts have rejected attempts by plaintiffs to recover emotional pain and suffering damages for loss or injury to a pet. That's because the law defines animals as property, not persons. Such suits could go forward, however, if state legislatures were to allow it. "That's where the battle is going to be, in the state legislatures," Dennis explained, advising state VMAs to keep a close eye on the bills being introduced.

Dennis is concerned that the trend to codify the term "pet guardian" will have unanticipated legal consequences for veterinarians, as well as pet owners. Some local governments and the state of Rhode Island use the term interchangeably or in place of "pet owner" to promote animal care and welfare.

But Dennis worries that "pet guardian" could be construed to mean the same fiduciary relationship as exists between adults and children, in which the guardian must always act in the best interest of the ward. If that were to become the case for pets, Dennis wonders to whom the veterinarian would be obligated. The animal? The guardian? Both? "And who determines what's in the best interest of the animal and how are such conflicts resolved?" Dennis asked.

Also at the Informational Assembly, AVMA Treasurer James F. Peddie told the HOD that fiscal year 2003 appears to have been stronger than expected, and he foresees that the Association will be in excellent shape this year.

In reference committees, delegates discussed issues that included the first draft of revised AVMA Bylaws, a proposed checkoff box for an AVMA PAC contribution on the AVMA dues renewal notices, animal welfare issues, and other topics.

Back in the HOD Informational Assembly, Executive Vice President Bruce W. Little discussed how animal protection groups are aggressively challenging the veterinary profession's welfare positions and expertise. These groups are highly organized and have more resources than the profession does. The AVMA has an edge, however. Dr. Little said the public sees the Association as credible, and its positions and programs reflect a balance of science and ethics. Gestation stalls for pregnant sows is just one animal welfare issue the AVMA is currently addressing. A multidisciplinary task force has been formed to conduct an objective review of the science and recommend an appropriate position concerning this area, Dr. Little said. In addition, the Animal Welfare Committee is reviewing the position on induced molting of laying hens.

Allied group session
Veterinarians from 17 HOD allied groups met informally Sunday morning. Topics included sow housing, induced molting, feral cats, the food supply veterinarian shortage, and the "pet guardian" controversy. An overarching discussion was how to become more proactive and effective in reaching the public about animal health issues.

Closing session
Closing the conference, Jeffrey Cufaude drew upon the observations he made throughout the weekend, sharing interesting comments he had heard and themes he had noticed. With its rich history, the AVMA has a future, he said, but it must make some shifts to accommodate differences among age groups. Cufaude said the critical role of the Association is to build its resiliency and capacity to manage whatever futures might unfold or be created. An association should be able to fast-track an idea within a few days, when necessary. He encourages leaders to get in the habit of scanning publications widely, and reading deeply the things that are most germane. Do less, he said, and have it mean more. Evaluate not only whether an activity was a success, but whether it was worthwhile in the first place.

To access some of the conference presentations, AVMA members can go to