Peddie leaves lasting assets

Exotic animals and domestic budgets
Published on June 01, 2005
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For many years, he led a double life, serving as veterinarian to scores of exotic Hollywood stars while orchestrating the AVMA's financial affairs.

AVMA Treasurer James F. Peddie will soon turn his talents to other avenues for serving the profession, as he prepares to leave office this summer as the Association's principal financial officer.

Besides his veterinary contributions to films and TV shows that viewers will continue to enjoy, Dr. Peddie has influenced the AVMA's financial future through changes in investment policies and budgetary practices.

The Executive Board elected the California veterinarian to the first of his six one-year terms in 1999. Serving as treasurer of the California VMA in 1988-1989 and again from 1991-1999 gave him a certain confidence and awareness that, he says, a treasurer can acquire only through experience.

As director of the AVMA Business Division, Daniel H. Murawski is in almost daily contact with the treasurer. "Dr. Peddie was very instrumental in revising the AVMA investment policy with the goal of increasing the return over the long term," he said.

In November 2004, the Executive Board approved the new investment policy recommended by Dr. Peddie, adding a fourth pool of money—long-term investments—to the existing three, which were operating funds, intermediate funds, and real estate.

"Previous to that, we had just a few investment options that we could use," the treasurer explained. "We could go into certificates of deposit, provided they were insured by the FDIC. We must have 60 or 70 of these CD-type investments. The other existing option was federally backed investments.

"The reason we expanded into equities and the bond market was to give us more protection to withstand inflationary pressures within the national economy, or even a deflationary period."

The Executive Board also approved Dr. Peddie's recommendation to cap principal investments in the long-term fund at $8 million.

The treasurer candidly admits he was apprehensive about opening AVMA investments to the stocks and bonds markets until the Association found a company with a long track record of successful investing for similar organizations—the Olcott Consulting Group of Wachovia Securities. In 2004, the Olcott group was engaged to develop a personalized investment management program for the AVMA. An investment manager administers the long-term funds, with recommendations from Olcott and oversight by Dr. Peddie and AVMA staff. The funds are spread out, with a certain percentage invested in large cap stocks and a certain percentage in small caps.

"You get into this type of program with the idea of a minimum of five years before you're really able to evaluate where you're at, and more in terms of eight to 10 years," the treasurer said.

Dr. Peddie also left his stamp on the AVMA's fixed assets—its real estate. Murawski said, "Dr. Peddie took the lead in securing and purchasing a new location for the Governmental Relations office in Washington, and in minimizing the costs and maximizing the value of improvements to the lobby and entrance of AVMA headquarters in Schaumburg, Illinois."

"At about the same time that we were getting ready to diversify into long-term investments because we had money that wasn't earning anything," Dr. Peddie said, "we were spending close to a quarter of a million dollars a year in rent payments for our Washington office. We made the decision it was time to purchase a building, because the Washington real estate market was red-hot as far as values going up."

When the real estate company would find a few properties of interest, Dr. Peddie and Executive Vice President Bruce W. Little would fly to the capital to tour them with the director of the Governmental Relations Division.

It was on one of these trips to Washington that the three were to get a coveted tour of a vacant foreign embassy building, agreed to because of the friendly relations AVMA consultant Dr. John Melcher had cultivated with the embassy staff while a U.S. senator.

Dr. Little's flight had been delayed and arrived late at night, so he was resting until it was time for the appointment to see the former embassy building. Meanwhile, Dr. Peddie and Dr. H. Michael Chaddock, current director of the GRD, met for an early breakfast and, having time to kill before the appointment, decided to walk to a newly listed property Dr. Chaddock had heard about—at 1910 Sunderland Place N.W. The building was locked, but even after seeing only the outside, Dr. Peddie proclaimed, "Mike, this is it! We don't have to look any further. Now we just need to negotiate a price." The treasurer laughs as he remembers how they returned to the hotel and, in his exuberance, he called Dr. Little and said, "Hey, boss, don't even bother to come—I found the building." The former embassy building was on a valuable parcel of real estate on Embassy Row, but the AVMA contingent found it to be in a deplorable state.

Another measure Dr. Peddie took to offset the recession was to recommend two dues increases during his tenure. "I received virtually unanimous support in both of them," he said. "That was tremendously gratifying and something that I will always remain in debt to the membership for supporting. In hindsight, I probably could have held off a year on the second one, in 2003, but you have to ask for it a full year and a half ahead, and in the interim, the economy had started to turn around."

A current concern of Dr. Peddie's is the AVMA's financial vulnerability if the World Veterinary Congress being held in Minneapolis this July with the AVMA Annual Convention falls short of foreign attendees. A thousand foreign registrants has been the goal, but the numbers are falling far short because of difficulties many—including invited foreign speakers—are encountering in getting approval to leave their countries.

"There is $1 million of expenses built into this year's budget simply to cover the expenses for the World Veterinary Congress," Dr. Peddie said. "A lot of the expenses are tied directly to the number of people who attend, and if those numbers don't reach a certain level, we're going to have to downsize, thereby saving money."

Communication has been a strong element of the relationship between Murawski and the treasurer, and they set up a system that ensured frequent communication, early on. Murawski said, "This system provided us a forum for discussion of Association income and expenses, and budget variances." He said that Dr. Peddie's involvement in and knowledge of AVMA accounting and financial operations helped improve the budget process with staff and the Executive Board.

Dr. Peddie said. "It's a very easy give-and-take that I have with staff, especially Dan." In fact, he says that his association with staff has been the high point of his time as treasurer.

As Executive Board liaison to the Convention Management and Program Committee, Dr. Peddie also stays in regular contact.

Dr. Peddie has served under six AVMA presidents. Most have come into office proposing new programs, but some have refrained from introducing new initiatives so the Association could stabilize after recent changes.

Therein lies what Dr. Peddie envisions as perhaps the most imminent challenge facing his successor, Dr. Bret D. Marsh. "We've had a couple of boards back to back that have been very progressive," Dr. Peddie said. "We've got a new division and an expanded division, and with each one of these divisions comes a large staffing issue and the need for equipment and space. All these things were needed, and I think this organization is moving in the right direction. But now's the time when we've got to settle down and especially watch these divisions—Animal Welfare and Communications—to mature into their own and make certain that everything is staffed and running, before we start expanding. Already, there is talk about expansion."

As Indiana state veterinarian, Dr. Marsh manages a large body of people and is familiar with budgeting processes. He participated in the spring meeting of the AVMA Budget and Financial Review Committee, and Dr. Peddie is involving him in all relevant decisions during the transition to his treasurership.

The treasurer is a nonvoting member of the Executive Board, a principle Dr. Peddie agrees with, but he kids that, short of coercion and badgering, the treasurer has no real power. To evaluate financial impact, he asks how many members the proposal would impact. He typically pores over an upcoming board agenda book several times, flagging everything that carries an income or expense figure.

Dr. Peddie is in favor of a proposal from immediate past president, Dr. Jack O. Walther, to double the contingency fund—the annual money budgeted for the Executive Board to fund recommendations—to $400,000. Except for a brief period when it was at that level, the fund has remained at $200,000 for a decade. Dr. Peddie said, "The contingency fund has been an excellent tool for the Executive Board in that it gives them a framework. When they start to approach it, you can see their dynamics change."

A 1965 graduate of Cornell University, Dr. Peddie served as both professor and staff veterinarian with the Exotic Animal Training and Management program at Moorpark College, Moorpark, Calif., from 1991 until his retirement as Distinguished Faculty Chair last year. During part of his time as AVMA treasurer, he and his wife, Dr. Linda Reeve Peddie, also owned "Drs. Peddie," a practice catering to animals of all species working in the motion picture and television industry.

"Linda and I worked for many people at their pinnacle who were very caring about their animals," Dr. Peddie said. Many of the American Humane Association inspectors who worked on the film sets obtained their initial training in his EATM program at Moorpark.

The Peddies have been veterinarians to animal actors in more than 65 movies and nearly 25 TV shows, from exotic to domestic species and native wildlife. They've cared for the dogs and birds in "101 (and 102) Dalmatians," the lions in "Ghosts and the Darkness," and the wolves in "Dances with Wolves." The elephant in "Operation Dumbo Drop," the rattlesnakes in "Maverick," and the seal in "Golden Seal" were also among their numerous and sundry charges.

Now that he is "retired," Dr. Jim continues to find new ways to serve his profession. During his career, he has contributed through terms as California's delegate to the AVMA, a member of the CVMA board of governors, and president of the Santa Barbara-Ventura VMA. Next, he will be working on the joint venture between the AVMA and the Western Veterinary Conference to administer the Clinical Proficiency Examination in Las Vegas, testing graduates of non-AVMA-accredited institutions in the small animal area. In addition, the Executive Board recently appointed him as a trustee of the AVMA Group Health and Life Insurance Trust.

The southern California beach town of Ventura provides a perfect backdrop for Dr. Jim's scuba diving and fishing and Dr. Linda's horseback riding and beachcombing. Their two daughters and families live nearby. Hillary and Chris Wilkinson are located in Moorpark and have a son, Nathaniel. Santa Barbara residents Jennifer and Joey Davila have a daughter, Helena. As a housewarming gift for the Peddies, Joey painted the elephants on the cover of this issue and Chris framed it.