Speaking up to make a difference

Civic involvement is important for professional interests
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Veterinarians can make their voices carry farther on professional issues by communicating better with politicians, the press, and the public—according to speakers at the session "Bark Now or Forever Pay a Price" on July 17, during the AVMA Annual Convention in Hawaii.

Adrian Hochstadt, assistant director for state legislative and regulatory affairs in the AVMA Communications Division, spoke on the topic of how to influence public policy regarding animal health and veterinary care.

"The rules are being rewritten," Hochstadt said. "The question is: Who's going to make up the rules?"

He said states wield a great deal of power over veterinary practice because they control licensing. Also, some counties and municipalities have begun to restrict or ban particular procedures.

"At the state and local levels, one person can make a huge difference," Hochstadt said.

Individual veterinarians can influence public policy by developing relationships with local legislators, assisting with political campaigns, and simply writing letters. Veterinarians can work collectively through their state veterinary medical associations.

The AVMA offers resources for veterinarians at the local level through Hochstadt's division and the State Advocacy Committee. The AVMA also will hold a symposium on state public policy in December. AVMA resources at the federal level include the Governmental Relations Division, Congressional Action Network, and Political Action Committee. More information is available online at www.avma.org under Advocacy.

Dr. Eric Ako, Steve Dale, and Adrian Hochstadt

Steve Dale, a syndicated newspaper columnist and radio host of "Pet Central" on WGN Radio in Chicago, spoke about how veterinarians can spread their messages to the media and the community as well as lawmakers.

"It's hard to find the time to get involved, but you can make a difference," he said.

Dale said veterinarians should not react with surprise when they read about a local law to ban specific dog breeds or a court award for emotional distress in a pet's death.

"It happened because you didn't get involved beforehand," he said.

He added that local issues can roll up to Capitol Hill, on occasion.

Dale said e-mail, Web sites, and even online chat rooms are ways to spread messages to pet owners and the press. Pet owners and the press are turning to the Internet for information, but they often find misinformation.

"No one doubts the authority if the authority is there," Dale said.

He said veterinarians also should make themselves available for interviews.

"If you don't get involved, someone else will," Dale said. "And that someone else may not be a veterinarian."

Offering tips for interviews with broadcast and print media, Dale advised staying on message and practicing sound bites for radio and television. When pitching a story to a newspaper or magazine, veterinarians should emphasize to reporters and editors why their readers need to know about the issue.

Dr. Eric Ako, executive vice president of the Hawaii VMA, was the final speaker of the session.

Dr. Ako said his association lacked interest in public policy and advocacy until earlier this year, when state lawmakers introduced bills on temporary licensure and noneconomic damages. The Hawaii VMA sprang into action to defeat the bills.

The association is in the process of retaining a lobbyist and obtaining technology for more effective organization on the legislative front.