AVMA teaches advocacy in symposium

Published on February 13, 2019

Professional advocates taught veterinary leaders how to work with people in power and spread their message to the public.

The AVMA's Public Policy Symposium, Jan. 10 in Chicago, gave a mix of lessons on how to deal with difficult subjects. This year's symposium was part of the AVMA Veterinary Leadership Conference, which combines leadership training and AVMA governance meetings.

Dr. Diane Matt, CEO of the Colorado VMA, described difficult negotiations and legislative hurdles that led to a law that makes chiropractors take classes on animal diseases and animal disease reporting before they work on animals. For chiropractors who receive the training, the law signed in May 2018 also removed an often-ignored requirement that veterinarians give permission to work on animals.

Dr. Matt said veterinarians in the negotiations worried about animal, public, and herd health. Chiropractors felt disrespected, devalued, and subjected to trade restraint.

She hopes that, with the new training, chiropractors will help veterinarians watch for animal disease.

Other speakers talked about a legislative fight in California over whether physical therapists should be allowed to work on animals without veterinarian supervision and a surprise tax in Kentucky on veterinary services and other services legislators thought were luxuries, such as landscaping and limousine rides.

Symposium attendees talked through how they would advocate on complex subjects that could reach legislatures, city councils, and regulators, using as examples cat declawing, medical marijuana in pets, and examination requirements in telemedicine. At one table, four veterinarians described the changes in public perception about declawing, which procedures have better outcomes, the emotion in the debate over municipal bans on declawing procedures, possible risks to cats and immunocompromised people when these procedures are unavailable, and possible allies or opponents in these debates.

Those who discussed telemedicine focused on how they could advocate that legislators and regulators maintain standards of care and consider the risk that exemptions allowing remote care could be abused, as well as how veterinarians can offer services the ways clients want them. Attendees at other tables described the need for research on marijuana and cannabidiol before they can be given to animals.

In a series of lectures from professional advocates, Kristin A. Hellquist, director of advocacy and practice affairs for the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery, said organizations need to nurture and grow relationships with regulators and legislators, and association members need to agree with organization goals. Trust is indispensable, she said.

Dr. Susan E. Wylegala, past president of the New York State Veterinary Medical Society and chair of the society's governance relations committee, said after the meeting she saw ways the society could improve grassroots legislative efforts. That likely will include finding members who have relationships with state legislators.

Dr. Wylegala said the NYSVMS should find ways to connect with new lawmakers and promote priorities. Leaders of the NYSVMS have drafted, for example, legislation that would let members keep office stocks of compounded drugs.

Dr. Wylegala also said she also plans to use lessons from the symposium to improve communication abilities and prepare for issues that could arise.


The AVMA Veterinary Leadership Conference 2019 had more than 650 registrants, the highest attendance in conference history. VLC Presenting Partner Zoetis has supported the conference for more than eight years.