An HSVMA State Representative Explains How Advocacy Efforts Help Keep Her Energized

By Dr. Eileen Jefferson, HSVMA New York State Representative

Like many practicing veterinarians, my days are mostly consumed by the ins and outs of routine patient care and client education. There is no end to the veterinarian’s job once you commit to it; there is always another client question, another sick patient, another problem to be diagnosed and treated, and another phone call to return. If you care for an at-home menagerie on top of that (plus or minus a spouse and children), it’s a wonder a veterinarian can do anything else at all. With the responsibility already on our plates, animal advocacy outside the exam room could seem like a draining prospective investment. However, as I look back on 10+ years of advocacy, I feel it has actually been the secret to keeping my energy up.

Animal advocacy can mitigate the burnout feeling rampant in our profession – the sense that you are swimming in circles or treading water as a veterinarian. As gratifying as it might be to transform an individual patient’s health or a single client’s perspective, that one case is often part of an overwhelming flood of such cases coming from the same flawed origins. There are just so many institutionalized problems in the pet industry, in our own profession, and in society’s perception of animals. These problems do find their way right into the exam room and can lead to repetitive frustration or exhaustion… unless we are simultaneously lobbying for changes in industry and legislation.

As a state representative for HSVMA, I feel I have simply taken “client education” and the concept of “treating the underlying problem” to a wider arena. I have taken it to New York legislative offices, the New York City Bar Association, veterinary student lecture halls, and to big and small newspapers in my state. I’ve taken it to press conferences and veterinary conferences. Despite obstacles that governments or institutions might impose, animal lovers still abound in all of those places. They value our knowledge. After all, we are not just advocating for animal welfare; we are advocating for scientific accuracy. Only a tiny minority of our society has scientific training beyond a rudimentary level. Consequently, it is up to us to ensure facts are given due consideration in politics, business and popular culture, where they may otherwise be absent or overruled.

In the past two years in New York, we have used facts and passion to spur the prohibition of wild animal entertainment acts in our largest city, and have helped bring an end to the use of elephants in circuses statewide. Through lobbying and letters to the editor, we have prevented reintroduction of snare traps for several years in a row. We have also incited a massive internal shift in the way the veterinary profession regards elective cat declawing. Although a no-declaw bill in NY has not moved for political reasons beyond our current control, the fact compilations and awareness we created in the effort have spread to multiple other U.S. states, cities and organizations. When I gave a cosmetic and convenience surgeries lecture to students at UPenn this past year, I was surprised at the enthusiastic turnout and new wave of shared sentiments against these procedures. It was such a difference from my experience as a student a mere 10 years ago.

Similarly, in the last decade, “puppy mill”, “factory farm” and “dogfighting” have become mainstream terms. When my clients who didn’t speak of these things years ago bring them up now, I feel glad to be part of the force that has called attention to these problems.

Indefinitely treading water does of course tend to be discouraging. However, commandeering a small boat to a shore you can glimpse is perpetually motivating. This is especially true when you can hoist other vets into your vessel along the way. So as the HSVMA state rep team continues to grow, let’s all keep our oars as handy as our stethoscopes. Let’s all keep rowing.

Visit the HSVMA State Representative webpage  to learn more about this program and view bios for the state representatives.