The Press Newspaper

Toledo, Ohio & Lake Erie

The Press Newspaper

The Press Newspaper

Pets as Family

When you get a new puppy or kitten, veterinarians give them standard vaccinations to guard against infectious diseases. But scientists for years have been questioning the need for annual “boosters” for adult dogs and cats. Some studies have shown routine vaccinations can even cause cancer and other serious diseases in pets.

Though many veterinary colleges support newer vaccination guidelines, which reduce the need for some shots, the debate over whether we may be over-vaccinating our pets continues.

Jean Dodds, DVM, a world renowned vaccine research scientist, in Santa Monica, CA, told The Press many boosters are unnecessary.

“Why should we be giving pets foreign substances when they do not need them,” said Dodds, who has researched vaccination guidelines for over 30 years. Veterinarians, she said, have been giving annual vaccinations simply because it’s assumed they are needed and were recommended by the United States Department of Agriculture.

“There never was any data that suggested vaccines must be given yearly,” Dodds said. “Veterinarians assumed there was data but there wasn’t.”

Vaccines like parvovirus and canine distemper are responsible for many diseases of the immune system in dogs, she contends. Anemia, arthritis, epilepsy, thyroid disease, liver failure, diabetes, allergies and other conditions, she believes, are linked to vaccines.

“Approximately five to 10 percent will develop problems,” Dodds said. “That increases to 20 percent in pure breeds.”

Irish Setters, Great Danes, German Shepherds, weimaraners and akitas are at higher risk of developing Hypertrophic Osteodystrophy, a bone disease that causes107 degree fever, pain, and the inability to walk as a result of vaccinations, she said.

“But there is really no breed that is not at risk,” she said.

The only vaccination needed, she asserts, is for rabies because it is legally required.

Dogs’ and cats’ immune systems mature fully at 6 months old, she explained. If canine distemper, feline distemper and parvovirus vaccines are given after 6 months, a pet has immunity for the rest of its life.

They are groomed, dropped off at day care, fought over in custody disputes, and increasingly listed among the survivors in obituaries. And when they die, their bereaved owners are offered grief counseling.

Pets, in many ways, are considered members of the family. In a 2004 survey, conducted by the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association (APPMA), 74 percent of pet owners considered their pets “like a child or family member.”

Yet the law lags far behind that perception.

In Ohio, as in most states, pets are considered personal property, no more valuable than a piece of furniture. As a result, pet owners find it nearly impossible to find a lawyer to file a lawsuit against a veterinarian for malpractice or negligence since legal fees are far more than possible monetary damages. Emotional damages are non-recoverable because, well, the law denies an emotional bond exists between people and their “property.” Pets, in essence, are as replaceable as your favorite armchair. Indeed, veterinarians, on average, pay only $200 annually in insurance premiums because of the very low risk of lawsuits.

There is little remedy in the wrongful death of a pet.

"When a vet has been found negligent, the damages are limited to the market value of the animal, which for most animals can be even zero," said Kathy Hessler, a professor at Case Western Reserve University who teaches animal law, a rapidly growing field. The course is the only one taught in Ohio.

"Finding a market value and going beyond that legal remedy for special damages is a difficult thing to do," she said. "There's no emotional distress for loss of property. That's an area different states have been looking at changing and a number of people have been pushing."

"A lot of people presume, since the animal is so emotionally valuable to them, that that would translate into economic value, and it doesn't," said David Favre, a professor of law and president of the Animal Legal and Historical Center at Michigan State University.

When the public sees the logo of the Better Business Bureau (BBB) displayed inside a veterinarian's lobby, they might assume the vet is in good standing with the non-profit agency.

The BBB, though, allows a select group of professions, including veterinarians, to be members, but will not process consumer complaints against them. If the public reviews a veterinarian's profile, for instance, on the BBB's website to find out if disputes have been filed, it may say "the Bureau processed no complaints about this company in the last 36 months, our standard reporting period," and "Based on BBB files, this company has a satisfactory record with the Bureau, which means the company has been in business for at least 12 months, and properly addressed matters referred by the Bureau."

Yet that may not be true.

Dick Eppstein, president of the northwest Ohio Better Business Bureau, said the agency doesn't process disputes against veterinarians, doctors and lawyers because "we're not experts in things like that."

Although they can be members of the BBB, consumer complaints against these professions should be filed with professional review boards, not the BBB, he said.

"They know a lot more about most of these specialties than we do," he said.

It would be unfair, he added, to exclude them from joining the BBB just because consumers can't complain about them.

"They can join the Better Business Bureau, because, as near as we can tell, they are ethical and well-established," said Eppstein.

 

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