Four days ago, I read about a newly created organization of veterinarians: the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association (HSVMA). It’s a nascent group created essentially as an amalgamation of the HSUS (Humane Society of the United States) and AVAR (Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights).

My initial response?: Oh, wow,  now we’re really in for it.

Here’s some background:

About a year ago I wrote a post extolling the virtues of the HSUS along with their new-ish leader, Wayne Pacelle. I applauded their leadership as the new representatives of the modern animal welfare movement.

Specifically, I was swayed by their progressive arguments on pit bull legislation (they were against breed specific bans, which I dislike, too) and their ability to mobilize moderate animal welfare groups to canvass for political issues on their behalf (I felt this was especially savvy on their part).

But what a difference a year makes…

Back then I had little idea that HSUS was far more ideologically akin to organizations like PeTA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) than it was wedded to the beliefs I’d taken to be its cause celebre: namely, the championing of animal welfare principles I’d long held dear.

Let me explain: There is a big difference between “animal rights” and “animal welfare” when it comes to supporting pets and animals in general.

The animal rightists believe that animals exist morally on par with humans and therefore deserve to be treated identically as us, essentially as children whose limited cognitive abilities render them unable to vote and give voice to their opinions. Animal welfarists, on the other hand, view animals more as separate species who need to be protected and kept free from suffering.

I stand with the latter, more moderate group, whose views accept animal “use” in laboratory settings and in animal agriculture as long as prevention of suffering is the guiding principle. The former group tends to view animals (even as pets) as being “in human bondage,” and therefore in need of liberation.

Such liberation, in the animal rightist’s hands, has led to the mass slaughter of pets in PeTA-managed shelters (a greater than 97% kill rate by their own estimates). HSUS, incredibly, has led this charge with a call to arms against the modern no-kill shelter movement. They’d rather see our pets exterminated than cave to us welfarist’s goals of an animal in every household and an educated society with a vested interest in its pets and in animals in general.

You may think this representation sounds a tad overly dramatic. Yet nothing less is at risk than the survival of petdom as we know it in the hands of these extremists.

It took a year of gradual exposure to these themes through blogs like PetConnection’s and a thorough reading of one mind-blowing book (Nathan Winograd’s Redemption) to change this vet’s views on the subject.

Which begs the question: If I can be so easily won over by the likes of today’s HSUS, even as a blogger supposedly tuned in to welfare issues (far more than most vets I know) what is the average vet going to think when faced with the simple arguments Pacelle makes in his entreaty to vets everywhere?

Come join us, he says. We know you lack for leadership on issues that make a difference to you. We know the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) doesn’t represent your views when it comes to pet overpopulation and factory farming, among other bedrock issues. We know you don’t fit in with the radical animal rightists and that the AVMA’s “committee of elders” approach is laughable in the extreme. High five me on this, he entreats, We’re the good guys taking the moderate high road.

As a regular vet on the ground, in the absence of my recent enlightenment, I might have been inclined to bump fists and sign up. Except for one thing…

HSUS’s Pacelle has proposed to join forces with AVAR in its quest for animal rights glory.

Omigod, these guys were synonymous with PeTA when I was in vet school! And I’ve always opposed PeTA’s hard-line stance and anti-pet agenda on principle—not to mention their radical tactics. No way would I ever join up with them—regardless of my inclination to agree with them on certain issues (sow confinement, pit bulls, foie gras, etc.). They are way too left of center for me.

For me, HSUS’s drive to spearhead an organization of vets dedicated to animal rights-slash-welfare smacks of a radical agenda I’d hope the HSUS would increasingly steer clear of. Instead, they seem content to dive headlong into the PeTA-ish fray by recruiting vets who’ve long been infected by the PeTA bug: the AVAR folks.

Here I was, hoping HSUS would eventually divorce itself of Pacelle and his ilk in favor of a more moderate stance on animal welfare. Instead, on January 14th, I read quite the opposite. It’s enough to make this pet health blogger, veterinarian and die-hard animal welfarist despair over the future of an organization that could have done so much more to protect and serve the animals most at risk of abuse in this country. Say it ain’t so!