Ever wonder how a group of veterinarians arrives at a conclusion? Stressfully. 

Long story short: We had this argument. About fifteen of us went back and forth on the merits of a free spay/neuter event sponsored by a South Florida veterinary group, for which I serve as an officer.

We’d already done one event. (Here’s the post on its success.) Now we were talking about doing it four times a year (in association with Miami-Dade County Animal Services, our local animal control, and The Cat Network, a local feral cat advocacy group).

About five of us Board members rallied for extending the recurring event into perpetuity as a quarterly event. But about ten naysayers nixed it. They urged caution in the face of imminent opposition from the group's veterinarian-only membership.

Why? Because those ten older members of the Board have lived here long enough to remember violent opposition to other events that promised to take money out of local veterinarians' pockets. 

Q. So how does an event geared to spaying and neutering feral cats manage to earn a seal of disapproval from a certain faction of the local veterinary community?

A. Because the event is open to the community at large (not negotiable), clients who might otherwise spay their cats at a standard rate might choose to wait for the free event, thereby shortchanging the area’s veterinarians of their expected earnings. 

After much discussion and debate in advance of this meeting, it was determined that to preserve the event, ear-tipping of cats was to be deemed a mandatory thing (here’s a post on ear tipping). That would keep the veterinarians concerned about freebies offered to potentially-paying clients at bay––or so we thought. 

After all, who would consent to having their personal kitties’ ears deformed just to save a buck? And what veterinarian wouldn’t see our efforts for what they were––true altruism on behalf of our community’s feline population?

Not so according to some of the Board members. After all, our group's constituency is comprised of a wide variety of veterinarian members, not just the ones interested and educated enough to understand that local activism counts for something in this community. 

OK, so enough of my self-congratulatory BS. On to the issues:

If our group is to represent its constituency of veterinarians, should it not respect the wishes of a sizable number of community veterinarians in this regard? In other words, perhaps we should, as an organization, restrict our good deeds to our actions as individuals, not to actions conducted on the the group's behalf. That was the idea.

To add another dimension to the argument, it was offered that Miami-Dade Animal Services, as a governmental institution, was looking to the our group for “personal” gain. Despite the fact that we were seeking to improve our own standing in the community through free public events as well, some Board members felt the PR gain wasn’t worth the fight. 

If we were “being used” by the local government, it was argued, they’d abuse an inch to take their mile. Next thing we know, we’d be ‘beholden” to the government. They’d consider our volunteer efforts a subsidy and we’d be forever linked to the wrongs perpetuated by the “powers that be.” 

And then the “kicker:” One [otherwise lovable] old-timer got on his soap-box and lectured us on the evils of “giving our services away,” arguing that doing so cheapens our profession. Ouch! 

(Never mind that the human medical profession is lauded for its free surgeries on “third world” children, that attorneys are required to perform pro-bono work in the course of their duties, and that every other profession engages in low or no-cost work for the betterment of the public at large.)

Sheesh! I didn’t get up in the morning early enough to consider all my arguments on this issue. I would’ve written a personal position statement if I’d known what I’d be facing. As it was, 9:30 PM after a long day of kayaking and driving home from afar was way too late to be mustering the strength to respond to such drivel. 

If I’d been “with it,” this is what I’d have said:

  • We all agree that the current solution to pet overpopulation is low-cost spay and neuter. 
  • Few of us are willing to undertake this effort on a regular basis, intent on feeding our families in the face of a recession as we are.
  • These are cats...not dogs. The service is one that yields a low-profit margin. 
  • Feral cats are NOT paying patients. As the work we do is allied with the local feral cat association, these are cats that would otherwise not be spayed and neutered through standard veterinary means.
  • Mandatory ear-tipping (which I admit I was not formerly on board with) should be enough to dissuade the casual cat owner from glomming on to free services they would otherwise be willing to pay for. 
  • Another free service is available for personal cat owners who are MedicAid clients (identifiably low-income citizens) should these individuals call in to our line for an appointment. This allows for low-income owners to receive free spays and neuters sans ear-tip.
  • How could our volunteer community service be construed as an infringement on veterinary private practice profits? 

Luckily, our Board voted for a vote. We’ll put the entire membership to the test, we said. After delineating the pros and cons, we’ll ask our membership to render a decision. That seems reasonable, given enough dissemination of the proposal. But I don't have to like it.

My take was that we shouldn't ask permission...and beg for forgiveness later (if need be). But I’d been overruled roughly by a ten to five margin. “Bleeding heart” as my positions are often labeled, my protests weren’t going anywhere this time.

Though I’ve been known to propose and vote for leading edge proposals, figuring my take is a “silent majority” stakeholder’s position, I’ve been overruled before. After all, I live in Miami, a place where runway fashions are first to take off and socially conscious decisions are usually late to the table. But then, living here has the benefit that I can always count on being on top of both, wired as I am. Too bad the animals are so slow to take their rightful place, despite the work of so many others here who do share my ideals.