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The New AVMA Companion Animal Aftercare Policy - Part I

  • April 28, 2021 6:30 PM EDT

    This post is the first of a 3-part series that I want to share with VetVine - focused on the new AVMA Aftercare Policy and why it's important for you and for veterinary clinics.


    We all want to see the progression of animal welfare and to increase the standard of our veterinary practice. Often, our daily choices can affect this in ways we may not intuitively consider. As we progress as a culture, we gather more information on what the people want in a broader sense and how we can better serve our clients and patients. Taking this cultural progression into account, the AVMA created a new policy on aftercare that affects us all. We can now be held accountable for the aftercare providers we choose. The AVMA has adapted their guidelines to the evolution of the human-animal bond. It starts out by small actions that can have a ripple effect bigger than we can imagine.

    In 2008, Dr. Bernard Rollin, a professor of biomedical sciences and philosophy of animal welfare, set out to eliminate the sow stalls that were being used as breeding factories for pigs. The first time he had ever encountered one, he was shocked. He was taken aback by the utter lack of moral treatment of animals, and right then and there he made a promise to himself that he would do whatever was in his power to eliminate that style of farming.

    Instead of going through legislative power, his strategy was to show big-businesses that their customers despised that style of practice. He marched into Smithfield, the largest pork producer at the time, and challenged them to poll their customers. “What will we find?” They asked. “You will find 75% rejection” of this style of farming.[1]

    They called him back 6 months later to inform him, “actually, it was 78%”.  

    “78% of the public does not like this. Why do we keep giving it to them?”  


    The genius in the way Dr. Rollin strategized this was that he simply asked people for their opinions. He pleasantly discovered that people attribute more empathy to animals than once thought. Smithfield stopped using that style of sow stalls. Actions like this have a large effect on the industry as a whole. We are progressing culturally. The relevance of public opinion is something we will come back to when we look at the third point in the policy.  

    Our perception of the human-animal bond worldwide has strongly evolved in the last decade, and the AVMA took the lead in bringing a policy to frame our practice of aftercare.

    This is relevant and important in two ways:  

    1. Our standards of care are increasing, and this is a win for animal welfare 

    2. Veterinarians can be held accountable not only during the pet’s life but after death as well.  

    The 3 main policy points and some examples of how they work are detailed here.   

     

    1. “Veterinarians must understand that they may be responsible and may be held accountable, for the aftercare provider they recommend*i.” 

    The International Association of Pet Cemeteries and Crematories (IAOPCC) told Stephen Dubner of the Freakonomics podcast that 10 years ago, only a handful of facilities specialized in pet aftercare[2]. There is now a vast increase in number of pet aftercare facilities to complement the ever-increasing number of pet owners. However, there is limited legislation in this industry and it varies from place to place.   

    With so much emotion surrounding death and aftercare along with the increase in number and size of aftercare providers, it makes us wonder what the margins of error are? Are these places respectful and diligent in their process? Have you, yourself, ever visited a pet cremation facility?  


    Freakonomics hosts investigated this issue. They wanted to know, are we indeed getting the appropriate ashes back when we take our beloved pets to the crematorium?  

    To investigate this, they created a fake cat. They took fur from a rabbit, stuffed it with hamburger meat, and named it Stevie. As there were no bones in Stevie the amount of ashes returned to them should be minimal compared to normal cremains. Crematoriums should likely flag this as the second step in cremation is to crush the bones, a process called cremulation.  

    They sent a version of Stevie to three crematoriums to see what they would get back … For each one, they received bone ash in the cremains. How is this possible? None of the crematoriums gave an explanation of how there could be bone fragments in the ashes. The Freakonomics team sent all of their data to the attorney general’s office and will update the viewers in the event this is pursued.  

    For more detailed information about this, you can listen to the excellent Podcast here[3]. There was a similar Canadian-run experiment in 2012 in which investigators gave 12 crematoriums in the Vancouver area plush toy cats to find that 6 of the 12 returned ashes with bone fragments in them. You can find more detailed information about the Canadian version here.

    In line with an increasing number of pet parents and their concern, along with whispers of human crematory corruption (see this bone-chilling case in Noble, Georgia). It is clear there are issues in the Aftercare industry. The AVMA Policy is there to guide us and help prevent such traumatizing events.  

    One reason there will be more accountability on the part of the veterinarian: The IAOPCC decided to conduct a mock trial in the event of cremation fraud to see what the peoples’ perspectives are and how they would be judged in a court setting. 

    They invited the community to participate. In the trial, the prosecution sued both the crematorium and the veterinary facility for outsourcing cremation to the cheapest company.  

    In the trial, jurors ruled in favor of the prosecution in all counts, with a total of $3.5 million dollars in punitive damages. The jurors charged the veterinary clinic damages for not going out to check on the crematorium.  


    Our pets mean the world to us, and it’s clear that jurors do not take lightly the idea of having our pet families subjected to fraud. The public is clear on this.  

    If that doesn’t want to make you re-think checking out your crematorium, what will? It’s important that the crematorium you choose be open and available to the public and to the veterinary facilities to visit and see how they work. It is important we hold them to a high standard. The AVMA goes on to say “Aftercare providers you work with or refer clients to should be seen to always handle pets with dignity and respect.” 

    The interesting part about the mock trial is that it shows veterinarian facilities will likely be held accountable for any indiscretion on their part. To this point, the AVMA took the lead again in pointing it out in their policy that it is a very real possibility the facilities can face damages, something to keep in mind the next time you name your crematorium. It is also notable to mention that in many cases, crematory providers are sometimes chosen on the price of their service. Many veterinarians and vet teams likely have not visited a crematorium, though we send deceased pets to them every week …

    Either way, this is certainly food for thought. See you in Part 2.  

     

    [1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HzOH_Mm7hEM Public Responsibility in Medicine and Research Interview with Dr. Rollins, Oct 20, 2014.  

    [2] https://www.iaopc.com/default.aspx and https://freakonomics.com/podcast/the-troubled-cremation-of-steviethe-cat-a-new-freakonomics-radio-podcast/

    [3] https://freakonomics.com/podcast/the-troubled-cremation-of-stevie-the-cat-a-new-freakonomics-radiopodcast/ (Dubner, 2013)