Perhaps this is a bad title for a post regarding a school-approved externship, but just think of the jokes you can come up with. We actually never went to a bar together, but we did have a joint project. There were times when I wished some bourbon was within arm’s reach.
I spent the month of January 2015 working with the Animal Policy Group housed in Tonkon Torp LLP. I had previously met this group’s legal counsel at the AVMA Student Legislative Fly-In in Washington, DC, and then again when I spent two weeks with Banfield Central Team Support in Portland, OR. The Animal Policy group has both a Portland and DC office, and I was in Portland.
I had one major project while there. I was to look at the sourcing of dogs in the United States. This is a very contentious topic, which provided a unique challenge. As a veterinary student at the time, we learn constantly about spay and neuter projects and that all pets need to be altered. Well, depending on who you ask, the United States could be looking at a shortage of dogs because of the success of these projects. There are some regions of the US that feel as though they have run out. Along those lines, the availability of purebred dogs is dwindling. If you are thinking this sounds like a “he said, she said” discussion, you are right. That is because there is virtually no data on this subject. Different groups (mostly the American Veterinary Medical Association and the Pet Product Manufacturers Association) have released surveys trying to gather info on how many pets are in households. That data can then be extrapolated to identify trends in increasing desire for dog ownership (since we were looking at dogs only). This is one piece of the puzzle — finding a baseline for how many dogs are currently in US homes. Piece 1B is to try to predict how that demand will increase based on trends of dog ownership. The second piece is to attempt to understand how many are being produced. It sounds a little harsh to say produced, but that is the reality of the situation. Producers include registered breeders (minority), hobby breeders (majority), family breeders (two unfixed dogs getting together), stray breeding, and other miscellaneous breeding. The third piece of the puzzle is the import trade. There are two parts to this as well: 1) breeders import quality dogs for genetic diversity and 2) humane groups rescuing dogs (ie, bringing a shipment of dogs in from South Korea after being taken out of the meat trade). There are other smaller parts such as you or me liking a dog in another country and taking it home.
Although this is a bit oversimplified, it works for the purpose of this article.
I’ll admit this was a tough project for me to work on at first. The thought of there being a shortage of dogs was a very foreign concept to me. I had to take a step back and view it as research. Because there are limited data, my job was to locate and understand it.
Since I mentioned the bourbon earlier, I’ll just say that a lawyer and a veterinarian approach this from two different standpoints. Lawyers are trained to find the answers they want, or how to present the information to support their cause. Veterinarians are trained as scientists and are expected to view data unbiased and not to ignore anything. We figured out a good working relationship and were both happy (as far as I know) with how that phase of the project turned out. I think it will take a couple of years to really understand what we are dealing with, but it is good that someone is tackling this now.
I would love to hear what the readers have to say. Do you live in an under- or over dog-populated region? Do you think we are going to run out of healthy, quality dogs?