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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Top Veterinary Stories for 2011

Dr. Donald F. Smith, Cornell University
Posted December 29, 2011

World Veterinary Year (Vet 2011) - The world's first veterinary school was established in Lyon, France 250 years ago (1761) by French veterinarian Claude Bourgelat. It was commissioned by King Louis XV to promote the prevention of cattle disease, notable Rinderpest (cattle plague). A second school was started by Bourgelat three years later in the Paris suburb of Alfort. Veterinary colleges soon emerged in London and Scotland. The 150th anniversary of veterinary medicine in the United States will be celebrated in 2013.

Animals in Movies - Two  movies gave us much to consider regarding the use and abuse of animals in war and peace. Sara Gruen's novel-turned-movie, "Water for Elephants" provided a glimpse of  circus life during the Great Depression; and the release of  Steven Spielberg's "War Horse" on Christmas Day portrayed the enormity of loss of equine life during wartime. Though segments of these movies needlessly strain the limits of credulity, the central themes provide compelling stories of the need for animal welfare and proper veterinary care.

Supporting Pets after the Great Japanese Earthquake - Disaster preparedness and response for animals came to prominence after Hurricane Katrina. However, the magnitude of animal devastation resulting from the March earthquake and tsunami of Northeastern Japan far eclipsed anything we had seen here in America. Dr. Asako Shimamura took leave from her regular job and worked as an individual volunteer in some of the hardest hit areas. Coordinating efforts with local veterinarians, she collected and distributed medical supplies and food in the heart of the disaster area, and reunited animals with their human families. Because of the loss of communication, the most severly affected areas were often those not identified by the Tokyo headquarters. By mid May, Dr. Shimamura had made over 200 different trips into the disaster area within the Miyagi Prefecture. Her bravery, commitment, compassion and perseverance against incredible natural and human challenges is one of the great veterinary stories of the year.

Veterinarian Awarded National Medal of Science - Ralph Brinster, a veterinary professor at the University of Pennsylvania received the National Medal of Science "for fundamental contributions to the development and use of transgenic mice". This award is the highest honor bestowed by the United States' government on scientists and engineers. Dr. Brinster is the first veterinarian in the country to receive the award since it was established 50 years ago. The White House announcement acclaimed Brinster's research to have "provided experimental foundations and inspiration for progress in germline genetic modification in a range of species, which has generated a revolution in biology, medicine, and agriculture."

AVMA Accreditation of Ross University - The American Veterinary Medical Association granted Ross University's School of Veterinary Medicine full accreditation in March. A private institution located on the Island of St. Kitts in the Caribbean, Ross graduates over 400 students per year, 98% of whom are from the U.S. This represents about 10% of the total graduates seeking employment in the United States annually. Not since the then-proprietary Ontario Veterinary College (see footnote) attracted massive numbers of Americans to its for-profit school in Toronto in the late 19th century has a non-American veterinary institution trained so many U.S. citizens as veterinarians. The accreditation of Ross was followed several months later by similar recognition of St. George's School of Veterinary Medicine on the island of Grenada.

Rinderpest Eradication
On June 28, the 192 Member countries of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization adopted a Resolution declaring global freedom from Rinderpest. Referred to as cattle plague throughout much of history, this was an infectious disease of cattle, buffalo, yak and many wildlife species. Its devastation has been profound, producing massive starvation, economic ruin and political instability. For example, Rinderpest destroyed 90% of the cattle and millions of wild animals in sub-Saharan Africa in the 1890s. Rinderpest is the first animal disease to be eliminated by human efforts, and only the second disease of any kind, after smallpox in humans.

Footnote: The Ontario Veterinary College was established by Scottish veterinarian, Andrew Smith, as a for-profit college in downtown Toronto in 1862. It operated as a proprietary college for almost 50 years when it became a publicly-supported institution under the umbrella of the University of Toronto. Contemporary Scot, James Law, established the veterinary program at Cornell University in 1868 but his high matriculation and curriculum standards were out of reach of most American students so they migrated north of the border and returned to practice in New York and neighboring states.

Dr. Smith welcomes comments at

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Consider a Year-End Donation in Support of the Animals

Posted by Dr. Donald F. Smith, Cornell University
December 11, 2011.

If you are planning charitable donations this time of year, you may want to consider animal health and welfare programs among your causes to support. For those who don't know where to turn, I offer these suggestions.

The value of supporting the local community:
Local humane shelters are among the most money-strapped animal non profits in the country. They operate in local communities, providing critical services for adoption and education, as well as dealing with animal rescue, cruelty prevention, and pet overpopulation issues. I have always been impressed by the number of older veterinarians who leave a legacy of giving generously of their time and professional expertise for local shelters and, upon their death, have designated  that memorial gifts in their honor be made to a local shelter.

Supporting the Next Generation of Veterinarians:
Twenty years ago, the ratio of staring salary to educational debt for a graduating veterinarian was 1:1.  It is now almost 1:3, and the ratio is spreading. State financial support for veterinary colleges has been under siege for at least two decades, and has plummeted precipitously in the last four years. I recently estimated that the average level of operating support for veterinary colleges is less than $2.00 per capita. Many states provide no direct support for veterinary colleges nor do they provide even partial tuition support for students who attend out-of-state colleges because there are no veterinary colleges in their home state.

Cornell University's Graduating DVM Class of 2011 (May 2011)

Each of the 28 veterinary colleges in the United States has scholarship funds that would benefit from your donation. Consult the website of your favorite college, or contact me directly and I can provide you with the name and address of the appropriate contact at the college of your choice.

Support Veterinary Medical Research:
There are several reputable organizations that support research on animal health and welfare. Two that I consider among the most effective are: The Morris Animal Foundation  (supporting the health of pets and wildlife) and the Winn Feline Foundation (for cats).

Among my favorite conservation and wildlife programs are the Wildlife Conservation Society, which includes the world-famous Bronx Zoo where the West Nile Virus was isolated in 1999; and the Cheetah Conservation Fund, a scientifically-based program located in Namibia, Africa.  

As always, I welcome comments and questions at
All photos provided by the author.

Spielberg's Version of "War Horse"

Blog by Dr. Donald F. Smith, Cornell University
Posted Dec. 11, 2011

Michael Morpurgo’s book, War Horse, which was transformed into a Tony-award winning Broadway play, opened on the big screen since Christmas Day 2011.

It is hard for us to fathom the massive loss of animal life in the history of war. Morpurgo humanizes the plight of military animals in WWI by making the horse, Joey, the narrator of his own story. He is a British boy’s beloved work horse who is sold into the British cavalry. Through an unusual twist of events, Joey ends up going into battle on the side of the Germans, as well as the British.

The emphasis on Joey’s  health is a subtext of the story. The critical service of both British and American veterinarians and veterinary stations are described many times throughout the book.

When the fighting ceased in 1918, Joey’s plight as a surviving horse on French soil is also chronicled as he and his emaciated equine comrads are auctioned for slaughter as horse meat. This characterization of war animals as “equipment” is repeated years later in Vietnam. At the end of that war, American military dogs which had served so faithfully to locate injured GI’s, warned of enemy ambushes, and searched out booby traps, were left to their own fate―including slaughter for food―as the troops were forced to return to the U.S. without their beloved canine service companions.

Though we instinctively imagine that the millions of horses lost in World War I would have been through combat, Morpurgo paints a more accurate picture where malnutrition, starvation and disease were the greater scourges. Joey’s near fatal encounter with tetanus following his recovery from life-threatening combat injuries is a vivid reminder that horses are highly susceptible to this dreaded infection.

American veterinarian Dr. D. L. Proctor served in India during WW II and was in charge of preparing horses and mules for service in the mountains and jungles of Burma. He told me of the problems with protozal diseases, lacerations, shrapnel wounds. But as far as tetanus goes, things had changed in the 35 years since WW I. “I never saw a case of tetanus while I was in the service because the horses and mules were all vaccinated”, he said. “And this is something because tetanus was the greatest cause of death in horses at that time.”

Animals are still fighting and suffering in war. The New York Times ran an article that captures some of the modern day impact of war on dogs. Titled “After Duty, Dogs Suffer Like Soldiers”, James Dao describes the post-traumatic stress disorder of military dogs in Afghanistan and Iraq.

What War Horse tells us is that animals don’t discriminate between the “good” side and the “bad” side. Joey fought for both British and German armies and received veterinary care from each side.

And this confirms my interview with  WWII Japanese veterinarian, Dr. Takehiko Takahashi, who cared for the war horses assigned to him in Burma with the same zeal and compassion as Dr. Proctor did for the American horses.

Veterinarians take an oath to prevent animal suffering, and in war as in peacetime, it should not matter where they were born or who owns them.

Above photos of the book cover and of the documentary describing the creation of the puppetry in the play version of the story are by Dr. Smith, who invites comments on this and all blogs at

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Students, Family and Mentors Celebrate Cornell's 2011 White Coat Ceremony

Posted by Donald Smith, Cornell University
December 3, 2011

When I asked Danielle Hein why so many members of her family had come to Ithaca this weekend to celebrate Cornell's White Coat Ceremony for third-year veterinary students, she said, "I think my family is just really proud and they are good at supporting and celebrating each other's accomplishments. I am certain that they deserve some of the credit for helping me get this far so the "white coat" is essentially for them."

Danielle Hein (center) and family at the 2011 White Coat Ceremony
Danielle's mentor, Dr. John Andresen (Cornell 1966)
and Mrs. Maribeth Andresen are to the right of Danielle.

The White Coat tradition that started eight years ago at Cornell's College of Veterinary Medicine marks the beginning of the clinical portion of the veterinary curriculum. During the last one and one-half years of education, the students will be caring for clinical cases in the hospital wards and on farms and other ambulatory settings.

"I'm sure that my classmates would agree that we are extremely excited to finally be entering the clinical portion of our education", Danielle said. "I feel so enthusiastic about it, to finally see patients, to feel like I'm really helping animals and their owners, and applying the things I've spent years learning. It's the culmination of so much hard work. I just can't imagine anything more satisfying."

During the event, hosted by Dean Michael Kotlikoff, each of the students had a mentor officially coat them. Danielle chose Cornell alumnus, Dr. John Andresen, the veterinarian who piqued her interest many years ago and who has remained a mentor throughout her time at Cornell.

Kevin Render and his mother, Sheila Perry,
at Cornell's White Coat Ceremony
Kevin Render had eight family members drive from Buffalo to celebrate with him. He was especially grateful to his mother for her direction early in life. "My mother was a teacher even though she doesn't have a teaching degree. She taught me invaluable lessons even when she wasn't trying. Without a doubt, those lessons are why I have made it this far when so many in my neighborhood did not. Through her struggles, I learned willpower. Through her character, I learned individuality."

According to Kevin, "The start of clinics will be bittersweet. Sweet, because I'll have patients and put into practice all the learning I've had the past two years. Bitter, because clinics are a reminder that vet school is more than half over. Furthermore, because we are dispersed in the hospital during clinical rotations, I'll never be around all of my classmates in one place ever again."

Michael Robinson's father, David
flew from London, England to attend the ceremony.
Parents and family members came from all over the United States, and even from Europe. David Robinson, father of Michael, flew from London to join his son. The parents of Nate LaHue, both veterinarians, came from California.
Kathleen Molero's parents and also her mentor, Dr. Carlos Machado, arrived from south Florida. Kate Allen's parents flew in from Chicago. In some cases, parents or other family members who are also veterinarians, coated their children or siblings.

The capstone of the afternoon was the address delivered by Dr. Robert R. Marshak, dean emeritus of the University of Pennsylvania. A Cornell graduate (1945) and perhaps the most influential dean of the second half of the 20th century, Dr. Marshak portrayed the veterinary profession using a brilliant tapestry that evoked the rigors of science and the art of medicine and communication.

Dr. Robert R. Marshak, (Cornell 1945) 
professor and dean emeritus,
University of Pennsylvania
Dr. Marshak spoke glowingly of Cornell's rich tradition in excellence from our founding in 1868 by the Scottish veterinarian, James Law, to the present world-class faculty and student body. "You are a special group", he urged the students to remember.
And so they are and so they shall be, as they stood with other veterinarians in the great hall to recite the veterinarian's oath led by Dr. Jonathan May, president of the college's Alumni Association, which co-sponsored the afternoon's celebration.
Photos by the author.
Dr. Smith welcomes comments at

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Veterinary Euthanasia: Cultural Influences in Bangkok, Thailand

Posted December 1, 2011
Guest Author, Katherine Bibi
DVM Candidate 2015 (Cornell University)

During spring 2011, I traveled to four cities on three continents seeking to understand how various governments regulate their small animal veterinary clinics, if at all. Among my destinations was Bangkok, Thailand, where I spent an amazing two weeks working at Thonglor Pet Hospital. After arriving from Hanoi, Vietnam, where veterinary medicine was still in the early stages of development, I was unsure of what to expect in Bangkok. 

After only a few days of observing, I noticed something that astounded me: I had not seen one euthanasia procedure since my arrival. 

Thonglor Pet Hospital, Bangkok, Thailand
Photo by Author
Coming from an area in the U.S. where I was often used to seeing one or two euthanasia procedures each day, I questioned why this procedure was such a rarity.  Dr. Jakaphan Wannawong, one of the dermatologists at the Bangkok clinic, told me that he had euthanized only three pets over his entire career.

The veterinarians explained that euthanasia is rare, and there were some doctors who refused to perform it under any circumstances. The rationale was completely intertwined with their religious values and culture. The majority of the Thai people are Buddhist, and because of the value that the Buddhist religion places on life, euthanasia is avoided in the majority of cases.

The stark contrast between my experiences in the United States and Bangkok made me wonder if euthanasia is too frequently used in our culture as a “way out” rather than a last resort.  The Thai veterinarians were unwaveringly persistent in every case. For example, I saw them perform endless CPR on one dog and remove multiple tumors on a client’s hamster.

This begs the question: Does the elimination of euthanasia as a medical option compel the Thai veterinarians to provide better care and make them more determined to succeed? On the other hand, when does the value of life exceed the amount of suffering required to live such a severely compromised life?  Some patients received endless and uncertain palliative care while unable to stand and covered in pressure sores. At what point does it become important to compromise one’s beliefs and traditions for doing what may not be “acceptable”, but right?  This is a conflict that many of the Thai vets had to face.

Regardless of one’s position on euthanasia, it was obvious that Thonglor had the facilities to accommodate such extensive palliative care.  Though Thailand lacks the board certification program that exists in the U.S., the doctors’ specialty knowledge was impressive, and it was clear that each individual was motivated to learn more about his or her specific veterinary interest. This enthusiasm allowed for over 12 different specialty clinics within the Thonglor hospital, including a physical therapy clinic fitted with a hydrobath.  Though doctors informed me that Thonglor was more progressive than the average Thai clinic, I was astonished by how advanced the clinic was and how dedicated the veterinarians were to learning new procedures. 

Katherine Bibi is a first-year DVM student (Class of 2015)
at Cornell's College of Veterinary Medicine.
Photo provided by Author.

Though I had originally set out on my journey to determine how governments monitor and standardize the procedures of veterinary clinics, I soon realized that I was focusing on the wrong leading authority.  It became apparent that it was the culture of each region, rather than the protocols set forth by the government, that was at the heart of each clinic’s practices. Veterinary clinics aren’t run in totality by management, by the government, or by the desires of the clients; rather, they are guided by the customs of their people. 

If we as veterinary students choose to make an impact on the veterinary world, we must first understand the cultural values that lie within its foundation.