Declawing and Cyberbullying

Should the American Veterinary Medical Foundation have cancelled the America’s Favorite Veterinarian contest?

Originally published in the December 2015 issue of Veterinary Practice News. Did you enjoy this article? Then subscribe today! 

I’ve been blogging since 2005, so I think I know a thing or two about cyberbullies. These are typically kind, well-meaning people who, when armed with a keyboard and a screen and a cause to fight for, can suddenly turn into trolls.

A troll, according to the Urban Dictionary’s top definition, is “One who posts a deliberately provocative message to a newsgroup or message board with the intention of causing maximum disruption and argument.”

These are the people who got loose in August and initiated what the American Veterinary Medical Foundation called “a vicious cyberbullying attack,” one that “disrupted and contaminated” its third annual America’s Favorite Veterinarian contest.

After some finalists endured online harassment surrounding the issue of declawing, the contest was called off September 1. The 20 veterinarian finalists were given certificates of appreciation and the charity’s heartfelt apology.

The contest, as conceived in its first three years, would not go on. A new way to determine America’s Favorite Veterinarian would have to be devised.

More from the foundation:

“Activists opposed to cat declawing ‘hijacked’ the contest, resorting to cyberbullying the majority of the contest finalists, those who believe that declawing cats remains a last-resort, but viable, alternative to separating pets from their owners when the animal’s behavior cannot be controlled any other way. One contestant, for example, was called ‘a whore, a butcher, a mutilator, a hack, an animal hater, a disgrace to the profession.’ Other contestants were subjected to the circulation of fraudulent negative advertisements, negative reviews, and threatening phone calls.”

Can you believe that?

I’m still stuck on the “whore” thing. But negative reviews are even worse. Those will hit you in the caseload for a good long while if you can’t convince Google, Yelp or other review sites that you’ve been a victim of an unsubstantiated cyber-attack by a nonclient. (I should know; I’ve had to fix bad reviews intended for nearby practices.)

In this case, the cyber-attackers were serious about hurting these veterinarians, all because they disagreed with them on one point: Most of the contestants believed that declawing was a reasonable last resort.

After training cats to use scratching posts and teaching owners to apply plastic nail tips, these contest finalists would perform a declaw procedure, but only, presumably, if they honestly believed the cats would be better off in the long run.

Every veterinarian draws this line differently. Me? I don’t declaw anymore, period. I used to, believing, quite earnestly, that if my vociferous opposition hadn’t been able to dissuade these clients, they’d get a declaw elsewhere. And where else would these cats receive my brilliant pain relief protocol?

Today I’m done with all the rationalizing. I mean, if we all stop declawing cats our clients will be forced to find ways to deal with their cats’ inconveniently feline behavior, right?

Personal ideology notwithstanding, I would have been a victim in this cyberbullying attack, nonetheless. After all, I own a practice where each veterinarian is allowed to practice as his or her conscience dictates. And one of the veterinarians I employ still performs declaws (albeit seldom).

Those involved in this haphazardly organized protest apparently called each of the practices where the top 10 finalists worked by way of determining their stance on declawing. Having thus scientifically dissected the contestants’ hearts and minds, the protesters (and I use the term loosely) then set about to undermine their chances in the contest, impugning their character and attacking their practices on social media.

It was kind of sad, really. I mean, you can’t even run a feel-good contest these days without dealing with a handful of wacko trolls so single-mindedly wedded to an issue that they can’t see beyond their own fingernails.

But I get it. If you’re of a certain mind, it’ll pain you to know that cats are being violently traumatized in the name of the human-animal bond. It’s one issue that resonates with me, too. Still, I draw the line well before aggressive name-calling or posting hostile (and fraudulent) reviews on Goodsnitch or Facebook.  What is wrong with these people?

Cyberbullying is not a viable means of protest; it’s merely a way of acting out your aggression against a concept in an unproductive way (usually after a very bad day). Those who engage in this kind of attack are typically angry, sad and lonely people who relish anonymous altercations. (“Oh, look, somebody’s wrong on Facebook!”)

What’s more, given the blanket of anonymity that cloaks their uncivil behavior, they’re inadequate representatives for their causes. Their voices don’t deserve to exist beyond the light their monitor gives off.

Sure, I have strong opinions. But then, I’ve been cyberbullied plenty. I’ve hosted trolls on my site. I’ve even been cyberstalked. In fact, just last week I had a lawyer write the first “cease and desist” letter I’ve ever had to send to a cyberstalker. This one weirdo colleague (can I call him that?) is enraged because I’ve dyed my gorgeous hair pink.

Now this is a truly useless thing to “protest.” But there you have it: There are people all over who will act reprehensibly over all kinds of things.

Which begs the question many veterinarians are asking: Should the AVMF have canceled the contest? Is it right to give in to the crazies?

I think not. By canceling the contest the AVMF lends credence to the notion that one lunatic with a keyboard is more powerful than a whole army of animal-loving people poised to celebrate some of its most beloved individuals.

I think the foundation was cowed because it didn’t know how far the kooks would go. Having labored for 10 years with them breathing down my neck, however, I could have told the AVMF not to worry.

After all, cyberbullies are losers who have no life. And these wackos are no exception.

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