The American Veterinary Medical Foundation’s third annual America’s Favorite Veterinarian contest was suddenly canceled today because of harassment of the finalists.
The Schaumburg, Ill., nonprofit organization blamed the shutdown on activists opposed to the declawing of cats.
Online public voting was scheduled to end Sept. 1, but “a vicious cyberbullying attack which disrupted and contaminated the final election process” led to the early end, the organizers reported. All 20 veterinarians will receive certificates of recognition.
“We deeply regret that our contestants had to endure this abuse and intend to take proactive steps in the future to prevent this type of interference from impacting our activities,” said AVMF’s chairman, John Brooks, DVM.
The bullying was done through “the circulation of fraudulent negative advertisements, negative reviews and threatening phone calls,” AVMF stated.
“One contestant, for example, was called ‘a whore, a butcher, a mutilator, a hack, an animal hater, a disgrace to the profession,’” the organization added.
One of the finalists, Lisa Aumiller, DVM, of HousePaws Mobile Veterinary Service in Mount Laurel, N.J., said her experience “wasn’t horrible” and was limited to a phone call and social media posts.
“We were one of the people that answered the phone call maybe a little correctly,” Dr. Aumiller said. “We gave some humane alternatives to declawing.”
The caller, she said, asked for a declaw.
“My desk said, ‘Look, we don’t like to declaw. It’s amputation. You can use Soft Paws, you can do nail trimming. [A veterinarian] can teach you other things to do that are better for the kitty.’
“And then the person got irate—‘You’re going to declaw my cat?’ It was a really odd phone call.”
Harassment of the contestants appeared to be loosely organized, said Michael San Filippo, a spokesman with the American Veterinary Medical Association. The foundation updated vote results daily on the contest website, and activists at some point reached out to the top 10 to see where they stood on declawing, he said.
City the Kitty, a group that opposes declawing, promoted the contest on its Facebook page and asked people to vote for Gary Richter, DVM, MS, of Montclair Veterinary Hospital in Oakland, Calif.
Dr. Richter was “the only vet on record who wouldn’t declaw,” San Filippo said.
City the Kitty, in a post Monday, stated that Richter “is doing the right thing and honoring the oath he took to just heal and protect animals in his noble profession.”
“If he is elected into this honorable position, he truly will be a positive example as to how all veterinarians in America should conduct their practice of veterinary medicine and only perform healing procedures.”
The moderator added: “I have been hearing that some people are making negative comments and posts towards the other nine veterinarians in this contest. Please don’t do this.”
Another group, The Paw Project, asked Facebook fans to vote for Richter, as did cat behaviorist and TV personality Jackson Galaxy.
Richter climbed from 10th place to second place in the voting as of Tuesday, seven days before the deadline. Some activists pointed to his jump in the standings and the event’s cancellation as evidence that AVMF did not want to crown a veterinarian who abstains from declawing cats.
“By buckling to a very small number of cyberbullies, whose actions we do not condone, the AVMF has undermined the power of the popular vote and stripped contest voters of the opportunity to support a candidate whose principles and beliefs align with their own,” City the Kitty stated.
“The focus should not be on [a] mere handful of angry people who let their emotions get the best of them because they care so much about the welfare of animals, and who inappropriately lashed out at a couple of the vets in the contest.”
Richter played no role in the bullying and “did not initiate or encourage the attacks on his colleagues,” said AVMA@Work blogger Kimberly May, DVM, MS.
“We know that people can become passionate about almost any subject that is near and dear to them,” Dr. May wrote, “but we ask everyone reading this message to always remember that there is a person on the other end of that message; that they are as entitled to their opinions as you are, and their beliefs may be as strong as yours; and that they should be treated with respect despite disagreement.
“It is only through civil, constructive dialog—and respectful disagreement—that we make progress on important issues.”
The 2014 contest winner, Tim Hunt, DVM, of Marquette, Mich., said he was not harassed last year.
“Anything I got in regards to this contest was always favorable,” Dr. Hunt said. “I didn’t get anything negative at all.”
He sympathized with the finalists.
“It sounds like a very vocal minority of people out there,” he said.
“These veterinarians work hard to get where they’re at and they’re at the top of the field in their clients’ eyes.
“Hopefully down the line this can be alleviated. It’s uncalled for.”
The inaugural winner, Carlos R. Campos, DVM, of Spring Hill, Fla., expressed disappointment as well.
“Why do you have to make it about an issue?” he wrote on the Veterinary Practice News Facebook page. “This contest is about celebrating veterinarians and all the hard work they do.”
Supporters and opponents weighed in on AVMF’s Facebook page after learning of the cancellation.
“You canceled this to promote your agenda of pro-declaw,” one wrote. “That’s it and that’s all. Be honest with the people and the contestants. You don’t want declawing illegal, we all know that.”
“Wow,” another person wrote. “Some people will ruin anything.”
Aumiller, who was in third place Tuesday, contacted AVMF after learning that the charity was thinking of halting the contest.
“I’m super upset that they canceled it,” she said. “After I verbally begged, I sent emails to them begging, I had some of my staff call. I didn’t want to be a pain in the ass, but I was about to have clients start calling.
“The clients love it. It’s such a fun competition for everybody.
“I think canceling the competition is letting bullies win,” Aumiller said. “I know the AVMF is taking the stance, ‘We don’t want people bullied anymore,’ but to cancel something that is enjoyable and fun and is going to end up with a positive message is just letting them win.”