Proposed Ear Cropping Ban in Vermont Raises National Legal Questions About Veterinary Medical Proced

If Vermont passes an ear-cropping ban, bill S250, it will be the first state in the nation to make the cosmetic surgery a crime. The proposed legislation, which could become law by July 2006, is supported by 36 members of the Vermont VMA who see no therapeutic value in ear cropping, but are prepared to fight other bans. The support marks a departure from other attempts, made by veterinary groups, to block bans on veterinary procedures nationally.

“We recognize that this is a slippery slope” in terms of allowing the legislature to dictate which medical procedures veterinarians can offer, said Karen Bradley, DVM, chair of the Vermont VMA animal welfare committee, “but this is one we can concede. We are not going to defend our right to do it since most of our members don’t do it.”

Previous attempts by animal rights groups to regulate veterinary procedures have been rebuffed by professionals who argue that ear cropping and other veterinary surgeries are regulated by veterinary practice acts. Some worry that outside ordinances could cause professional confusion.

“As a profession we need to have one set of regulations that govern us,” said Eric Weigand, DVM, president of the California VMA, a group that has blocked several bans. “Piecemeal legislation can create confusion. Laws need to be clearly defined in practice acts.”

In November 2005, the California VMA successfully overturned a city ban on animal declawing in Hollywood, Calif., and a proposed ban on ear cropping died in committee last year.

The main issue in California was the city’s attempt to “supplant the state government,” Weigand explained. “Declawing was not the issue at all.”

In fact, many veterinarians oppose practices like declawing and ear cropping, which have become controversial over the last few years. An AAHA position statement reads: “Veterinarians should counsel and educate pet owners that these procedures should not be performed unless medically necessary.” The position statement also encourages the elimination of these procedures from breed standards.

However, veterinarians have guarded the legal realm of practice acts from attempts to legislate medical procedures outside the existing professional framework.

Weigand compared state or city bans on ear cropping or tail docking to plastic surgeons being prevented from giving collagen injections but allowed to do facelifts. “Laws outside practice acts make it more difficult for professional people,” he said.

While Bradley recognizes widespread concern about legislative involvement in medical practice, she believes that a close relationship between the Vermont VMA and state legislators will protect doctors from future legal encroachment.

“We will stand up and fight other [legislative proposals] like tail docking,” Bradley said. “Our legislators are really listening to us and we expect them to listen to us just as much in the future.” The association plans to publish several position papers about tail docking and other medical operations at a meeting this month. Discussions and meetings are intended to prepare doctors for proposed legislation. “There is a trend with animal rights groups, and we need to be prepared,” Bradley said. “We will concede this but we will fight others.”

Vermont Senator Ann Cummings, a sponsor of the bill, told NEWStat that she expects a fight this week from the American Kennel Club (AKC), which opposes the ear-cropping ban. The AKC requires the procedure for at least one breed. The Humane Society of the United States supports the ban, and both organizations have sent out press releases urging members to act on the issue.

NEWStat Legislation & regulation