Veterinarian proposes overhaul of vet laws in Alaska
In a public meeting last week at the Northwest Campus, veterinarian Eric Jayne held a presentation about a proposal that aims to reestablish the role of the Alaskan Board of Veterinary Examiners to ensure that the “veterinary needs of Alaskans are met thoroughly, competently and fairly.”
Nome has not had a practicing veterinarian since Dr. Derrick Leedy retired in December 2014. Since then the volunteer group PAWS – People for Animal Welfare and Safety- are being called upon when Nomeites or even members of the surrounding communities have animal emergencies. Founder Susan Ring and PAWS president Chrystie Salesky are constantly shipping dogs or cats out to other rescue organizations on the road system, but are overwhelmed with more complicated requests that need to be addressed by licensed veterinarians. PAWS has organized several spay and neuter clinics, but the demand is still great.
Other villages in bush Alaska are not so lucky to have an animal rescue group. They have to deal with overpopulation in a different way.
“It boils down to two things: number one, dogs being shot, and number two, the traumatic effect that has on people and especially children,” Jayne said. While it is a horrible thing to do and to witness, he said the shooting is done out of necessity. “This is not a failure of rural communities, but it is a failure of veterinarians including me,” he said. Rural Alaska is notoriously underserved when it comes to veterinarian services. Jayne, while he lived in Alaska, has performed over 35,000 spays and neuters and has given thousands of vaccinations in volunteer-organized clinics in the bush, hence his nickname “bush vet.”
When no veterinarian services are available, overpopulations of unwanted dogs and cats develop quickly. As strays will roam in packs and present a public health and safety hazard, the only remedy is to periodically round up the animals and shoot them. “This is traumatic for kids and there is a direct correlation to domestic violence, substance abuse and even suicides,” Jayne said.
In order to prevent unnecessary cullings that in turn cause trauma in people, Jayne suggests a reform of the Alaska veterinary laws. He determined that in Alaska, approximately 10,000 spays and neuter procedures have to be done to prevent unnecessary euthanasia.
Jayne’s proposed overhaul of the laws include to change the make up of the Board of Veterinary Examiners; to better define standards for veterinary medicine by regulation; to put in charge a tribal health organization, village or tribal organization or city government to authorize a specific person to provide veterinary care when an Alaskan licensed veterinarian is not present. He also proposed to prevent euthanasia when people cannot pay for their vet bill and to protect the public from vets overcharging for services.
Jayne reasoned that in absence of a licensed vet, care must still be given. “Emergency care, vaccinations, deworming, treatment of ill or injured animals must be available on a daily, year-round basis,” he argues.
In order to attract rather than repel interested veterinarians from the lower 48 to serve in bush Alaska, he also suggests to make it easier to obtain temporary permits. “The temporary permit is as adequate for volunteer veterinarians working in rural areas as it is for the out-of-state relief veterinarians to which it currently applies,” Jayne said. “This change would send a clear message that non-profit veterinary groups are needed and welcome in Alaska.”
Jayne also suggested solutions that include telemedicine and a veterinary assistant program modeled on the health aide and dental health aide programs that exist for human medicine in bush Alaska.
Responding to a comment that vets also need to make money to stay in business and that they should not have to compete with non-profits swooping in and offering free services, Jayne responded that veterinarians, like medical doctors, have to take an oath that promises to put animal health and welfare first, before financial considerations. He added that there is more than enough demand for services than can be filled by the occasional non-profit.
Jayne held presentations on his reform efforts on Talkeetna, Healy and Nome. He said the proposal to reform has been submitted for consideration at Senator Donny Olson’s office and at Dillingham’s Bob Herron’s office.