The American Veterinary Medical Foundation had to cancel its third annual America’s Favorite Vet Contest this year. Why? Well, because the Internet is the Internet and because people — especially people with a cause — can be rotten.
The cancellation was announced last week because animal rights activists mounted a campaign of harassment and abuse against finalists who wouldn’t go on record saying that they would never declaw a cat. According to AVMF, the campaign included online harassment, negative reviews, and threatening phone calls.
“One contestant, for example, was called ‘a whore, a butcher, a mutilator, a hack, an animal hater, a disgrace to the profession,’” the organization said in a statement.
Only one of the top 10 finalists, Dr. Gary Richter, went on the record publicly as opposing declawing in all circumstances. Most of the other vets said that they discouraged declawing, but reserved it as an option in extreme circumstances. That’s pretty much the policy of AVMF’s parent organization, the American Veterinary Medical Association, which says in part:
Onychectomy is an amputation and should be regarded as a major surgery. The decision to declaw a cat should be made by the owners in consultation with their veterinarian. Declawing of domestic cats should be considered only after attempts have been made to prevent the cat from using its claws destructively or when its clawing presents an above normal health risk for its owner(s).
Richter’s rejection of declawing under any circumstances was good for his standing in the contest. With endorsements from Jackson Galaxy, The Paw Project, and City the Kitty, Richter went from tenth place to second.
It would be fine if campaigning for Richter was all that happened, but for some people, having him win wasn’t enough; the others had to lose, and in the process be degraded and dehumanized to the greatest extent possible. Before the contest was shut down, Tina Roggenbeck from Saginaw, Michigan, withdrew because of the harassment. Her clinic, the Veterinary Health Center, announced the withdrawal on August 25:
A terroristic smear campaign against nine of the top 10 finalists in “America’s Favorite Veterinarian” contest was launched by an anti-declaw group in order to manipulate the outcome of the voting to ADVANCE their choice for the award. The other nine contestants have been harassed with phone calls, social media cyberbullying, name calling, profanity, fraudulent clinic advertisements, false and slanderous statements, and personal attacks.
Most cat lovers and veterinarians are against declawing (and it certainly goes against how this site defines Catster values), but that’s not the point. Regardless of your feelings about declawing, the virtual assault on the finalists was repulsive. None of the doctors stood up shouting about his or her love of onychectomy, or claimed that it was the right thing for all cats. (Our resident vet, Dr. Eric Barchas, took one veterinarian to task for his approach to declawing.) On the contrary, those who spoke about it at all described it as a last resort when it was done at all.
Even now, some people haven’t given up. Many anti-declawing activists are claiming that the abuse didn’t happen or was exaggerated by the AVMF, and that the the contest was shut down so that an anti-declawing vet didn’t get the award. After the announcement was made, City the Kitty posted on Facebook, calling it “this scandalous situation where our no-declaw veterinarian was going to win and the AVMA/AVMF stopped the America’s Favorite Veterinarian contest under the guise that there was a massive organized animal activist terrorist attack.”
The virtual assault by the declawing opponents would be repulsive in any circumstances, but the thing that makes me start to brim over with despair is that I’ve heard — and written — this story before. We’ve all heard it before: Campaigns of abuse and intimidation have become standard operating procedure on the Internet. They’re often aimed at the most vulnerable: The infamous Gamergate viciously went after women and people of color who dared to critique the content of videogames. Blogger Tauriq Moosa abandoned Twitter for a while because of a harassment campaign, and Anita Sarkeesian, Brianna Wu, and other women were repeatedly targeted with rape and death threats. (See my piece on Dogster for details of how Gamergaters used the death of Wu’s dog as an opportunity for abuse.)
Gamergate is only the most well-known example of mass cyber-bullying. For most of the women I know, receiving threats of rape or death happens so regularly that it’s like a tax levied for having strong opinions on the Internet.
I usually find allusions to terrorism to be cheap manipulation, but I think that the Veterinary Health Center’s use of it is legit: These campaigns of harassment are intended to make people afraid. We cannot let that become the new normal, and we can’t stop being disgusted at each new incident. Every time it happens, more people become silent out of fear, and we can’t afford to abandon the public square to those who believe these strategies are legitimate.
In this case, it’s irrelevant whether the issue of declawing is valid or not. Loving animals is no excuse to cast hate on your fellow human beings.