- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 19, 2003

DENVER The last time Jim Schwartz took his beloved poodle Moolah to the veterinarian, she was 11 years old and in poor health.
Even so, the veterinarian insisted that Moolah receive a one-year rabies vaccine. Within days, the black standard poodle was dead the victim, Mr. Schwartz says, of a vaccination that she didn't need and, as he discovered later, that wasn't mandated by law.
His dog's death transformed Mr. Schwartz from retired financial planner to tireless opponent of animal overvaccination. After three years of advocacy, his crusade culminated this year in a Colorado bill that would reclassify pets as "companions," limit vaccinations, and make it possible for their owners to sue for up to $100,000 for loss of companionship.
The current law classifies animals as property and allows owners to seek only the "fair market value" of their pets, even in the case of veterinary malpractice.
"People don't think of their dogs and cats as just property. They make pets their beneficiaries in their wills," said Mr. Schwartz, who founded the Next-to-Kin Foundation to promote animal welfare. "You can't make your color TV a beneficiary."
The landmark legislation has since become the center of attention, but it's not the kind Mr. Schwartz was hoping for. The idea of designating animals as "companions" became the focus of national and international joke fodder, appearing in reports on BBC-TV and even landing a spot last week in the monologue on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno."
The Colorado Veterinary Medical Association and the American Humane Society came out against the bill, arguing that it would result in more lawsuits against vets and, therefore, increase the cost of animal health care.
Homosexual activists held signs at the state Capitol protesting that if the bill passed, animals would have more rights than they do. Republican Gov. Bill Owens said that he wasn't sure what he thought of the bill, but that his dog Hannah was in favor of it.
As a result, the legislation's nine lives are nearly spent. Its sponsor, Republican state Rep. Mark Cloer, pulled the bill Friday after the committee refused to hear testimony on it. The legislation is not likely to be revived, said state Senate Majority Leader John Andrews.
"With all the uproar the international attention, the jokes on Jay Leno I think the wisest thing is to wait until next year," Mr. Andrews said. "There's too much of a circus this year. With everything else we have to do, I don't want to revive this bill."
Despite the Colorado setback, Mr. Schwartz says his drive to curb pet vaccinations is gaining steam.
At the heart of the issue is how often pets need to be vaccinated, particularly against rabies. In Colorado and 33 other states, the law permits the usage of the recently developed three-year rabies vaccine, but most veterinarians aren't telling pet owners about this, according to a 2000 survey in Vet Trends magazine.
As a result, most owners opt for the one-year vaccine, which can result in pets receiving too much of the medication and putting them at risk for complications, Mr. Schwartz said.
That, he says, is what happened to his dog. His veterinarian told him that the law mandated an annual rabies shot, he said, even though the three-year option became law in July 1999 and the vaccine label stated that the drug was to be given only to healthy dogs.
He contends that veterinarians prefer the annual shot because vaccinations make up 10 to 15 percent of their business. "A vaccine costs 60 cents to the vets, but they charge $25 to $38 for the office visit," Mr. Schwartz said. "Follow the money."
The Colorado Veterinary Medical Association denies that its members are trying to profit by overvaccinating pets.
Critics also said the Colorado proposal would result in a bonanza for tort lawyers, which ultimately led Republican lawmakers to put the legislation in the doghouse.
"What they don't understand is that this isn't a liberal boo-hoo issue," said Mr. Schwartz, a Republican. "This was a responsible bill that tries to cut lawyers out of the process. This is a Republican issue of personal responsibility."


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