Thursday, July 29, 2010

Lobby Day Recap

Lobby Day with the Humane Society was an excellent culmination of the Taking Action for Animals Conference. My day began by leading some citizen lobbyists from the hotel to the Russell Senate Building. 11 fellow Virginians and I strategized on our approach for our joint meeting with Senators Webb and Warner's staff. The meeting went very well. Webb's staffer had some tough questions and wanted data and support, while Warner's staffer was much more warm and fuzzy about our animal issues. Nonetheless, we learned at the end of the meeting that Webb's staffer was shocked by the puppy mill information we provided. He expressed that he was now bnervous about where he and his girlfriend should look to get a puppy. Some of the constituents said I was an excellent leader and well-spoken. I was flattered, and only hope to improve in that respect. I was proud of myself, because I added the public health risks to children regarding unvaccinated and non-dewormed puppies. If someone is not an animal advocate, they usually cannot argue the public health side. It was my version of thinking on my feet and again an outgoing moment for me.

The Rally was fun and the weather, thankfully, was not too hot. Wayne spoke first and got the crowd pumped up. Wendi Mallick, from the TV show "Hot in Cleveland" spoke out on the ROAM Act. The ROAM Act (Restore Our American Mustangs) looks to end round-ups and slaughter of wild horses and burros, by implementing a immunocontraception program.
The Rally concluded with Rep. Jim Moran. I was told beforehand that he is a staunch supporter of our issues, but sometimes goes off on odd tangents during his speeches. This speech was no exception. Toward the end of his speech he started to bash the NRA, which is okay with me and funny, but seemed a little inappropriate.

I missed photo ops with Wendi to rush off to my 1 pm meeting with a staffer from my Rep. Boucher's office. She was very nice and I thanked him for being a co-sponsor on the PUPS Act, and voting in favor of many of our issues. She told me that Boucher heard from his constituents that they were upset about puppy mills and he listened. "All it takes is a few calls from his constituents and he listens and acts, she informed me." I mentioned the upcoming Truth in Fur Labeling House vote (which passed yesterday!), and started awareness on the Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act. As many people are, the staffer was outraged that some of her faux fur, is quite possibly real fur. Thank goodness for consumer protection loopholes.

After my last meeting, I walked back to our home base in Russell 385 and felt a slight let down that it was all over for the day. I really enjoyed meeting with the offices and felt for the first time what democracy can feel like. To be able to make an appointment and walk into my senators or congressman's office and voice my opinion was amazing. It would never happen in China.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Taking Action For Animals Conference: A Summary

Attending TAFA was invigorating, representing the Humane Society of the United States at TAFA was an honor. The workshops were very well-run and informative. Topics ranged from how to be an active citizen lobbyist, how to stop puppy mills, to advances in farm animal cruelty prevention and .

Many other organizations were represented on each panel in the many different workshops, including Farm Sanctuary, Animal Welfare Institute, among others.

The all vegan menu was surprisingly delicious and included a vegan rendition of chicken cordon bleu and chocolate mousse.

Working at the registration booth Friday night reminded me of working retail during my college days, but it was fun. I ran into a girl, Nicole, who was on my RAVS trip last summer. She won the award for HSVMA student of the year. She created a student chapter of HSVMA and helped to end terminal surgeries at her vet school. Her work inspired me to try to form a HSVMA Chapter at my vet school before I leave.

While working the government affairs table, I discovered a new side of myself. I was energized by the many interested citizen lobbyists, and those that may not have been interested in our lobby day bills I actively chose to engage. I urged people that could not attend lobby day to cal or write their senators and representative. I learned that 1 personal call or letter statistically represents 10,000 people with the same interest. So 1 call really does matter!

In another outgoing moment, I spoke to Nigel Barker and asked for a photo op. His work as a celebrity spokesperson, filmmaker and photographer has helped to end baby seal hunting in Canada.

The banquet was great. Congressmen Rahall from WV gave a great speech and we commended him for passing 11 wildlife bills through his committee during 2010. Hal Sparks was hilarious and I laughed harder than I had in a very long time. Wayne's speech was passionate and serious, but was interrupted by Spanish music in the adjacent ballroom. All the speeches made me question my own choices and made me wish our country was more in line with change. Wayne argues that the American public is ready, but government and interest groups are slowing the change process.

While the conference was exhausting on many levels, I am not only glad I was able to attend but that I was able to represent the Humane Society. And once again during the last 6 weeks, I feel invigorating and passionate for my career and all the many directions I can take.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

1st Day on Capitol Hill With HSUS

I returned from China with a greater appreciation for the freedom, wealth and opportunities we have in this country. For example in China, high school students take an exam similar to our SAT exam. Their 2 day performance on this test determines their entire future. It determines the college they attend and the major that is chosen for them based on their performance. In China your occupation is selected for you and almost all people are grateful for school and a job. They do not think about if they are fulfilled and passionate about their career they are thankful for food and their job and learn to like it. While my one Chinese friend, Nicole, may go against the grain and change her career, this is the main way of thinking. Another friend I met in China is lucky to major in Spanish because that is her interest, but the college that was selected for her is an engineering school with a brand new Spanish department. She will probably not be able to study abroad in Spain or South America because no exchange programs have been created yet. She expressed that learning Spanish in China is difficult, and this is a major disadvantage.

So for the reasons above, among many others, I am proud and privileged to be an American. Yesterday, however, I was frustrated to be an American. Despite wealth and intelligence, important and pressing issues may not advance and I am baffled as to why.

I attended the 3rd of 3 hearings concerning antibiotic resistance. Coincidentally, during my animals and public policy course last year I presented a paper on the urgency and precedence this issue must take in order to keep our antibiotics working for animal and human health. There were so many frustrations I do not exactly know where to start, so I will list them out:

  1. 3 Republican Representatives slammed the Obama Administration's health care reform bill (not the issue to be discussed) then left the room.
  2. 1 Representative discussed his own agenda with an expert witness from the FDA-Center for Veterinary Medicine regarding FDA jurisdiction over the illegal importation of counterfeit pharmaceutical drugs. He left the room after his time was finished.
  3. Despite a co-Chairman of this subcommittee, who was present at the meeting, raising the identical question of "Can antibiotic resistance in animals be passed to be people?" in 1980, there was debate over there has been enough peer-reviewed scientific evidence to enable Congress to act on this topic. 30 years have gone by and we are in the same place, only with more antibiotic resistance in humans and people.
  4. The argument was made that low-doses of tetracyclines in food animals increases their health without creating resistant organisms. What does vet school teach you in clinical pharmacology- low doses of any antibiotic in any living animal creates only resistance.
  5. One Representative stated, "Animal and human health are like apples and oranges." This statement had me enraged. How uneducated can you be. Animals carry the food-borne diseases that make us sick. In addition, if you want to use an ignorant analogy like that, a smarter way would be to say, " Animal and human health are like a granny smith and a red delicious apple."
  6. The representative for the AVMA stated there is not enough evidence to either prove or disprove that antibiotic resistance in animals is transferred to humans. Directly to her left was a veterinarian who works for the AVMA, who stated that in her professional experience she has seen many accounts that animal diseases with resistant strains of campylobacter have created human outbreaks of campylobacter that then did not respond to traditional antibiotic therapies. By the way, she also had a 3 inch binder of epidemioloigc studies.
  7. When asked the question, "Is there any scientific debate that antibiotic resistance in animals is transferred to humans?," the chief veterinary officer of CDC, the head of USDA-APHIS, and the head veterinarian for FDA all answered "No there is not."
  8. "World Health organization studies are irrelevant to American data."

I left very frustrated and frightened for the future. After 30 years, we still debate what 3 experts declare is not debatable instead of moving forward to protect an important class of drugs. I personally believe our government is too large and parties too divided with too many self-serving interests groups with money controlling the power or re-election to function properly.

I hope my next days on the Hill are a little more promising..and relevant.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Tai Tien China and Ni Hao USA

While I miss my family very much and want to finish my veterinary degree, I am reluctant to leave China. Over the past 2 weeks I have started making Chinese friends and they are amazing. Chinese hospitality for guests is like nothing I have ever experienced. I have also finally gotten comfortable going out alone; it only took 2+ weeks. I started becoming accustomed to the mental stimulation of just walking down the street.

My ultrasound work and anesthesia presentations went very well. The panda base definitely wants more vet students in the future and found it very helpful. I watched Luoli get much more comfortable with ultrasound, and she said she would continue ultrasounding the one pregnant panda we started working with.

The director of the panda base saw me off with a wonderful dinner of Chengdu tradition of hot pot. My flavor tolerance for spicy food increased like everyone told me and I impressed myself and my hosts with the amount of spicy food I could eat and enjoy.

I got to visit the Moon bear rescue center outside Chengdu. This is a reserve for bears involved in the medicinal bear bile trade. Bear farms are legal in China, but are slowly closing with the help of Animals for Asia. The treatment of these animals is appalling. They have permanent catheters or fistulas in their livers to collect bile. Most of them are cage-ridden for life and develop liver cancer and skin sores. Some bears develop worse medical conditions. Animals for Asia ( works with the Chinese government to shut down one farm at a time. China feels they cannot outlaw all of them at once because of the financial ruin it would cause to the farm owners.

I was disappointed that this isn't really exposed to the American public and hope that I can increase awareness to have this animal mistreatment stopped. The bear center is amazing. These bears have unlimited enrichment and medical care to live out the rest of their lives peacefully.

There is so much more I could write about, but I have to re-adjust to life as an American, which I appreciate more than ever. In summary, my 3 weeks in China were as life-changing as I hoped they would be. Being there fueled my passion to practice international veterinary medicine in the future. The East will need the help of Western-trained vets in species conservation and fighting zoonotic diseases.

I was blessed with the opportunity to create life long friendships on the other side of the world. Because I couldn't travel around the country, I am excited to go back to see more of Asia and China and to continue working as veterinarian in the future.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Lao Wai in Chengdu

I think things have been going pretty well. There is some down time, as the previous student here had told me, but that was to be expected. I have been working mainly with Lou Li, a Chinese vet, ultrasounding 1-3 pandas per day. In the non-pregnant pandas I am able to find the uterus, bladder, colon pretty easily. We were allowed to work on 1 pregnant panda and it hasn’t been as successful. They do not want to use alcohol because the pandas lick it, and this panda scratches the gel on as soon as you apply it. I also messed up yesterday by not cleaning her fur that we shaved off very well, so then it was getting stuck in the gel. Besides all of those issues, which are normal when working with animals, I can locate her bladder, but seem to be lost looking for other structures, which could be because she is pregnant. Lou Li is not mad at all and we will try again today.

We were talking about my last week and Lou Li seemed a little sad and asked if more of us will come. I said this is a trial program of what we hope to be a yearly exchange if it was helpful to you. She quickly and emphatically made it clear that she has enjoyed having us and hopes other students will come, so that was certainly a good sign. Mr. Wang Cheng Dung had attended 2 ultrasounds and seems a little frustrated to see the distinct outlines of each structure on ultrasound, which is not always possible, but I try. We all decided that I should give a presentation with our saved ultrasound images labeling the different structures, but the memory card doesn’t seem to fit in any of our computers, so we’ll see what happens with that.

There are 2 other Americans at the base, one is Chinese –American and it has been a blast to be with her. She and her family friend took me out last night for street food on Jin-Li and it was very fun. It felt good to be a tourist with locals who speak the language, and eat some pretty darn good albeit weird Chinese food.

Last night, on the panda base, and part of the time I was in Emei Shan are the few times I have felt comfortable being a foreigner or “lao wai.” I had been told it was derogatory by Americans. In the taxi last night I heard my friend say lao wai and the taxi driver say it. My Chinese friend kept saying, Chinese people like foreigners. This was conflicting since I hear “ lao wai” everywhere I walk. There is some interesting debate on this word (see, but my friend and the courtesy they showed me last night proved to me that it cannot be derogatory unconditionally.

As my last week in China approaches, I am both a little remorseful and a little home sick. I am craving a sandwich like none other, but have been truly happy working outside of my comfort zone. I am also very proud of myself for coming here and handling many of the adventures China has provided to me. I really have only had 1 rough day so far, not to shabby.

This weekend I am going to an ex-patriot restaurant to see how Westerners hang out in Chengdu, a Buddhist organic farm, and some more tourist temples, tea and shopping on Sunday. I toyed with the idea of seeing some blue-sky China, but figured I should see some of the fun aspects of Chengdu before I go. As I keep reminding my travel-loving self, this is a trip for veterinary and cultural experience. If I want to more extensively travel, I have to come back. It is comforting to know, I now have a good Chinese friend to travel with if the next opportunity crosses my path in the future.