By Dr. Sally Foote, DVM
I’ve just returned from the Western Veterinary Conference in Las Vegas, which I attended as an exhibitor with CattleDog Publishing, the company created by Dr Sophia Yin. Vetz Petz, an Australian based supplement company, featured Cesar Millan at the booth. Mr. Milan is the celebrity spokesperson for Vetz Petz and it’s Antinol® joint supplement where Mr. Millan is featured on the packaging & advertising.
I am sure many readers are aware of Cesar Millan. His show on National Geographic is popular, despite his use of outdated force and flooding training methods. The dog may show a decrease in aggression, yet the method of training often results in injury to Cesar himself or to another animal. This is a common result of force based training – increased aggression, fear and anxiety. Mr. Millan may talk as if he is knowledgeable about behavior and interpreting the animal in training’s body language, but often his observations are not accurate. The use of force causes pain, inhibits normal fear warning behaviors and increases anxiety and fear. For this reason, I question if he is the appropriate spokesperson for any veterinary or animal health product.
A number of board certified behaviorists stopped by the booth to talk to the Executive Director Kevin Cook about the choice of Cesar Millan as a spokesperson. Dr. Gary Landsburg, Dr. Theresa DePorter, Dr. Lynn Honeckman directly asked why the choice was made for Cesar Millan and not another celebrity. They were not satisfied with the answers given to them, sparking face book posts to draw attention to the situation. Two of the doctors stopped by the CattleDog booth with a request for me to stop by Vetz Petz to address the situation. I stopped by the booth where I diplomatically asked the executive director, “Why Cesar Millan?” Mr. Cook said he had no idea there was controversy over Mr. Milan. I responded that I was surprised about that. I asked why Mr. Millan over other media personalities – because he draws a large crowd was the response. Their choice was all about increasing foot traffic to their booth. Mr. Cook did pledge that after Cesar Millan’s contract is over, it would not be renewed. With that, I thanked him and said I would look forward to that.
Why am I writing this? It’s not about the choice of Cesar Millan, but about our response as veterinarians. When a company brings a representative that is opposite of proven science and veterinary medicine, it requires a response. I’m not aware of how many veterinarians or other professionals passed by that booth and were upset about Cesar Millan’s promotion. According to Kevin Cook, not many. That may be true – I don’t know how he defines “many”. In any event, the leaders in veterinary behavior did make their feelings known. When professionals tire of speaking up because our voice is not heard and they go silent, this concerns me. I know not everyone is comfortable confronting an executive director of a company at a large conference, but there are other ways to be clear with the public on who and what is good for animal care and welfare.
The 5 freedoms from hunger/thirst, discomfort, pain, express normal behavior, and fear and distress are essential for all animals. When we see trainers, veterinarians, and animal care workers interacting with animals, we must keep these in our minds. Speaking up – in a diplomatic, respectful way – allows us to improve who ends up marketing products for animal care. Why a company chooses a spokesperson and how much attention they give to the background, integrity and relevancy of the spokesman to the product is just as important as scientific research and safety, in my opinion.
If this company was so relaxed in screening a spokesperson, how careful are they with the product they manufacture?