Indianapolis Star investigates complex issue of pet meds industry

Photo by Robert Scheer, staff photographer of the Indianapolis Star.

Photo by Robert Scheer, staff photographer of the Indianapolis Star.

The story idea began when Indianapolis Star reporter John Russell learned of the extraordinary efforts undertaken by Dr. Nimu Surtani and his wife Laura to determine the cause of death of Sesame, their golden doodle. Sesame was an otherwise healthy dog that died quickly and suddenly for no obvious reason.

The couple’s research led them to Trifexis, a flea and tick medication developed by Elanco, the animal drug division of Eli Lilly and Co., which is headquartered in Indianapolis.

The idea turned into a lengthy three-part series written by Russell and edited by Steve Berta, The Star’s Senior Content Coach. The pieces were published on December 13, 18 and 21. In the opening paragraphs, Russell states:

“Yet, in the first examination by a major news organization of one of the fastest-growing segments of the pharmaceutical industry, The Star found an industry far different from the human drug market, one with higher risk of unforeseen side effects, a legal arena that offers little protection to pet owners and marketing tactics that have been eliminated from the human drug market.

“The Star examined public records, studies and drug reaction data, and conducted interviews with company officials, pet owners, scientists, lawyers, epidemiologists, regulators and veterinarians. They told the story of an industry that is looking for ways to shore up declining revenues from human drugs, repurposing molecules that had an array of original uses for people and crops, and pushing government officials to speed up the approval process.”

Jerry and I don’t necessarily agree or disagree with Russell’s series but we thought it interesting and thought-provoking enough to post. Most importantly, we are not denigrating veterinarians. We have wonderful relationships with several vets. They are integral parts of our business and provide invaluable service and guidance. And one of my brothers, Jake, just retired from a decades-long career as a vet.

Today, The Indianapolis Star published an opinion piece written by the president and president-elect of the Indiana Veterinary Medical Association.

That’s the best feature of investigative journalism. It opens doors, raises awareness and starts discussions.

Below are excerpts from each part of the series.

Part 1:  Pets at risk

“Last year, the third-biggest initial public offering on Wall Street was a pet medicine company, Zoetis, a spinoff from drug giant Pfizer. This year, Lilly said it would pay $5 billion to acquire Novartis’ animal medicine, which would make Lilly the animal health industry’s second-largest player.

“Some drugs aren’t even approved for animal use but are commonly prescribed to animals. Their safety record isn’t even tracked by the government, meaning it’s impossible for consumers to make informed decisions.

“In stark contrast to the world of human medicine, veterinarians, researchers and industry are free to work closely together, with little to no transparency about drug company freebies and speaking fees paid to veterinarians.

“The FDA says it lacks the regulatory authority to mandate the recall of animal or human drugs. All it can do is issue a warning and work with manufacturers to launch a voluntary recall.”

Photo by Robert Scheer, staff photographer of the Indianapolis Star.

Photo by Robert Scheer, staff photographer of the Indianapolis Star.

Part 2:  Drug companies’ loose purse strings woo vets

“The AVMA, the nation’s largest association of veterinarians, with 85,000 members, accepts hundreds of thousands of dollars a year from drugmakers for its massive conventions.

“That’s not to say that those who are doing the prescribing — the nation’s veterinarians — don’t have animals’ best interest at heart, or are especially susceptible to industry money.

“But The Star’s investigation reveals a greater potential for abuse because the pet medicine industry is allowed to target veterinarians with marketing practices banned from the realm of human medicine.

“In recent decades, pharmaceutical companies have been investing billions of dollars in pet medicines for the promise they hold to launch new drugs quickly and profitably. And they treat veterinarians not just as medical professionals, but as an important distribution channel to be wooed every step of the way.

“But veterinarians also serve another important role: as the primary distribution arm of the medicines they prescribe. Most human drugs are purchased at pharmacies, but the nation’s 90,000 veterinarians sell most of the nation’s pet medicines. And they make money on every prescription they dispense.

“In fact, drug sales provide as much as 30 percent of a typical veterinary clinic’s revenues, according to Veterinary Practice News, a trade journal. And veterinary consultants speak openly about the need to more than double the price of drugs to turn a healthy profit.”

Photo by Robert Scheer, staff photographer of the Indianapolis Star.

Photo by Robert Scheer, staff photographer of the Indianapolis Star.

Part 3:  What’s a dog’s love worth? Legally, nothing.

“In many ways, the economics of the pet medicine industry are knotted in a single question: What’s a dog’s love worth? It’s a question that’s fraught with consequences for the drug industry and pet owners alike.

“If you consider your dog or cat to be a member of the family — not just a pet or a piece of property — then you are more likely to take better care of it. You will visit the vet more often. You probably will buy more medicine.

“According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, if you view your dog as a family member, you will spend about $438 a year on care. Those who consider a dog property — as laws in most states do — spend about $190.

“The problem, some attorneys, economists and animal rights groups say, is that stopping pet owners from collecting meaningful damages breaks down an important part of the free-market system.

“When pet owners can’t hold companies responsible in court, manufacturers have little to fear in launching potentially harmful products.

“”If the liability is limited,” said John P. Young, vice president of the Indiana Trial Lawyers Association, “why would they put all that money into testing and research?”

“Drugmakers would be especially vulnerable to lawsuits, “because these manufacturers are perceived to have deep pockets, particularly when compared to local veterinarians.””

Bird dogs and the Pareto Principle

Applying the Paretto Principle, or the 80/20 rule, 20% of grouse hunters bag 80% of the birds.

Applying the Paretto Principle, or the 80/20 rule, to grouse hunting: 20% of hunters bag 80% of the birds.

In some recent reading, I came across a reference to the Pareto Principle.

Vilfredo Pareto was an Italian economist who, in 1906, discovered an unequal distribution of land ownership in his country:  80% of the land was owned by 20% of the population.

Later discoveries and studies concurred with Pareto’s simple yet crucial finding and suggested this distribution can be applied to many things. It also gained new names:
•    80/20 rule
•    principle of factor sparsity
•    law of the vital few and trivial many

So what does this have to do with bird dogs?  I see several applications—from breeding and competition to hunting.

Not only are 20% of the breeding dogs producing 80% of the outstanding puppies, but I think it applies to dog breeders. In other words, about 20% of the breeders are turning out 80% of the high quality dogs.

How about dogs competing in field trials? Theoretically, every dog entered has a chance to win but usually only a few are truly likely to win. Too, in any given season, a vital few will win a large share of the competitions.

In A Passion for Grouse, John Kubisiak, Wisconsin wildlife researcher, conducted intensive grouse studies on the Sandhill Wildlife Area. His concluded that “about 20 percent of the hunters bagged all the grouse.” That’s probably true. While many hunt grouse, few are successful.

Photo above © Chris Mathan, The Sportsman’s Cabinet.

The California Chukar Championship & Derby

The California Chukar Championship and companion derby stake are held in a valley against the beautiful backdrop of the Alabama Hills.

The California Chukar Championship and companion derby stake are held in a valley against the beautiful backdrop of the Alabama Hills.

The differences in field trial venues across the U.S. are amazing. Jerry and I are very familiar with grouse trial grounds, whether aspen cuttings of the Lake States, Pennsylvania’s  more open, mature forests or thick cover of the northern New England. Too, we’ve seen trials held on wide open prairies and historic plantations in the South.

But the location of the California Chukar Championsip and Derby in Lone Pine is vastly different.

Lone Pine, California, is in Owens Valley with the Sierra Nevada mountain range to the west and the Alabama Hills to the east. It’s considered high desert (average annual precipitation less than six inches) with an elevation of 3,727 feet.

It’s so stunning that movie producers have used various locations in the area for decades. Actors from movies long ago include John Wayne, Bing Crosby, Humphrey Bogart, Spencer Tracy and Barbara Stanwyck while more current actors are Jeff Bridges, Russell Crowe and Robert Downey, Jr.

Bill Owen moves in to flush for Northwoods Charles in the California Chukar Derby held near Lone Pine, California, in mid November.

Bill Owen moves in to flush for Northwoods Charles in the California Chukar Derby held near Lone Pine, California, in mid November.

That we know about the trial is due to Bill Owen, a Californian and amateur competitor on the all-age circuit, who bought a puppy from us out of Northwoods Chardonnay by CH Ridge Creek Cody in 2012. His brother Steve (from Montana) had bought a puppy from us in 2011 out of Northwoods Blue Ox x Northwoods Chablis and, also in 2012, a CH Houston’s Blackjack x Northwoods Chablis male.

The championship and companion derby, hosted by the Setter Springs Field Trial Club, were held in mid November. Following are the placements.

California Chukar Championship (27 dogs)
•    Champion:  Utah’s Red Rock Express (pointer male), owned by Herb Anderson, handled by Rich Robertson
•    Runner-Up:  Highground Jax Jabba (setter male), owned by Chuck and Kara Kunde, handled by Lori Steinshauer

California Chukar Derby (16 dogs)
•    1st Place:  Scent Seeker (pointer male), owned and handled by Ed Dixon
•    2nd Place:  Tekoa Mountain Bulldog (setter male), owned and handled by Bill Owen
•    3rd Place:  Northwoods Charles (setter male), owned and handled by Bill Owen

This isn’t the first time Bill has campaigned Charlie, nor is it the first time the dog has placed. Charlie won the derby held in conjunction with the Cascade All-Age Championship and placed third in the Larry Brech Memorial Open Derby Classic. Bill commented:  “He’s coming along really well. Took him chukar hunting after the trial. Had 9 finds in 90 minutes!!!!”

ca chukar ch scenery 460

CH Shadow Oak Bo: the cover dog

blog bo as cover dog 460

“Yikes!” I thought. “I know that dog.”

I was browsing the magazine section of The Bookshelf, a very nice shop in Thomasville, Georgia, where Jerry and I are living for the winter. On the cover of the December 2014/January 2015 issue of upscale Garden & Gun, was Shadow Oak Bo, sire of one of our 2014 litters.

But Bo is a cover dog because he’s the champion in back-to-back wins of the National Championship (2013-14) and the first setter to do so since 1901-02.

The photograph by Robb Aaron Gordon is a beautiful close-up of Bo from the front.  His dark nose and upper body are slightly blurred so the focus becomes Bo’s eyes—brown and fringed with white lashes. To me, those eyes reveal an inner calmness, kindness and sensibility.

The feature section is titled “Best of the Sporting South” and Tom Keer writes a good story about Bo and his triumvirate—Butch Houston and John Dorminy as owners and Robin Gates as trainer and handler.

All eight puppies out of Northwoods Chardonnay by CH Shadow Oak Bo are tri-color. The litter at seven weeks of age are caught in a rare, quiet moment.

All eight puppies (here at seven weeks of age) out of Northwoods Chardonnay by CH Shadow Oak Bo are tri-color.

When Paul Hauge, our partner in many ownerships and breedings, bought Northwoods Chardonnay early last summer, Paul and Jerry agreed that Bo would be a great fit for Chardonnay. Using frozen semen, we bred her via surgical implantation and on August 8, she whelped three males and five females. Paul picked two females and we picked two females and all four are with us now in Georgia.

The puppies are barely four months old but we’re impressed so far. They inherited Bo’s calm nature and the light-footed grace of Chardonnay. It will be fun to develop them and interesting to see them mature.

Who knows what we’ll have, but we’re always optimistic. Especially with a sire like Bo.

Garden & Gun magazine.

Northwoods Birds Dogs    53370 Duxbury Road, Sandstone, Minnesota 55072
Jerry: 651-492-7312     |      Betsy: 651-769-3159     |           |      Directions
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