There are people-you’ve met them-who love their pets far more than many parents love their children. Don’t mock them. Don’t pity them. Be grateful. Odds are their veterinarians will play a bigger role in saving your life-or the life of your sick child-than your own doctor.Veterinarians for pampered pets will soon be in the vanguard of human health care, and the reason is regulatory. Controversial restrictions on embryonic-stem-cell research and cloning effectively squelch efforts to bring these biotechnologies to bear on human therapies. The moral quandaries and bioethical concerns underlying these restrictions can’t be dismissed. But the different standards we apply to animals create provocative loopholes for the innovative and opportunistic biomedical entrepreneur.
Please follow the money. Legally, ethically, morally-and yes, even financially-pet lovers are superbly positioned to fund breakthrough biotechnology treatments and genetic therapies for their loved ones. Americans now spend $19 billion a year on veterinary care, up from $11 billion just seven years ago, according to a recent New Yorker article on pet care. That $19 billion figure approximates the research and development budget for the National Institutes of Health, which oversee public medical research funding in the United States. The rate of growth remains robust.
But even more significant than mere money is the rapidly increasing sophistication of veterinary care. Little more than 20 years ago, the New Yorker observed, all vets were general practitioners, and neutering and spaying were among the most elaborate procedures they performed. Today you can take your pet to a veterinary cardiologist, oncologist, radiologist, or ophthalmologist-indeed, the American Veterinary Medical Association now includes more than 7,000 such specialists.