If an organization truly cared about the health and welfare of animals, one would imagine they would be pretty big supporters of veterinarians, right? After all, veterinarians dedicate eight years of their lives (and a whole lot of money) to learning how to keep our livestock and pets healthy. The Veterinarian’s Oath states, “I solemnly swear to use my scientific knowledge and skills for the benefit of society through the protection of animal health and welfare,” and “the prevention and relief of animal suffering.” Sounds like a concept any animal lover could get behind.

That’s why I was surprised to read a few days ago that the American Veterinary Medical Association is launching a new hotline and reputation management service to help veterinarians combat “cyber-bullying” (being targeted on social media and websites with false information, fake reviews, etc.). It turns out that one impetus for this new service was a stunt pulled by animal rights activists in 2015.

During the summer of 2015, the American Veterinary Medical Foundation was running its annual “America’s Favorite Veterinarian” contest, meant to be a positive celebration of the people who care for our animals. Unfortunately, animal rights activists “hijacked” the contest and launched what the AVMF called “a vicious cyber-bullying attack” against the 20 finalists for the award.

One veterinarian was called “a whore, a butcher, a mutilator, a hack, an animal hater, a disgrace to the profession.” As the chair of the AVMF board was quoted as saying, “apparently, many of the so-called animal activists have no problem practicing cruelty to human beings.”

At the American Association of Bovine Practitioners meeting earlier this year, a great session focused on why veterinarians should engage with their communities to help combat misinformation about farming and ranching. I was hopeful that many attendees would seek opportunities for outreach, but more than one person told me incidents like the one above would prevent them from doing so. They were afraid that being outspoken about animal agriculture on social media would draw attention from activists and make them targets for similar attacks.

It is beyond sad to me that members of a profession dedicated to caring for animals have to fear retaliation from extremists simply for sharing their experiences. I hope the new reputation management tools from AVMA will help veterinarians feel more confident in adding their voices to the dialog on animal care, because their expertise is sorely needed.

Editor’s Note: Hannah Thompson is the Communications Director at the Animal Agriculture Alliance, and we welcome her as a contributor to PorkNetwork. For more information on the Alliance, go to: www.animalagalliance.org