America's Favorite Veterinarian contest called off after cyberbullying

What was supposed to be a contest crowning America's Favorite Veterinarian turned into a cat fight.

Once the American Veterinary Medical Foundation announced its finalists, animal activists targeted those who declaw. The cyber attacks got so vicious, the contest was actually called off.

Two of the top twenty finalists are from our area.

Dr. Mitsie Vargas, owner of Orchid Springs Animal Hospital, keeps cats purring in Winter Haven. "Love for animals, that is my main motivator," she said.

Dr. Christy Layton of Timberlane Pet Hospital and Resort keeps dogs barking in Plant City. "It was really neat to have the whole community behind me on this. For us, it was like a grassroots effort," Layton said.

"We were just gung ho," said Vargas. "My clients were very excited, voting every day."

Amid the excitement, there was soon a 21st competitor: activists, passionately and aggressively against cat declawing.

Vargas and Layton say they rarely do the procedure and see it as a last resort. "It is made to save that bond between the owner and their pet," Vargas said.

"I don't believe in declaws, to be honest," Layton said. "I don't do very many of them."

Still, activists' claws came out, pouncing on almost all the vets in the running.

"They were calling the practices, they were posting negative reviews on Google," Vargas said.  "They were calling here saying that I was maiming cats and it was hurtful."

At Layton's office, she said, "We had a lot of nasty facebook posts, saying things like we should be in jail, we should have our license removed."

According to the AVMF, activists went so far as to call one contestant "a butcher, a mutilator, a hack, an animal hater and a disgrace to the profession."

The Foundation pulled the plug on the contest, blaming a "vicious cyber-bullying attack" for disrupting and contaminating the process.

Layton, who was ranked first when the contest ended, wished it would have continued. "I worry by ending the contest, they actually allowed them to, in essence, win. The way that our country does business is changing and we can't even have a simple contest to pick America's favorite veterinarian without having certain people and their agendas taking over."

Though voting was cut short, there's a silver lining. All twenty finalists were awarded the title: "America's Favorite Veterinarian."

"The right thing happened, the animals benefit, and that's what keeps me smiling," Vargas said.

On top of the title, each vet gets a $500 prize. Both Vargas and Layton are donating that money to local animal organizations and shelters.