There are far too many stray dogs and cats on our streets, with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals estimating that the number of cats alone could be almost 70 million.
Shelters take in 6 to 8 million homeless animals each year, says The Humane Society of the United States, and many must be euthanized.
Many experts and animal advocates say that the best way to combat the problem is through spaying and neutering animals.
Since 2007, low-cost, non-profit spay-neuter clinics in Alabama – there are presently four around the state, including Alabama Spay/Neuter in Irondale – have helped serve this need, particularly for people who can’t afford to pay typical veterinary charges.
However, the clinics could be shut down if the Alabama State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners (ASBVME) adopts new, tougher regulations at its October 10 meeting in Montgomery.
The Board wishes to more strictly enforce a ban on non-veterinarians hiring veterinarians.
And the Board plans to go further, prohibiting non-veterinarians, including non-profit groups, from owning veterinarian equipment or even renting or providing space to a veterinarian.
The Board president, Dr. Robert Pitman, an Athens, Ala., veterinarian, has suggested that there is evidence of substandard care at the clinics, and that non-veterinarians have had too much control over the veterinarians at the clinics and how they give care.
Rhonda Parker, Birmingham resident and state chairman of Alabama Voters for Responsible Animal Legislation (ARVAL), dismisses the charges of less-than-quality care at the low-cost facilities.
“[The Board has] been in charge of inspecting and regulating these non-profit clinics since 2007 and have never found cause to charge them with substandard care,” Parker told Weld Local in an email.
Parker added, “If there was substandard care, why didn’t the ASBVME investigate it and issue a citation? It’s their job.”
Veterinarians may be worried too much about eliminating competition and not enough about animal welfare, according to Parker. “In order to reduce the severe pet overpopulation problem, we’ve got to have some form of low-cost spay neuter programs across the state,” she said. “Vets cannot proceed to ignore the fact that people simply cannot pay typical private vet prices for sterilization services.”
Parker cites statistics from the Alabama Veterinary Medical Association putting the number of animals killed in shelters each year between 400,000 and 450,000, adding that some sources put the number closer to 250,000.
Parker sees other negative effects that could result if the clinics close, citing a possible “increase in feral animals that can pose danger to community residents….and of course, the deaths of hundreds of thousands healthy, adoptable shelter animals.”
Some of those animals might fail to be adopted because someone who wants an animal may not be able to afford a large vet bill to have the animal sterilized. Kelli Holmes of the Greater Birmingham Humane Society told CBS-TV 42, “If we’re not allowed to have a vet on site you know what does that do for us as far as trying to get the animals adopted out.”
The dispute over the clinics came close to a solution in the Alabama legislature during the 2012 regular session when Rep. Patricia Todd (D-Birmingham) sponsored House Bill 156, which would have allowed an exemption to the rule for spay and neuter clinics. It was approved by a House-Senate conference committee but was killed on the session’s final day when it was not brought to a final vote.
The Federal Trade Commission came down in favor of Todd’s bill, according to a letter from the FTC to Todd, April 26, 2012, which stated, “FTC staff believe the Bill is likely to benefit consumers by increasing consumer access to, and choices among, spay and neuter services for their pet.”
But ASBVME president Pitman said in an American Animal Hospital Association magazine article earlier in 2012, at the time that Todd’s bill was being considered, that the board has evidence that non-veterinarians were allowing substandard care at the facilities.
As reported by Dana Beyerle of The Tuscaloosa News and others. Pitman said that under HB 156, any nonprofit organization could own a clinic and give orders to a veterinarian. “This is certainly not in the best interest of the pet-owning public,” he said.
And a vet at Alabama Spay/Neuter, Dr. Margaret Ferrell, told Kim Chandler of The Birmingham News that she is in charge of medical decisions. “If I don’t think [an animal is] a good candidate for surgery, they don’t get surgery. They get referred to a veterinarian,” Ferrell said.
“If the ASBVME fear is that non-vets are going to oversee medical decisions, that’s wrong,” Parker said. “Vets make the decisions on medical care. If the nonprofits ran a bad business model and animals suffered for it, they’d go out of business. Physicians don’t own the hospitals they operate in. The same principle applies here.”
The Gadsden Times, in a recent op-ed, noted both the increasing technical sophistication and ever-rising costs of veterinary medicine and suggested that veterinarians should help craft a solution.
“Low-cost rabies vaccination clinics are held each year, and while we understand those shots are mandated by law, we think there’s an equally compelling public interest in the availability of low-cost spaying and neutering,” the Times op-ed stated. “If it’s not going to be at these clinics… then veterinarians across Alabama need to step up and meet that need.”
Weld Local sought comment from the ASBVME and was as referred to Board President Pitman. We left messages seeking comment but did not hear from Dr. Pitman before our press time.
Several other outlets, including The Birmingham News, The Tuscaloosa News and WHNT-TV, were also unable to get comment from the Board.
Board attorney Alyce Addison told The Dothan Eagle recently that the rule would clarify existing state law and added, “People can voice their opinion about the rules before the board on October 10,” she said. “Written comments will be considered and comments will be heard before the board makes a decision on the rules.”
Letters of comment, Parker tells her group’s supporters, are more effective than emails or phone calls, and should be sent to Alabama State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners, c/o Tammy Wallace, 8 Commerce Street, Ste. 910, Montgomery, Ala. 36130.
Parker also suggests sending copies of your letters to Mark Nelson, Alabama Spay/Neuter,2721 Crestwood Blvd., Irondale, Ala.
Jesse Chambers is the editor of Weld Local. Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.