Alabama Veterinary Medical Examiners Board denies Alabama Veterinary Practice Owners Association request to deny licenses to nonprofit clinics
MONTGOMERY––The Alabama Veterinary Medical Examiners Board on October 10, 2012 unanimously rejected a rule proposed by the Alabama Veterinary Practice Owners Association which could have closed all four nonprofit dog and cat sterilization clinics in the state.
The vote came between two closed-door executive sessions, and after a morning hearing on the proposed rule change, reported Anniston Star correspondent Tim Lockette. About 100 animal advocates and shelter volunteers filled every seat in the house, and more than a dozen people waited in a room outside, Lockette said.
18 witnesses opposed rule change
All 18 witnesses who testified at the hearing opposed the proposed rule change, which would have prohibited anyone but licensed veterinarians from providing equipment or facilities used in veterinary procedures on animals. Unlike human care physicians, who often serve patients through nonprofit or municipally owned hospitals, veterinarians would not have been allowed to work in clinics furnished by nonprofit organizations or government agencies. Humane societies and animal control agencies would thereby have been excluded from offering low-cost sterilization surgery.
“This appears to be another attempt by some in the veterinary community to eliminate competition,” assessed Vox Felina blogger Peter Wolf, citing an e-mail distributed by Eric R. Lewis, DVM, communications officer for the Alabama Veterinary Practice Owners Association and owner of the Bell Road Animal Medical Center in Montgomery since 1992.
Contended Lewis, “The state laws were crafted to protect the animals in this state from inhumane procedural activities that are necessary to provide the volume of procedures that these non-profit spay/neuter agencies require in order to remain viable…The individuals and collective agencies behind these assaults, whether through well meaning but misguided intentions, or avarice and greed, pose a serious threat to our profession and to the animals in this state. The only ones who are standing to protect them are the veterinarians.”
Alabama Veterinary Practice Owners Association put profits first
Lewis statement disregarded that high-volume, low-cost dog and cat sterilization clinics, such as the Foundation Against Companion Animal Euthanasia in Indianapolis, have for decades eclipsed the cumulative records of private practice veterinarians in preventing post-surgical complications.
The Alabama Veterinary Practice Owners Association by contrast clearly put profits first in the “Economics and Politics” section of the AVPOA web site. “Like most small business owners, veterinarians are finding their profit margins, their staff, and their own time, strangled ever more by government regulations, taxes, fees and penalties,” the AVPOA web site said, adding that the AVPOA “is positioning itself in the forefront of policing the issues that affect the business of managing a successful veterinary practice.”
E-mailed Adam Cooner, DVM of the Animal Medical Center in Anniston, to Laura Camper of the Anniston Star, “The board members have presented this rule change under the auspices of ensuring quality veterinary care, failing to see the irony in the fact that they inspected and licensed these clinics and the veterinarians who work in them in the first place.”
Football & s/n
“You don’t have to have played football in order to successfully own a football team,” Saving Animals through Volunteer Effort board member Lu Moseley told Lockette of the Anniston Star.
The Calhoun County organization takes pets to a Birmingham-area nonprofit clinic, Alabama Spay/Neuter, “which provides sterilization for pets for a base price of $45 to $65,” explained Lockette.
“Alabama Spay/Neuter owns the equipment used in the clinic, although the veterinary practice is owned by veterinarian William Weber, who also owns Eastwood Animal Clinic, a private practice about two miles from the nonprofit clinic,” elaborated Camper.
“In 50 years, I have seen thousands and thousands of animals suffer because of animal overpopulation and I will do anything to stop it,” said Weber.
“We see animals who see no other vet”
“Alabama Spay/Neuter serves a population that these vets who are so against these clinics don’t see,” said SAVE volunteer Margaret Hatley. “The people we serve have pets who have probably never seen a vet.”
“We see a lot of animals who do not get seen by any other vet. The rabies shot we give is often the first shot that animal has had,” agreed Alabama Animal Alliance veterinarian Rebecca Davison to Kim Chandler of the Birmingham News.
Greater Birmingham Humane Society attorney Bill Mudd predicted that the proposed rule change would “create an animal explosion in this state.” Alabama shelters killed more than 100,000 homeless dogs and cats in 2011, more per 1,000 residents than the shelters of 45 of the other 49 U.S. states, but 20% fewer than five years earlier, before the four nonprofit sterilization clinics opened.
“The four clinics have performed nearly 80,000 sterilization surgeries for humane shelters and qualifying low-income pet owners,” testified American SPCA southern region legislative director Sherry Rout.
“Losing the nonprofit clinics would be catastrophic”
“Losing these clinics would be catastrophic for Alabama,” agreed Alley Cat Allies cofounder and president Becky Robinson. “The price of a life-saving spay/neuter surgery could go from less than $50 to more than $300!”
Mobilizing on short notice, Alley Cat Allies “polled all 545 veterinary clinics in the state and posted their positions on our website,” Robinson recounted. “Then we engaged residents all across Alabama to confront those veterinarians who supported the rule change.”
Testified Humane Society of the U.S. vice president for companion animals Betsy McFarland, “In the HSUS Pets for Life program, we are learning that in the under-served communities where we work, 53% of owners of unaltered pets surveyed had never seen a veterinarian before.
“Nonprofit spay/neuter programs help remove the barriers to veterinary care and increase general pet wellness,” McFarland said. “They also introduce many pet owners to the value of veterinary medicine. As HSUS and the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association argued, not only would the rule have had a tremendous negative impact on progress to reduce pet homelessness, but it would have contradicted state and federal law, and was submitted in violation of Alabama’s Administrative Procedure Act.”
“I think you’ll see court action”
“I think you ll see court action––it’s inevitable,” Alabama Veterinary Medical Association president William M. Allen, DVM, told DVM Magazine correspondent Julie Scheidegger before the October 10, 2012 vote. “The nonprofit clinics won’t just roll over––the courts are where it will be decided. It won’t be up to Alabama. It may be decided in Alabama, but not because of our wisdom.”
Allen also doubted that the money to be made from putting nonprofit clinics out of business would be worth the fight. “Spays and neuters probably have never made veterinarians any money––it’s always been a low-cost item, even below cost to keep clients happy,” he said. “Losing it or gaining it is really not that big of a factor.”
The Alabama Veterinary Medical Examiners Board vote came a week after five state senators and the 750-member Alabama Veterinary Medical Association asked the board to delay voting until the 2013 state legislative session.
Bill to specifically allow nonprofit clinics is pending
State senator Bill Holtzman and four colleagues warned the board that drafts of a bill to specifically allow nonprofit veterinary clinics recently cleared both houses of the Alabama legislature, but had not yet been reconciled and passed in final form when the 2012 legislative session expired.
Wrote Allen on behalf of the Alabama Veterinary Medical Association, “The veterinary profession in this state has been damaged by the preponderance of negative publicity related to the veterinary ownership issue.”
But Allen cited a different issue from the anticipated effect of the proposed rule on the nonprofit clinics. Instead, Allen mentioned, “the proposed rule is being interpreted by those in the food animal producer groups to mean that they can no longer own a dehorner or castration knife.”