Nonprofit clinic suspends operations
COLUMBIANA, Alabama––A three-year push by Alabama for-profit veterinarians to close the four nonprofit spay/neuter clinics in the state partially succeeded during the last week of April 2014 when charges brought against William B. Weber, DVM and the nonprofit Alabama Spay/Neuter Clinic in Irondale intimidated Joy Baird, DVM into suspending operations at the North Alabama Spay/Neuter Clinic in Huntsville.
“I am unwilling to endure what poor Dr. Weber has been put through by the ASBVME,” Baird e-mailed to the North Alabama Spay/Neuter Clinic board. “I plan on closing the clinic effective immediately. The only way I will reopen is if Dr. Weber gets a victory and I feel certain that I will not get dragged into a lawsuit myself…I am very, very sorry. I know this will be a huge inconvenience for rescue organizations.”
Opened in August 2010, the North Alabama Spay/Neuter Clinic closed temporarily in March 2011, after losing veterinarian Dawn Tucker. Baird reopened the clinic in January 2012.
Pressure from the Alabama State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners earlier obliged the Shelby Humane Society to limit the procedures performed by veterinarians and veterinary technicians at a one-day vaccination drive sandwiched between Good Friday and Easter 2014 .
“Clinic will only provide vaccines”
“Organizers of the vaccine clinic scheduled for April 19, 2014 in the Town of Wilsonville regret to inform you that this clinic will only be providing rabies vaccines,” the Shelby Humane Society posted less than 48 hours before the clinic was held. “The suspension of standard annual vaccines and microchipping has been directed by the Alabama State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners,” the announcement continued, “after they received a complaint from a local veterinarian citing ‘unfair competition.’”
“We heard this same song during this year’s legislative debate about low cost spay/neuter clinics,” recalled the political news web site Left In Alabama.
Fighting a bill that would have specifically authorized the existence of the nonprofit clinics, Left In Alabama recounted, “Representative David Standridge, R-Hayden, said the clinics have an unfair advantage over veterinarians who provide the same services, and he argued vociferously against the bill. Standridge did not mention in the debate that, according to his profile page on the Alabama House’s website, his son is a veterinarian.”
14,000 sterilizations per year
Joshua Standridge, DVM, younger son of David Standridge, operates the Blount Animal Clinic in Cleveland, Alabama. The Blount Animal Clinic is within the 13-county region served since 2008 by Alabama Spay/Neuter, the clinic founded by William B. Weber, DVM. Based in Irondale, a suburb of Birmingham, the multi-vet Alabama Spay/Neuter team performs as many as 14,000 dog and cat sterilizations per year, including about 2,000 feral cat sterilizations.
“The Alabama State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners has been conducting administrative hearings for months against Dr. Weber because of his association with the Alabama Spay/Neuter Clinic,” alleged Alabama Media Group community engagement specialist Joey Kennedy. “Weber is a well-respected veterinarian who has compassion for the animals he treats. He believes in the importance of spay/neuter to reduce the population of unwanted dogs and cats and to lower the awful euthanasia rate in the state,” Kennedy said.
“Bullying by the Alabama State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners”
The vaccine clinic action, Kennedy explained, came after “For the third straight year, a bill that would protect the state’s nonprofit spay/neuter clinics was defeated. The bill didn’t lose on a straight up/down vote. In fact, it may have passed by a good margin had there been a vote. Sponsored by state Representative Patricia Todd, D-Birmingham, the bill did well in the Alabama House,” passing on February 25, 2014, “and made it out of a Senate committee by an 8-4 margin (8-4). It failed because Republican Senator Paul Bussman, from Cullman, threatened to shut down the Senate with a filibuster if the bill was brought up. Bussman knew he couldn’t win a fair fight, so he didn’t try.”
Kennedy attributed Bussman’s stance to “bullying by the Alabama State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners, led by board president Robert Pitman and former member Ronald Welch, who, thankfully, was replaced earlier this year after one stormy term. Pitman runs Limestone County Animal Control,” in Athens, “where he makes money from taxpayers by putting down unwanted animals,” Kennedy alleged.
Alabama Governor Robert Bentley appointed Montgomery Humane Society board member Mickey Golden, DVM, to succeed Welch, who practices in Wetumpka. Golden owns and operates the Golden Animal Hospital in Montgomery. Golden is to serve until 2017.
Pitman’s term on the Alabama State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners is to expire later in 2014.
Along with Pitman and Welch, opposition to nonprofit veterinary services has been led by Buddy Bruce, DVM, of Opelika. Bruce is president of the Alabama Veterinary Practice Owners Association, described by Kennedy as “a small group that split from the state Veterinary Medical Association and was created primarily to fight against the nonprofit spay/neuter clinics. Bruce used misinformation and scare tactics in his fight against spay/neuter this year,” Kennedy charged.
Bussman killed the bill to authorize low-cost spay/neuter clinics “on the last day of the 2014 legislative session,” wrote Jim Stinson of the Huntsville Times.
Political Animal PAC
Veterinarians opposed to the low-cost clinics “even formed a political action committee, the Political Animal PAC,” Stinson reported. “The PAC made a $10,000 donation to Bussman on September 26, 2013. Bussman declined to talk about the donation, saying his integrity would not be questioned.”
Bussman said he blocked the bill authorizing the nonprofit clinics “because the state board had ongoing legal action against the spay-neuter clinics,” Stinson said. “When speaking on the Senate floor, Bussman said he wanted the clinics to work on a compromise that was acceptable” to the Alabama State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners.
The Alabama Veterinary Medical Association in 2013 endorsed legislation authorizing nonprofit clinics, but reversed positions on the identical bill in 2014.
“The only thing that changed,” said Mindy Gilbert, Alabama representative for the Humane Society of the U.S., was that Pitman sued the Alabama Veterinary Medical Association.
“The lawsuit doesn’t mention the spay/neuter clinics,” Gilbert told Kennedy of the Alabama Media Group. “The lawsuit is from a veterinarian against other veterinarians.”
In the lawsuit, Kennedy reported, Pitman argues that the Alabama Veterinary Medical Associationhas taken actions that Pitman calls “an illegal restraint on trade that is prohibited by state law.”
Editorialized the Tuscaloosa News, “Nonprofit clinics offer an affordable way for people to spay and neuter their pets. If some veterinarians see this as a threat to their livelihood, we disagree. The idea is to target pet owners who wouldn’t ordinarily spay and neuter their cats and dogs. Allowing nonprofit clinics to offer inexpensive spay and neuter procedures is the humane and responsible thing to do.”
(See also “No kill advocate Winograd rebukes Alabama Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners for citing his work out of context,” http://wp.me/p4pKmM-lS; and “Humane community stops Alabama vets from blocking low-cost s/n.”