Finding a fix for spay/neuter problem

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Special to the Opelika Observer

Every community, every county, every state has homeless dogs and cats. Most of these, an estimated 6-8 million animals each year, enter animal shelters. A significant number of these homeless animals come from an ever-growing and potentially dangerous feral dog and cat population.

It’s not the animals’ fault: it’s a human problem, a failure of dog and cat owners to take responsibility for their pets. Ultimately these owners have to accept responsibility for the problems they are creating for society and come up with solutions, a part of which must include effective, affordable spay/neuter programs, the only permanent, totally effective method of birth control for dogs and cats. Taking your unwanted kittens and puppies to the country and putting them out near rural homes simply won’t cut it.

In some areas the myth still prevails that spaying/neutering is harmful to dogs and cats, making them less healthy and altering their fundamental personalities in undesirable ways. Nothing could be further from the truth.

One recent news article cited a study revealing that pets who live in states with the highest rates of spaying/neutering also live the longest. According to the article, neutered male dogs live 18 percent longer than un-neutered ones and spayed females live 23 percent longer than unspayed ones. Further the article reveals that, in the lowest-ranking state for pet longevity (Mississippi) 44 percent of dogs are neither neutered nor spayed.

So if it is good for the animal and it’s an important ingredient in dealing with the growing stray dog and cat problem, then everybody should be in favor of low-cost spay/neuter clinics to make spaying/neutering within the price range of even the poorest of pet owners, right?

Wrong.

Low-cost spay/neuter clinics are typically organized as Internal Revenue Service Code Section 501 (c)(3) (nonprofit) organizations. Their non-veterinarian owners then hire veterinarians to perform the actual spaying and neutering. Most perform low-cost spay and neuter surgeries to anyone with unaltered pets, not just those who can’t afford a regular veterinarian.

The Alabama Veterinary Practice Act (AVPA) provides that only a licensed Alabama veterinarian may be the owner of a veterinary practice, and licensed veterinarians are expressly prohibited from practicing veterinary medicine as an employee.

Legislation, backed by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), four of the five low-cost clinics presently operating in the state and a PAC called Alabama Voters for Responsible Animal Legislation (AVRAL), has been introduced in the last three legislative sessions to allow the nonprofit clinics to operate in the state, but not a single bill has included a means test that would limit clients to the low-income segment of the population.

What is wrong with veterinarians taking orders from non-veterinarians? The non-veterinarian ownership would remove the owners from the regulatory authority of the Alabama State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners (ASBVME), and these owners are the supervisors who would set performance standards and methodology requirements for the vets.

This regulatory authority is probably more important for spaying than neutering surgery. Neutering is fairly straightforward, but spaying is a relatively serious surgical procedure, basically the same as an ovarian hysterectomy for a woman. The ASBVME exists to protect the public, not protect veterinarians. It, or something very similar, needs to be in place to protect the pet-owning public and its animals.

In last year’s legislature SB 25 passed the Senate but not the house. SB 25 (1) included any veterinarian employed by a 501 (3)(c) entity as exempt from the employment and ownership restrictions of AVPA, (2) specified the procedure for application to ABSVME for a premises permit and (3) increased from two to five years the time which the heir of veterinarian may operate or practice.

SB 25 did not however contain any means test which would restrict the eligibility of those people who could avail themselves of the low-cost spay/neuter services. The bill’s author had agreed to and intended to amend SB25 prior to passage to include the means testing clause but, due to procedural problems it was not in the bill as passed.

HB 141, containing essentially the same provisions as last session’s HB188, has been introduced in the current legislative session in spite of a plea by ASBVME and the state’s two largest veterinary associations that the legislature not consider such legislation as the Board is now actively prosecuting a case directly involving a 501(3)(c) spay/neuter clinic which has had formal charges brought against it for violations of and noncompliance with state and federal laws. The ASBVME believes that HB 141 was introduced as an effort to circumvent prosecution of its case. HB141 passed the house (58-37) Tuesday and now goes to the Senate.

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