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October 12, 2012

Ensuring Veterinary Care for All Pets

HSVMA Rural Area Veterinary Services volunteer vet student with puppy
Windi Wojdak/HSVMA

For several decades, local and national animal protection organizations have worked with focus to reduce euthanasia of homeless pets. In the mid-1970s, there were as many as 15 to 20 million cats and dogs euthanized every year in the United States. Though we still have a long way to go, today those numbers have dropped to less than 4 million, thanks particularly to increased access to spay/neuter and vigorous adoption promotions, and new marketing efforts such as our Shelter Pet Project campaign.

For many families, basic veterinary care such as spay/neuter, basic vaccinations, and other services are simply out of reach both geographically and financially. Betsy McFarland, the vice president of The HSUS’s companion animals department, sent this update about a recent victory in Alabama to protect spay/neuter clinics and critical services for local pet owners:

In The Humane Society of the United States' Pets for Life program, we are learning that in the under-served communities where we work, 53 percent 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 care. They also introduce many pet owners to the value of veterinary medicine.

So it was a surprise to many when The Alabama State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners recently proposed a preposterous rule that would have forced nonprofit, low-cost spay/neuter clinics in the state to close. The rule would have required that the owners of these nonprofit organizations be licensed veterinarians, and it would have restricted ownership of veterinary materials and equipment to licensed veterinarians. Though veterinarians perform the spay/neuter surgeries, it’s unreasonable to require the groups they work for to be composed entirely of vets.

As The HSUS and The Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association argued in its public opposition to this plan, 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. After much outcry from the public, local organizations, national organizations, and even veterinarians in the state, on Wednesday evening the board made an about-face and unanimously voted against the measure.

We applaud the veterinary board for getting back on track. Nonprofit spay/neuter clinics have made a tremendous impact on reducing our homeless pet population. Dedicated nonprofits like Humane Alliance have perfected the high-volume-low-cost spay/neuter clinic model, and thousands of nonprofit operations are helping pets across the country—from stationary clinics, MASH-style clinics, programs that use volunteer veterinarians and shuttle services, mobile clinics, voucher programs, and partnerships with veterinary schools and veterinary technical schools.

And The HSUS’ own hands-on programs are providing spay/neuter across the globe—from our Pets for Life program in Philadelphia, Chicago, Atlanta and Los Angeles, to the Rural Area Veterinary Services program of the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, and Humane Society International’s Street Dog Program. 

To achieve the goal of a home for every pet, now is the time to increase access to spay/neuter, not reduce it. By removing barriers to veterinary services, we can strengthen the human-animals bond and empower people to provide the best care possible for the animals in our communities.

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