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Vets vs. pets

I guess I am naive. I am always a little shocked when I learn of some state veterinary board of examiners or a veterinary association of some description pulling out all the stops to shut down or block the opening of a low-cost spay/neuter clinic or wellness clinic that offers basic services, such as vaccines and a check-up to pets of poor people.

The latest is a case in Alabama that pits the Alabama State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners (ASBVME) against Dr. William B. Weber, lead veterinarian of the nonprofit Alabama Spay/Neuter Clinic, even though the clinic operates under a premise permit granted by the ASBVME and the clinic's veterinarians are licensed by the ASBVME.

The ASBVMA, under the leadership of Robert E. Pittman, DVM, is charging Weber with fraud and lack of supervision, and it maintains that the clinic, which performs low-cost, high-volume spays and neuters, provides substandard care. It should be noted that Dr. Pittman owns and operates his hometown kill shelter on a contract with the city. The shelter is attached to his Athens, Alabama, veterinary clinic. It might be an oversimplification to frame it this way, but this looks for all the world like a case where a vet who has a vested interest in not reducing the number of homeless pets using his institutional authority is going after a vet who is working to reduce the number of homeless pets. Hmm.

Charges related to substandard service is catchall terminology that we have seen in other states aimed at lean and efficient low-cost charitable operations by family practice veterinarians who feel that low-cost, high-volume spay/neuter clinics undercut their own business and have the benefit of tax-exempt status.

That claim is blind to the fact that regular veterinary practice fees for spay/neuter services are prohibitive for many low-income families, seniors on a fixed income, and pet owners just struggling to stay above the poverty line. Alabama Spay/Neuter Clinic lists their fees that range from $50 for a male cat to $95 for a female dog, with nominal add-ons for extra-large females and animals in heat, and so on. Private practice fees for the same procedures range from $135 to $350. It is a simple fact that a lot of people just cannot afford those prices, and without a low-cost option would not get their pets fixed. Low-cost clinics are not serious competition for private practice vets because 1) they only offer a very limited range of care, 2) most people who use low-cost services are not potential clients of family practice veterinarians, and 3) a large chunk of spay/neuter clinic clientele comes via the rescue community and is geared to programs like trap/neuter/return (TNR) for community cats.

As I have said on numerous occasions, veterinarians are essential to our movement, and Best Friends would not exist if not for the commitment and generosity of a host of vets who helped us along the way. Likewise, I fully support the fact that a thriving veterinary practice depends upon paying customers. However, I can’t wrap my head around a group of vets who are so indifferent to the millions of animals dying in shelters that they would team up to put the screws on nonprofit veterinary clinics that are striving to reduce the number stray and homeless pets who are entering those shelters.

If you agree, please let the ASBVME know, and tell them to lay off Dr. Weber and the Alabama Spay/Neuter Clinic and to drop their actions against them.

Email executive secretary Karen M. Hester at KarenM.Hester@asbvme.alabama.gov or send a fax to 334-262-8716.
Francis Battista, Co-founder, Best Friends Animal Society Francis Battista
Co-founder
Best Friends Animal Society