The Buzz

S.C. bill would cage animal health care, shelters say

Private veterinarians want to limit where their nonprofit competitors can set up mobile veterinary clinics.

But the nonprofits that operate the mobile clinics, offering vaccinations and spay-and-neuter services, are drawing their claws over the proposal.

Backed by the S.C. Association of Veterinarians, a state Senate proposal would ban mobile veterinary clinics – typically run by nonprofit animal-rescue shelters – from operating near private veterinary practices that they compete with.

Some mobile clinics are doing just that, said Patricia Hill, a Greenville veterinarian and legislative chairman of the Veterinarians Association.

“It's quite a shame that we have to legislate manners,” said Hill. “Even though these mobile clinics were developed to serve the underserved in places where there is not veterinary care, they seem to have a propensity to park right across the street from the brick-and-mortar veterinary clinics.”

The bill also would require animal shelters that offer extensive veterinary services to serve only pet owners who can prove they are poor, a proposal that one nonprofit clinic says would force it to turn customers away.

The nonprofits are fighting the proposal, which the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee will consider Tuesday.

Not all the proposal’s regulations are unwanted, the bill’s critics say, adding they support regulations that would require the mobile clinics to keep medical records on their furry patients and properly label medication. Private veterinary clinics already must follow those rules.

But the nonprofits oppose any attempt to fence them off from communities where they say that they find pet owners who need their help.

“We're in full support of anything that has to do with quality of care,” said Denise Wilkinson, president and chief executive of Pawmetto Lifeline, a Columbia shelter and clinic. “But we don't support restricting services.”

State Sen. Thomas McElveen, a Sumter Democrat and member of an animal-welfare review panel that produced the bill, said the proposal addresses a lack of oversight of nonprofit animal clinics.

“It was really kind of astounding that some of these clinics were dispensing medication with no labeling on it,” he said, adding there is a danger of a child finding medication with no label on it and accidentally consuming something that cannot be identified. “Some of these clinics were practicing veterinarian medicine, but they weren't keeping records the way private practices are required.”

Still, the proposed restrictions on mobile clinics and the services provided by nonprofit clinics have been controversial, he added.

For example, the bill would require mobile veterinary clinics to park one or two miles away from private veterinary offices. Mobile vet clinics would be required to park at least two miles from a veterinary office in the 24 S.C. counties with the highest poverty and lowest income rates, and a mile away in the remaining 22 counties.

As a courtesy, mobile vet clinics should not set up across the street or within eyesight of a vet practice, said Wayne Brennessel, executive director of the Columbia Humane Society. But the proposed restrictions are “arbitrary” and would limit the communities that mobile clinics can serve, he added.

The Humane Society operates a mobile spay-and-neuter clinic. That truck spent Monday in a big-box store’s parking lot in Winnsboro.

The bill also would limit the customers that nonprofit veterinary clinics can serve. To receive more extensive medical care from the clinics for their pets, pet owners would have to show proof that they are low income, such as qualifying for food stamps or Medicaid, the federal healthcare program for the poor.

Hill of the Veterinarians Association said the proposal is meant to keep nonprofits focused on their most important services – providing vaccines and spay-and-neuter surgeries in areas with limited veterinary access. Most nonprofit shelters are not full-service vet clinics and, therefore, would not be affected by some of the changes, she said.

However, Barbara Nelson, president and chief executive officer of the SPCA Albrecht Center for Animal Welfare in Aiken, said her veterinary clinic would be affected. The proposed poverty restrictions would force her to turn away some customers, Nelson said, adding she offers discounts to pet owners in financial distress.

“These aren't people who are at poverty level. Maybe there's a divorce, a medical issue, cancer treatment, the elderly,” she said. “These pets that would be turned over to us or euthanized could stay in the home if they could have affordable medical care.”

If you go

What: The Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee will discuss a bill regulating animal shelters and clinics

When: Tuesday, 2 p.m.

Where: Gressette Building, Room 308

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