As Senate Bill S.687 receives additional media coverage and other sub committee hearings have been set up outside of our recently wrapped up legislative session this year, we are receiving a lot of questions from animal advocates in reference to what this bill ACTUALLY means for animal shelters and the services they can provide. It has been mentioned, on many occasions, that quality of care is a significant issue surrounding this bill and that many shelters do not have an in-house veterinarian. All of those pieces of information are TRUE; however, what is not necessarily accurate is that the main purpose of this bill is QUALITY OF CARE.
If that were the case, the inclusion in Bill S.687 to have mobile vaccine services restricted to a minimum of a seven mile radius from any private veterinary office would not be included in the language of this bill. Additionally, it would not have language in the bill that restricts services only to those who can prove low income status, which would completely eliminate an affordable service from an already overtaxed middle class group in SC. It has been noted that the Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation (LLR) Vet Board provides oversight to ANY SC veterinarian no matter where they work: private clinics, shelters, or mobile vaccine programs. This means that the quality of care issue could be addressed with an entity that is already in existence and has the authority to investigate any and all veterinarian medical services in question.
It is my opinion, and the opinion of most of our partners and supporters, that this bill’s primary purpose is LIMITING COMPETITION in order to protect private vets. It is interesting that on all media interviews, the majority of the South Carolina Association of Veterinarian (SCAV) comments surround quality of care. Why do they not discuss their desire for restricting services? When asked about the language in the bill relative to restricting services, they say not for profits do not pay taxes; which gives non-profits an unfair advantage. When actually researching not for profit guidelines,, , like Pawmetto Lifeline, one can determine that this is not true. The SCAV also says we have an unfair advantage because we get our vaccines at a discounted rate. We receive discounts because of volume ordered and NOT because of our not for profit status. The vets also cite that they have tremendous debt from their education. What about all of the other professions that require a college education, and most often personal debt, in order to obtain a specialized degree?
So what does Bill S.687 mean for organizations, like Pawmetto Lifeline, who do actually have four full time vets on staff? Currently, the primary services we provide to the public are basic vaccinations, spay/neuter surgeries, micro-chip services and testing. While the bill as it is currently written DOES allow non- profits the opportunity to provide these types of services, it will NOT allow those organizations to ever have a full service clinic.
This is a source of great concern for us. EVERYDAY, we get calls from people who have sick or injured pets. When they take them to a private vet, they often cannot afford to pay for the cost of the services. As a result, they are oftentimes either euthanized, taken to a municipal shelter where they can be euthanized for free, which adds cost to taxpayers who ultimately provide the funds to run these facilities, or the pets are sent home to die a painful death. Based on the restrictions of Bill S.687, if we decided to open a full service clinic, we could not provide services for any pet owner making more than $12,000 a year (less than minimum wage, as this is $5.65/hour for a full-time employee). The language of this bill and the precedence it sets aims to mandate that South Carolinians either get their pet’s medical services from a private clinic, if they earn more than $12,000 a year, or their pet goes without care if they do not have the funds readily available.
We all know if a pet contracts pneumonia, or pancreatitis, or has a broken leg, the medical bill at a private clinic can be well over $1,000. Should your pet suffer and die simply because you do not have the funds to pay a private clinic? If Pawmetto Lifeline is willing to provide that service at a much discounted rate, should you not have access to that care?
Our goal is to save animals and to make sure they have the necessary medical care so people can keep their beloved pets. If we are willing to provide a service close to cost with our full time veterinarians on staff, isn’t that in the best interest of companion pets? All private clinics have the chance to serve clients in need that visit their office, AND they CAN provide discounted rates for the needed service or set up payment plans with their clients if they want to ensure the pet gets care from their clinic. Many times however, their choice is to maintain their price structure. Ironically, NOW they want to impose regulations for those who would provide veterinary care for less. Once a client leaves a private vet clinic with an animal in need of care, the client should have the right to choose where they want to go to receive care, EVEN if it is at a non-profit clinic that CHOOSES to offers the service at an affordable price.
Perfectly illustrating what the REAL issue is at hand, here is an example of a heart-wrenching situation. A woman called recently with a pregnant dog in labor. She had taken the dog to a private clinic, and they wanted $1,000 to do a C-section. The woman did NOT have $1,000 so the veterinarian sent her home with the dog, which was in obvious distress and in danger of dying. When the woman contacted us the next day, we called the clinic she visited and they would NOT negotiate on the fee for service. We then started to collaborate with another local vet clinic in Ballentine, who was willing to give us a discounted rate. This PRIVATE VET CLINIC partner was more than willing to help us ensure that this dog and her puppy did not die. (One puppy in the womb was already dead.) Sadly, we receive calls like this every day from individuals who cannot afford to pay for medically necessary services.
Restricting mobile vaccine services will likely cause pets to die because the preventative services that could have been received from our mobile vaccine service will be limited, eliminating access to care for a significant amount of individuals and overtime, leading to the deaths of many pets that have contracted preventable, but deadly illnesses. Pawmetto Lifeline’s mobile vaccine clinic provides vaccinations for Rabies, Bordetella, DHPP and FVRCP. We test for Heartworms and FELV and FIV. The funds generated from our mobile vaccine service allow us to provide for the homeless pets in our care and offer our services for privately owned pets at a lower cost, which includes spaying and neutering. Less income and restricted services to the public, will equate to more unwanted litters of puppies and kittens being born and ultimately, more pets dying each day.
It appears as though this bill was written without any thought or time spared for the Middle Class pet owners and what the future of animal welfare will look like in our State. If the SCAV is concerned with QUALITY of CARE, should they not spend their time partnering with the non-profits so we can work together and continue educating the community around animal welfare issues and the dire need to reduce the number of pets being euthanized? Restricting services by class and by location speaks to a financial motivation and not to quality of care concerns.
The SCAV has been telling you pets will NOT die because of this bill. This is false information. Innocent pets WILL die, and they are dying right now because their owners can not afford to pay for medical services at many private clinics around the State. Thankfully, we do NOT believe that ALL veterinarians support this bill. We know A LOT that don’t and are embarrassed that their peers have introduced this legislation; however, many are not willing to speak out against their professional association. It is apparent to us that the SCAV does not understand the impact of this legislation.
For the SCAV to continue to espouse on TV and other media outlets that their primary concern is “quality of care,” yet members of this same association will deny a client care based on their ability to pay, provides a bit of insight into the TRUE motivations of the bill. For veterinarians to deny those of us with a mission, the passion, and the RIGHT, as well as the ability, to provide medical services certainly does not demonstrate compassionate care. People have the right to choose who they want to provide care for their pets. Just because you do NOT have funds for medical services, doesn’t mean you don’t love your pet and that your pet should die from a treatable illness.
We are truly saddened that we are forced to fight the very profession, SCAV, which should be searching for more ways to ensure that ALL pets get the care that they deserve. Restricting services and access to care is harmful to SC, our citizens and our companion pets.
by: Denise Wilkinson, CEO of Pawmetto Lifeline