“This is a good, good day for people in Alabama who care about animals,” said Oxford resident Lu Moseley, a board member for Saving Animals Volunteer Effort, or SAVE, a Calhoun County organization that helps local residents get their pets spayed or neutered.
Moseley was one of more than 100 people from around the state who crowded into a small hearing room on Commerce Street in Montgomery to speak against a proposed change to state rules for veterinary medicine.
The proposal would have banned anyone but a licensed veterinarian from employing a veterinarian in a clinic or owning “veterinary equipment, material or office.”
Animal advocates said the rule would likely have shut down four Alabama clinics that are run by nonprofit organizations which spay and neuter animals for lower prices than for-profit veterinary practices.
Moseley said passage of the measure would have led to an increase in the number of strays — and, ultimately, the number of animals being euthanized in shelters.
SAVE, Moseley said, takes as many as 80 animals per month to a non-profit clinic in the Birmingham area for spaying or neutering. The cost of those operations starts at $45 to $65. That’s compared to more than $200 at some veterinary clinics, she said.
Many people avoid spaying or neutering because of the cost, she said.
“It’s been especially bad since 2008,” she said, citing the economic downturn.
Moseley was one of more than a dozen speakers who came out against the rule change, many of them eliciting loud applause from the audience. Speakers from rural Barbour County said their area had no animal control, and needed spay/neuter operations to keep the population down.
Officials of the Montgomery County Humane Society said licensed veterinarians alone didn’t have the capacity to keep up with the need for spaying and neutering.
William Mudd, attorney for the Greater Birmingham Humane Society, said the board simply didn’t have the authority to make the rule.
“It’s very clear that what you’re trying to do is rewrite the Code of Alabama,” Mudd told the board.
It appears that the board agreed. After meeting in executive session, the board again opened its doors to the crowd and quickly moved through a list of proposed changes, voting them up or down without discussion. They voted down the rule that would have closed the clinics.
Board members declined to comment on the matter after the meeting. Board attorney Alyce Addison said the board turned down the rule based on her legal advice. The board met with her before the vote, she said, and she advised them that “basically they would be legislating” if they passed the rule.
“I think it went above the power granted to the board by the Legislature,” she said.
What’s still not clear is who initially proposed the rule. Addison said the board had been approached by some veterinarians who felt the nonprofit clinics interfered with their own freedom to practice.
Charles Franz, director of the Alabama Veterinary Medical Association, said the push for the new rule didn’t come from his organization, which represents both large- and small-animal vets across the state.
“This came from the board (of veterinary medical examiners),” Franz said, noting that the association has yet to form an official opinion on the matter, but members of the group’s executive committee wrote in as individuals to oppose the rule change.
“Above everything else, there’s the vagueness of the wording,” he said. Franz said that the proposed rule’s ban on non-veterinarian ownership veterinary “materials” could be too far-reaching, preventing farmers from owning castrating knives and similar implements.
Addison, the board’s attorney, said the rule change was based on a similar rule adopted by the state’s Dental Board of Examiners.
Dental board documents include wording that is similar to the proposed veterinary medicine rule — but the dental board’s rule explicitly allows registered nonprofit organizations to run dental clinics and own dental equipment.
“Our statute says 501(c)(3)s can operate dental clinics,” said Susan Wilhelm, the dental board’s executive director.
Dentist Carole Edmonds, who practices in the Jackson County town of Pisgah, spoke at the meeting in support of the idea of further regulating nonprofit veterinary clinics. She said nonprofit status doesn’t guarantee that an organization is doing the job right.
“I see the potential for a problem,” she said. “Some unscrupulous entity could come in.”
Still, Edmonds said she was also against the rule change. She said the board should wait and let the Legislature take up possible rule changes in its next session.
Edmonds said that she, too, wanted to see more spay-and-neuter clinics in the state.
“But nothing’s ever black and white,” she said.
Capitol and statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter: Tlockette_Star.