State legislatures examining shelter veterinary services

Are shelters offering a growing menu of veterinary services providing a valuable service to underserved communities or competing unfairly with private veterinary practices that don’t have access to the same level of funding and tax breaks? This hotly-debated issue is increasingly making its way to state legislators this year. As I write this article, several states are considering putting limits on what shelters can offer in their facilities or at a minimum, requiring additional regulatory oversight for these facilities.

Two bills are pending in Alabama on this general topic. HB 93 would require an animal shelter owner, operator, manager, or director to compile and make available to the public a monthly report detailing the number of animals that have entered the facility or organization and the disposition of the animals.

Alabama HB 141 would prohibit anyone who is not a licensed veterinarian from directly supervising veterinary medical services or making certain decisions relating to medical or surgical treatment of animals. The legislation calls for including a “spay-neuter clinic” under the definition of a veterinary facility, and limit the scope of services offered at such a clinic. For example, services would be limited to spay and neuters, and one-year rabies vaccinations and treatment of intestinal and external parasites administered only at the time of the surgery. A patient would not be allowed on the premises for more than 36 hours.

In South Carolina, S 194 and H 3492 were introduced last year with the goal of establishing regulations and restrictions on animal shelters, including veterinary examinations, a choice for pet owners to decide who shall provide veterinary services, and restrictions on procedures other than sterilization.

Minnesota HF 391 and Missouri SB 646 propose new mechanisms to regulate animal shelters.

The AVMA will monitor these pieces of legislation carefully, and as needed, assist the VMAs with background, drafting and advocacy.

For developments on this and other state legislative topics, check our monthly updates at

9 thoughts on “State legislatures examining shelter veterinary services

  1. We are seeing the same thing at our practice. We have a four doctor practice but live in town with the Humane Society “Spay Shuttle” that loads animals up in a truck in our town and drives them an hour to Jacksonville Florida where they are processed at another large low cost, 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization facility and then returned for the hour drive at the end of the day. In addition the Jacksonville facility has full veterinary “open to the public” outpatient services. From their website: Our low-cost veterinary clinic offers services at about 40% less than normal prices! Needless to say our surgery days have dropped from five a week to two since the Spay Shuttle started operating. It would be interesting to see what the Non Profit’s “Founder and Executive” Director, Medical Director, Program Director and Development Director make in salary!
    Thank you AVMA for advising us of this legislation.

  2. Reading these comments makes it clear why there is so much interest in adopting some rules or protocols to address the type of procedures offered by shelters and how to enforce income means-testing policies. Hopefully these agreements will come through cooperation between the shelters and local veterinarians rather than legislation.

  3. I hardly get to do any spays or neuters any more. Many of my clients are shelter/spay-neuter clinic volunteers and have told me the shelter did their neuter free of charge and included the vaccination. These volunteers are not underprivileged. The veterinarian working at the spay-neuter clinic is getting paid a very nice full time vet salary while working only 2-3 days per week. Such an easy schedule that this vet also works as an associate elsewhere. There is supposed to be income requirements to qualify but no one can tell me what they are. And it sure doesn’t matter when the people running the clinic make all kinds of exceptions for volunteers, friends & family. Seems every one of my clients qualifies for non- profit assistance. Huge grant money is being spent to spay as many as possible, and it doesn’t matter if the owners do not need assistance. They are convinced this will decrease the numbers of unwanted animals and there is no way to rebuttle.
    Meanwhile back at my little practice, this huge reduction in my elective surgery income may be the final straw. It has become such an economic challenge for me to continue that I have had to take out loans to pay my ordinary bills. I will not stay and practice lesser quality medicine in order to keep it up. And if my doors close, no one will know why because there’s no way for the general public to understand. It will just feel like failure. And I started this practice myself 17 years ago.

  4. Please, call them what they are ….
    Grant funded, allegedly non-profit veterinary clinics that are held to a lower ethical and “professional” standard.

    What would happen to a private practice if we did the following?

    Leave an ovary in a spayed cat.
    Have a post op feline castration die from internal bleeding because the testicles were just pulled out and not ligated.
    Post ohe dehiscense and evisceration.
    Post castration dehiscence.
    Neutering FIV and FeLV positive cats that were allegedly pretested.
    Sedate a dog that was groomed and did not wake up for two days, nearly died.
    Vaccine reactions.
    Sent home with fleas.
    Sent home with internal parasites.
    And on and on.

    I for one am tired of cleaning up their messes.

    I was planning to retire soon so we put the practice up for sale. An interested party walked away when they found out about the local animal shelter.

    I wrote our state board and was ignored. I wrote my legislators. One had a staffer who had worked in a shelter. Another had a daughter/veterinarian who occasionally works in a shelter. Oiu goverenor’s office, republican “pro business”?, ignored me.

    Througt the years we have supported the county fair, local school band and sports teams, cub/boy/girl scouts, chamber of commerce, sponsored a little league ball team for over 25 years, the local township park commision, etc. And every kid that showed up needing a donation. We don’t do any of this anymore because we can’t afford it.

    We are doing ok. We’ve stopped giving services and goods away and feeling sorry for anyone. Maybe we should have been doing that all along.

    If someone calls or shows up with a wreck from the shelter we give out the numbers of the veterinarians that probably did the work. And if they can’t get in contact with them we charge accordingly.

  5. This is a very serious issue in our area. We have non-veterinary staff practicing medicine in these low quality settings. We have a severe problem with local spay-neuter (and what ever they feel like treating for the day) facilities. One of our local facilities has been reported to have 3 necropsies a week and I have had 5 die, in a short period, as they walk in the door here from surgeries done at their facility. The state has been totally non-responsive to any of the malpractice or illegal issues going on in these facilities. Elanco has even donated hundreds of thousands of dollars through their mother company trust to one of the facilities in our area (note they don’t even use Elanco products so this money is all from our pockets and our clients pockets) . They are setting the standard of care so low and being supported by companies we by product from. They are also tax free, but obviously turning a huge profit as some of their staff have said what they get paid and the owners are driving brand new Escalades. How are we to show clients good medicine when we are competing against this and clients thinking a $14 vaccine is taking advantage of them? I personally don’t care if they do it free, but I don’t think they should be tax free, getting donations, having such a high death rate, etc…

  6. In our town the local spay/neuter clinic is eating my lunch and asking me to donate refreshments! One of the first underprivileged clients was the daughter of a country music superstar. If I complain then I am an enemy of the poor and abandoned. If I say nothing then I am forced to compete with private and federally funded competition that practices vet medicine as we did 20 years ago. I am all for helping abandoned pets but I am not for providing animal welfare so that clients can afford their I phones and Mercedes!

  7. I have always been very disappointed how our local ASPA operates. I have it from a reliable authority that they have an annual operating budget of 1.5 mil. They are reluctant to take in local stray animals, but will go south to get animals. I was always under the impression that the ASPCA was for low income citizens. However, over my 38 years of practice(now retired), that became less and less true. I’ve always felt that if someone is low income, they should be required to show a tax return to prove it. Our local ASPCA has continually, competed unfairly against the local private practitioner.
    Over the decades, they have basically stolen clients by competing unfairly against the private practitioner. They do so by having non-profit status. There’s no way that they can be a non-profit with an annual budget of 1.5 million dollars.
    If you required a tax return to prove that you’re poor, I think that would help bolster more business for local private practitioners.

  8. The AVMA will monitor these pieces of legislation carefully, and as needed, assist the VMAs with background, drafting and advocacy.

    What exactly does that mean?

    • Greg, the job of the AVMA State Legislative and Regulatory Affairs Department is to provide assistance with advocacy to state and allied VMAs. This can include various activities, such as bill analysis, drafting legislative language, providing AVMA policy and information about similar legislation in other states.