Letter | Bill shouldn’t limit low-cost services from animal shelters

03/31/2014 12:00 AM

03/29/2014 3:52 PM

There is a bill before the General Assembly that seeks to limit publicly available, low-cost pet services in South Carolina promoted by the South Carolina Association for Veterinarians. The bill is sponsored by House delegate David Hiott, R-Pickens and in the Senate by David Verdin, R-Laurens. The South Carolina Veterinary Association spokesperson, Simpsonville veterinarian Patricia Hill, contends the bill is necessary to protect the incomes of private veterinary entrepreneurs from what they deem unfair competition from lower cost services offered by animal shelters.

The proposed bills would safeguard private veterinary enterprise by setting strict limits to the types of pet care services through animal shelters and low-cost clinics that could legally be offered to the public. The terms of the bill are a draconian straight jacket on the provision of animal services offered through animal shelters and their clinics. Essentially, the bill permits a grand total of four low-cost pet services accessible to the public. These services are: spay, neuter, rabies vaccine and microchip placement. All other services would no longer exist. I am deeply troubled by both the intent of this bill and the message it left resonating within my conscience. First, to address the financial concerns brought forth by the South Carolina veterinarians: There is absolutely zero evidence to substantiate a claim that animal shelters and the low-cost clinics they sponsor are remotely close to becoming a financial threat to private practice. On a daily basis, these shelters refer hundreds of newly adopted patients straight to those offices. Each shelter has a list of veterinarians in their local community complete with addresses and contact numbers. Rather than hinder the local vet, the shelters are suppliers of new client revenue.

In addition, concerns regarding unfair competition for pet services are negligible when one considers how many of the pet-owning public would prefer to use their own veterinarian versus a lower-cost service. In truth, the largest threat to private veterinary competition comes from your own colleagues, those individual veterinarians whom accumulate multiple animal clinic franchises and use them to run mini veterinary empires in your towns. (That might prove to be a useful thought for future legislation.)

Second and more importantly, a bill that limits availability of low-cost veterinary services would prevent pet owners of limited resources from obtaining essential animal health care services and procedures. Annual vaccinations and parasite control are basic health care needs for pets. In a private veterinary setting, the annual costs of these basics are several hundred dollars. Factor in the occasional pet illness, unfortunate accident or just the increased health care needs of the average aging pet and you have annual costs in the thousands for private veterinary services.

For many South Carolina residents, the availability of low-cost animal services is essential to maintaining their pet’s health. Without these discounted services, economics will force many pet owners to forgo health care services for their pets.

There is a growing body of scientific evidence from around the world documenting the important role that pets play in promoting and protecting human health. Scientific studies site a multitude of human health benefits to owning a pet which range from reducing the risk of heart disease to combating the symptoms of autism.

According to the American Heart Association, pet owners have lower risk factors for major cardiac events and recover more completely after a major event than non pet owners. Anxiety, depression and even post-traumatic stress syndrome symptoms have been dramatically improved when a pet is in the household. Pet ownership teaches the young compassion and responsibility. For the elderly and isolated, pets provide a purpose to their day. Pet companionship is known to elevate brain chemicals that reduce stress and decrease anxiety. Instead of disconnecting and giving up, pets prompt us to reconnect and engage in life. It is scientifically proven that through our interactions with pets, we live longer and happier lives. For more information, go to HealthGuide.org.

The writer is a dermatologist who practices in Pawleys Island and Mt. Pleasant. She is also a former veterinarian.

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