Alabama State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners and Dead Shelter Pet Profiteering

Access to no and low cost spay-neuter services for pet owners who need them is a key component of the No Kill Equation.  The No Kill Equation is the only set of programs proven to eliminate the needless killing of shelter pets.  Alabama, a state where roughly 1 out of 5 people live below poverty level, had four non-profit clinics which offered low cost spay-neuter services.  That is, until recently.

For the past few years, the Alabama State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners (ASBVME) has been trying to get the low cost spay-neuter clinics shut down.  The board has claimed that sub-standard care is being provided and that the clinics are trying to expand into full service vet hospitals.  The care is “sub-standard” because the primary function of the clinics is to perform low cost, high volume spays and neuters.  So yeah, this isn’t the place to get a complete diagnostic work up on your geriatric pet who doesn’t seem to be exhibiting her usual pep lately.  If it was, then the clinic would be guilty of attempting to expand its services.  But it’s not, so no.

The bottom line:  the ASBVME members want ALL THE MONEY that anyone in the state of AL is willing to spend on vet care.  As if one client at a spay-neuter clinic equates with one client who would utilize a full service practice if the low cost clinic wasn’t available.  Because hey, if all the WalMarts closed tomorrow, everyone would totally head on over to Saks Fifth Avenue to get their shopping done.

The ASBVME is currently targeting veterinarian William Weber, owner of the low cost spay-neuter clinic in Irondale. In hearings held by the ASBVME, Dr. Weber spoke for himself:

“You’re not gonna shut me up so you may as well not try. You can object until Kingdom Come. You can object ‘til your glasses fall off. You will not shut me up… The great majority of these people are people that would never, ever go into a veterinary clinic and pay $500 or similar to spay a cat that they’re lucky they can feed and catch in a trap and take it somewhere. They’re not gonna do that. Veterinarians are not losing money from spay and neuter clinics!  And if veterinarians would cooperate, they would make money from ‘em. You be nice to some of these people, and they’ll come back to you. And why people cannot see that is beyond me. How can a veterinarian go to school and learn surgery and come out of it with no compassion?! There are veterinarians in this state that have a hole in their brain where compassion ought to be and they’re trying to fill it up with money.“

And astonishingly, ASBVME vice president Sam Eidt offered that low cost spay-neuter clinics aren’t needed because pet overpopulation is a myth and the book Redemption says so.  Nathan Winograd, the author of Redemption, wrote to the ASBVME in response.  His letter, which can be read in full here, sets the record straight:

Any claim that [low cost spay-neuter] clinics are either unnecessary or should be restricted based on my work is categorically false. In fact, not only am I and my organization committed to the promotion of such services, when I ran shelters, we performed many such surgeries, as they were key to our lifesaving success. In one of those shelters, we did roughly 10,000 low-cost surgeries a year, 84% of which were free. None of the community’s veterinarians objected to this service. Indeed, as animal lovers who understood that we were serving people who could not afford their services, they welcomed it.

[…]

While it is true that nationwide statistics show that there are enough potential homes for the animals in shelters, this does not undermine the cost, public health, and lifesaving impact of such services. Indeed, regardless of the number of potential homes, the fact remains that the animals are not getting into those homes. Shelter killing currently claims the lives of three million healthy and treatable animals every year and shelter killing remains the leading cause of death for healthy dogs and cats in the U.S. Low-cost, high-volume spaying and neutering helps to decrease the number of animals entering shelters who would face an unnecessary and untimely death. Such programs are therefore essential to saving lives and should be encouraged and supported.

The low cost spay-neuter clinic in Huntsville abruptly closed its doors a couple weeks ago, due to fear of being next on the ASBVME’s hit list. Although I haven’t seen any support for AL’s low cost spay-neuter clinics from HSUS or ASPCA during this legal battle, Francis Battista of Best Friends recently blogged about the issue:

The ASBVMA, under the leadership of Robert E. Pittman, DVM, is charging Weber with fraud and lack of supervision, and it maintains that the clinic, which performs low-cost, high-volume spays and neuters, provides substandard care. It should be noted that Dr. Pittman owns and operates his hometown kill shelter on a contract with the city. The shelter is attached to his Athens, Alabama, veterinary clinic. It might be an oversimplification to frame it this way, but this looks for all the world like a case where a vet who has a vested interest in not reducing the number of homeless pets using his institutional authority is going after a vet who is working to reduce the number of homeless pets. Hmm.

Put me down for a hmm too.

For those who scrolled to the end of this post because words, here are your takeaways:

  • Access to no and low cost spay-neuters is a key program utilized by hundreds of communities which have ended the killing of healthy/treatable shelter pets.
  • Closing the low cost spay-neuter clinics in AL will result in an increase in the number of unintended litters of puppies and kittens, not an increase in gold bullion for private practice vets.
  • There are enough homes for every shelter pet in the United States.  That does not mean we should work to create more pets likely to end up in shelters.  In fact, that’s the wrong direction entirely.  Especially given the fact that most shelter directors are failing to get their pets into homes and are killing them instead.  So providing these directors with more is a terrible idea.  They’re failing the ones they already have.
  • Rep. Patricia Todd, D-Birmingham has been trying to get a bill passed to protect the state’s spay-neuter clinics but hasn’t been successful to date.  Seems like a missed opportunity for HSUS and their legislative inclinations.  Their support, were they to offer it, might tip the balance in favor of the bill.

(Thanks to readers Tip and Aubrie for the links and transcript of Dr. Weber’s remarks.)

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11 Comments

  1. Adrianne Mock

     /  May 13, 2014

    we have tried to get MORE of the low cost/no cost spay neuter clinics going here in San Diego. The couple that DO operate here (so to speak) are SO busy they cannot handle all the potential customers.

    But the local City Council (which seems to have several AR and AR lite members, and is in cahoots with the local AR groups and shelter) haven’t stepped up to the plate. Even ignored several attempts to get a program going.

    I don’t get it. Maybe fewer available ‘free’ puppies/ kittens cuts into their bottom line…

    Reply
  2. Millie Harris

     /  May 13, 2014

    SAVE, Calhoun County’s spay neuter nonprofit advocacy group has helped finance many of over 4,000 surgeries at the Birmingham Clinic since its inception in 2009. The care has been outstanding, and the animal control officers in Anniston, AL report a huge decrease in the number of strays, attributing it to SAVE’s proactive spay neuter campaign and it’s partnership with the Alabama Spay Neuter Clinic. This inquisition by ASBVME is due to greed and the quest for power and control.

    In all fairness, Mindy Gilbert, lobbyist for HSUS has been in our state Capitol every step of the way alongside the clinic in the fight to keep them open and in support of Dr. Weber.

    Reply
  3. alice smih

     /  May 13, 2014

    if HSUS would give some of their “donor dollars” to open and support these clinics that would be a positive.. but seems investing in the Cayman Islands to the tune of 25 million was more on their minds and of course having “lobbyists’ for a “charity’ in all states. the new drug Zeuterin will cut into all vets bottom line eventually

    Reply
  4. bamabrie

     /  May 13, 2014

    There has been so much fallout from this whole debacle that my head is still spinning. We have the ASBVME to thank for this mess from simple legislation which did not pass two years in a row to a witch hunt to close clinics to misinformation in the public about our clinics, about spay neuter, about “pet overpopulation” and about no kill concepts in general.

    The only good part of this whole story is that once Nathan was alerted that his research was being misused and misquoted, he responded not in days but in a matter of hours.

    We need our clinics. We are now scrambling to find places where we can refer those “Walmart shoppers” and rescuers so the spay/neuter bus does not come to a complete and sudden stop (with the price being paid in an increase in shelter killing).

    Where do we go from here? I genuinely have no idea. I once had an hour-long phone call with the president of the ASBVME on a side issue. It was a few years back. He told me he would rather destroy animals than to rescue release for free and that rescues could not be trusted to not sell animals to research facilities in the north. Uh, huh? When the call ended, I felt like rushing either to my nearest psychiatric facility or liquor store. And then I remembered this was the same guy who shot his neighbor’s cow with a high powered rifle and using a scope. God Bless America.

    This is a situation brought about by greed. But it is also one created by arrogance as the members of a state board scramble against a nonexistent foe and shoot anything that moves because they know best, and don’t you dare forget that they know best and are smarter than you are.

    Reply
    • If they have a vested interest, it may actually pay to take in more pets to kill, so more puppies and kittens to kill mean more $$$$. It is so backward in every way possible that it is mind blowing, but so is having someone on the Vet Board with as an owner of shelter.

      Overpopulation may be

      Reply
  5. anne davis

     /  May 13, 2014

    “For those who scrolled to the end of this post because words, here are your takeaway…” I think that’s funny. Not that the article didn’t educate me on what assholes some doctors can be but I think your writing is very funny.

    Reply
  6. mikken

     /  May 14, 2014

    Thank God for Dr. Weber willing to stand up to them and keep speaking out.

    What a disgusting display of self interest trumping ethics.

    Reply
  7. spaycritter

     /  May 14, 2014

    “you’re not gonna’ shut me up”…… gotta’ admire someone with that sort of zeal.

    Reply
  8. The ruling went against Dr. Weber, but it will be appealed, It’s my understanding that the spay-neuter clinics will remain open during the appeal. Here’s a Facebook page supporting Dr. Weber: https://www.facebook.com/SupportDrWeber

    Reply

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