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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Is a Low-Cost Spay/Neuter Clinic Threatened Because of Greed?

Alabama Spay/Neuter Clinic

An animal clinic that provides low-cost spay and neuter services might soon be forced to close. News reports strongly hint that veterinarians who resent the clinic's low-cost services are driving the action. In other words, greed might win out over a good-faith effort to address pet overpopulation.

Alabama Spay/Neuter Clinic, which has operated in the Birmingham suburb of Irondale for three years, received a certified letter dated June 9 from Tammy S. Wallace, executive director of the Alabama State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners (ASBVME). The letter alleged that the clinic is not owned by a veterinarian, placing it in violation of Alabama Code, and ordered the clinic to "cease and desist from any practice that would fall under the definition of veterinary practice in Alabama."

There is only one problem with ASBVME's position: The Alabama Spay/Neuter Clinic is owned by a veterinarian. Reports The Birmingham News:

According to Mark Nelson, executive director of the nonprofit Alabama Spay/Neuter Clinic, Birmingham veterinarian William B. Weber is the clinic owner. Weber also owns Eastwood Animal Clinic. He said Weber employs, manages and pays the veterinarians on the clinic staff. The clinic owns the equipment and employs support staff. Nelson said the arrangement is within state guidelines, and that the clinic's board of directors will actively pursue a hearing to prevent the shutdown.

What is the mission of the Alabama Spay/Neuter Clinic? The "About Us" page on the clinic's Web site sums it up:

Each year, Alabama animal shelters euthanize over 150,000 dogs and cats. Three out of four are healthy, adoptable dogs and cats waiting to be someone's loving pet. The fate of these animals was the incentive for the creation of the Alabama Spay/Neuter. Incorporated as a (501-C-3) non-profit organization in March 2007, Alabama Spay/Neuter's Board of Directors felt that opening a facility that provided high-quality, high-volume, low-cost spay/neutering was the only sustainable way to end the overpopulation of dogs and cats in Central Alabama

Has the clinic made an impact? Reports The Birmingham News:

Alabama Spay/Neuter clinic opened June 4, 2008, in a temporary mobile unit. Since then, the clinic has moved to a 6,700 square-foot facility where a staff of licensed veterinarians have completed more than 33,000 sterilization surgeries for a 13-county area.

Who possibly could be against this kind of facility? Officials from the Alabama veterinary board have gone into "quiet mode," refusing to respond to press inquiries. Here is a press-release statement from
William Ronald Welch, D.V.M., president of the Alabama State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners:

In Alabama, the practice of veterinary medicine is governed by the Alabama Veterinary Practice Act and its Administrative Code. In order to promote the public health, safety and welfare by safeguarding the people of the State of Alabama against the unqualified or incompetent practice of veterinary medicine, the Legislature created the Alabama State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners to oversee the practice of veterinary medicine. The Practice Act gives the Board the power to conduct investigations for the purpose of discovering violations of the Act or grounds for disciplining licensed veterinary professionals or other non-licensed individuals pursuant to the Administrative Code of the Board and appoint individuals and committees to assist in the investigations.

In accordance with the Veterinary Practice Act and its Administrative Code, the Alabama Spay/Neuter Clinic, Inc., located in Irondale, Alabama has been granted an administrative hearing to provide the owner of the entity with the opportunity to defend itself against alleged violations of the Act. In compliance with confidentiality rules for pending cases, no further details will be released to the public until the administrative hearing is completed."

The ASBVME seems to have resorted to double speak. Wallace's letter alleged that the clinic is not owned by a veterinarian. Welch's statement makes no mention of this, instead implying that the clinic is providing substandard care. Is the board using this "change the subject" tactic in hopes of delicately backing out of a sticky situation--of its own making? Perhaps it should be.

A Facebook page, Help Save Alabama Spay/Neuter, is spreading the word about efforts to keep the clinic open.

Even The Birmingham News, which I normally find to be a pitiful excuse for a newspaper, has done solid reporting on the story. I rarely agree with the News on any subject, but even the editorial board of a right-wing newspaper found the ASBVME's actions highly suspect:

One wonders why a veterinarian would have to own a vet clinic to begin with. Physicians aren't required to own the hospitals they work in.

That aside, the Alabama Spay/Neuter Clinic claims it has, indeed, a partner in Birmingham veterinarian William B. Weber, who also owns Eastwood Animal Clinic. Mark Nelson, executive director of the Spay/Neuter Clinic, said Weber contracts and pays the veterinarians on the clinic staff who perform the surgeries, while the nonprofit clinic owns the equipment and pays the support staff.

That sounds like a smart, reasonable arrangement. We don't know why the Board of Veterinary Examiners finds the arrangement a problem, because neither the board's executive director, Tammy S. Wallace, who signed the cease and desist letter, nor members of the board are talking. The board's chairman said because this is a pending case, "there will be no comment."

That is wrong. The public deserves an explanation, and Wallace and the members of the Board of Veterinary Examiners need to be reminded they are an agency created by the state. They are, indeed, answerable to the taxpayers of Alabama, whether they think so or not.

What is driving the ASBVME's actions? Given that the Alabama Spay/Neuter Clinic is, in fact, owned by a veterinarian, we can think of only one answer. The Birmingham News seems to be thinking along the same lines:

Let's hope because the Alabama Spay/Neuter Clinic performs low-cost surgeries that isn't the true reason the Alabama Board of Veterinary Examiners is trying to shut it down. Let's hope greed is not a factor here.

And let's hope we find out when a hearing on the matter is held at some point down the road. We encourage both the Alabama Board of Veterinary Examiners and the Alabama Spay/Neuter Clinic to make sure that eventual hearing is open to the public and proper notice is given.

Perhaps the public needs to know a little more about the board members who seem to be driving this train wreck. They can be found on the ASBVME's Web site. We always try to be extra helpful, so contact information is included:

Wm. Ronald Welch, DVM
3966 U.S. Highway 231
Wetumpka, AL 36093
Phone: (334) 567-4353
welchvetclinic@wlechvetclinic.com

John R. Grider, DVM
506 South Alabama Avenue
Monroeville, AL 36460
Phone: (251) 743-4061
Vet Clinic Fax: 251-575-7531

Robert E. Pitman, DVM
1701 U. S. Highway 72 East
Athens, AL 35611-4413
Phone: (256) 233-1515
REPPITMAN@PCLNET.NET

Robert D. Horne, DVM
Dept. Clinical Sciences, SVM
Tuskegee, AL 36088
Phone: 334/724-4162
horne@tuskegee.edu

William Sternenberg, DVM
1249 Meriwether Road
Montgomery, AL 36117
334-277-7302 (Home)

Debbie S. Whitten, LVT
2237 Bluff Road
Birmingham, AL 35226
205-823-5664 (Home)

Ms. Nancy L. Pett
3186 N. Bethel Road
Decatur, AL 35603
ndpett@msn.com

Legal Counsel
Todd E. Hughes, Esq., Assistant Attorney General
500 Dexter Avenue
Montgomery, AL 36130
thughes@ago.state.al.us

Tammy S. Wallace
Executive Director
Tammy.Wallace@asbvme.alabama.gov

5 comments:

danip said...

Thank you so much for sharing! The care of the pet patients is in the hands of Alabama Spay/Neuter's dedicated, overachieving staff. The facility is state-of-the- art. Humane Societies that work with ASN have reported up to an %18 drop of their intake rate. To close the clinic would be counter productive to ASN's mission of preventing overpopulation and euthanasia in shelters. Alabama Spay/Neuter is making a difference!

danip said...

Thank you so much for sharing! The care of the pet patients is in the hands of Alabama Spay/Neuter's dedicated, overachieving staff. The facility is state-of-the- art. Humane Societies that work with ASN have reported up to an %18 drop of their intake rate. To close the clinic would be counter productive to ASN's mission of preventing overpopulation and euthanasia in shelters. Alabama Spay/Neuter is making a difference!

jeffrey spruill said...

This is a classic example of the predatory/parasitic nature of the field of law.

I can imagine lawyers telling ASBVME it's gonna be a "slam dunk."

danip said...

Sign Help Save Alabama Spay/Neuter's Petition!

http://www.change.org/petitions/stop-the-alabama-state-board-of-veterinary-medical-examiners-from-shutting-down-spayneuter-clinics

ginger said...

The spay/neuter clinic serves a purpose in altering feral animals only. Otherwise, it demeans the value of quality veterinary care and surgery. Are you going to price shop your hysterectomy? Are you going to Mexico for your surgery to cut costs. I would hope not. The reason the prices are so cheap is because they have to cut corners, obviously. As far as helping those who can't afford to spay.....why do these people have pets??? Pets are a luxury. They are not a necessity. If you can't afford a one time spay or neuter, you certainly can't afford the other medical and basic care (including food and shelter). Besides, the spay/neuter clinic isn't based on assisting those families in need. Many people who spend $500 on a puppy will go there assuming the care is as good as their regular veterinarian. These animals receive NO exam before surgery. How would you like to go under anesthesia without ever having been seen by a physician. They also have no aftercare. As far as population control, laws governing mandatory spay/neuter enforced throughout the state would be much more effective. Neuters, for example, do little to control population. You can neuter 20 male cats in an area, but if there is still one male cat left intact it can impregnant as many female cats as are in the area. The spay/neuter clinic has its place, but not as it is currently operated. Furthermore, it is a law that veterinary clinics are owned by veterinarians. There is a purpose for this....to maintain quality in the profession. This clinic does not meet that criteria.