Best Friends Blog
 

Vets vs. pets

I guess I am naive. I am always a little shocked when I learn of some state veterinary board of examiners or a veterinary association of some description pulling out all the stops to shut down or block the opening of a low-cost spay/neuter clinic or wellness clinic that offers basic services, such as vaccines and a check-up to pets of poor people.

The latest is a case in Alabama that pits the Alabama State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners (ASBVME) against Dr. William B. Weber, lead veterinarian of the nonprofit Alabama Spay/Neuter Clinic, even though the clinic operates under a premise permit granted by the ASBVME and the clinic’s veterinarians are licensed by the ASBVME.

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.

Charges related to substandard service is catchall terminology that we have seen in other states aimed at lean and efficient low-cost charitable operations by family practice veterinarians who feel that low-cost, high-volume spay/neuter clinics undercut their own business and have the benefit of tax-exempt status.

That claim is blind to the fact that regular veterinary practice fees for spay/neuter services are prohibitive for many low-income families, seniors on a fixed income, and pet owners just struggling to stay above the poverty line. Alabama Spay/Neuter Clinic lists their fees that range from $50 for a male cat to $95 for a female dog, with nominal add-ons for extra-large females and animals in heat, and so on. Private practice fees for the same procedures range from $135 to $350. It is a simple fact that a lot of people just cannot afford those prices, and without a low-cost option would not get their pets fixed. Low-cost clinics are not serious competition for private practice vets because 1) they only offer a very limited range of care, 2) most people who use low-cost services are not potential clients of family practice veterinarians, and 3) a large chunk of spay/neuter clinic clientele comes via the rescue community and is geared to programs like trap/neuter/return (TNR) for community cats.

As I have said on numerous occasions, veterinarians are essential to our movement, and Best Friends would not exist if not for the commitment and generosity of a host of vets who helped us along the way. Likewise, I fully support the fact that a thriving veterinary practice depends upon paying customers. However, I can’t wrap my head around a group of vets who are so indifferent to the millions of animals dying in shelters that they would team up to put the screws on nonprofit veterinary clinics that are striving to reduce the number stray and homeless pets who are entering those shelters.

If you agree, please let the ASBVME know, and tell them to lay off Dr. Weber and the Alabama Spay/Neuter Clinic and to drop their actions against them.

Email executive secretary Karen M. Hester at KarenM.Hester@asbvme.alabama.gov or send a fax to 334-262-8716.

Francis Battista
Co-founder
Best Friends Animal Society

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  • Well said, Francis!! We Alabamians are depending on these low-cost, high-quality spay/neuter clinics to help us achieve NO-KILL for our state!

  • Karma

    Pittman, Edit and Welch need to go out to pasture! Their thinking is old and outdated……… RETIRE FOR OUR SAKE!!!! And the sake of the animals!!!
    Pittman makes his living from killing the surplus animals in his community shelter, of course he would not want to reduce the numbers of homeless animals! BIG conflict of interest here!

  • Linda

    I have a wonderful vet in Tuscaloosa, Alabama that cares for my 3 feline family members. However, a few months after a family in our neighborhood lost their home to foreclosure & abandoned their pregnant cat, the sweet kitty mama bought her 4 wild kittens to my house looking for food. My husband and I managed to trap all 5 kitties, but could not afford to have them all fixed. We took them to the Alabama Spay & Neuter Clinic in Irondale. I don’t know how they managed the wild young cats, but they did a wonderful job! All 5 recovered with absolutely no complications and after a period of socializing, we were able to find good homes for them. We could not have been more pleased with the level of care and the professionalism of the staff at the clinic. The problem here is simply greed. While most vets are kind, considerate professionals, there are a few “bad apples” that are more concerned about money than caring for animals. Dr Pittman seems to be the poster child for these greedy few. He gladly accepts HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS A YEAR from the taxpayers to KILL homeless animals, while fighting to put low-cost spay/neuter clinics out of business! Small wonder that he took time out of his practice to seek this political position as head of the ASBVME. Please, please help us put pressure on our state government to stop this attempt to close these much needed clinics!!! Thank you to all the animal lovers & concerned citizens!

  • Amanda

    Many states operate under veterinary board rules that don’t allow non-profits to ‘own’ veterinary clinics. Veterinarians in states operating under these rules typically find creative, yet completely legal ways to operate for-profit/non-profit partnerships. The current situation in Alabama leaves a bad taste in my mouth for veterinarians (being one myself). Those involved will find a way to prevail with their low-cost clinics, though it will be with a lot of money, time and effort being spent defending their rights.
    A wise veterinarian once told me to stop spending time trying to change the minds of what we call the ‘old time’ vets and concentrate on the recent grads. When I started doing that my outlook changed dramatically. It will take some time, but low-cost, high-quality spay/neuter is the way we are headed.
    Since the opening of the low-cost clinic in our community stray cat intake into the shelter is down over 25%. As more research is done, the argument for increasing spay/neuter gets stronger.

  • Belinda Thompson

    I am so glad I saw this post. Alabama is my home state and for the most part I’ve always been proud to say that I was from there. Upon reading this I immediately sent an email to Ms. Hester stating my displeasure with this situation. Unfortunately this happens in so many places and as much as it pains me to say it, it happens very frequently in the South. What happened to that famous southern grace and hospitality? Obviously it doesn’t very often extend to defenseless animals.

  • Captain Obvious

    Here’s a few points that no one ever seems to understand:

    1) Animal ownership is a privilege, not a right, nor is it required. If you are too poor to take care of an animal, you should not own one.

    2) While spaying and neutering your pet is one way to prevent them from reproducing, it is not the only way. Being a responsible adult and preventing your pet from reproducing by preventing them access to the opposite sex will prevent reproduction.

    3) Ultimately, what ever level of animal overpopulation exists, it exists because of human irresponsibility, not because of the magical reproductive capacity of dogs and cats.

    4) The animals who are suffering from the overpopulation problem deserve just as much quality of care as the animals who are owned by citizens who can afford “standard” veterinary care.

    5) The “standard” procedures employed by clinics who spay/neuter animals in “high volume” are extremely prone to cause / lead to complications.
    a) Tiny incisions where the surgeon cannot visualize the organs they are working with / around.
    b) Large numbers of animals (40 plus) in various stages of anesthesia under supervision of limited numbers of staff with marginal if any training in anesthetic protocol or animal physiology.
    c) Immature animals with incomplete immunity, parasites and possibly ongoing infections are often the normal patient rather than the exception, when they should actually never be undergoing surgery under those conditions.
    d) Little or no owner education / counselling from the veterinarian on the procedure, after care, and ongoing long term management of the pets health.

    6) For all of the above reasons, if you are going to operate a spay / neuter clinic, you should be required to adhere to the same standards as any veterinary surgeon, and some might argue that the standards should be higher given that the opportunity for complications is higher.

    7) If you listened to just 1/10th of the testimony in this case, it would be obvious that the people who are running this clinic in particular were deceiving the board by lying about who owns the practice, who manages the day to day operations, and when they hired/fired veterinarians. This case is not meant to be an indictment of all spay / neuter clinics, just the one that is breaking the law.

    8) If you look at the financial tax documents of these spay neuter clinics, you’ll quickly see that the people with the highest salaries are the Directors, the CEO, COO, etc. and the veterinarians and the lay staff are getting the relative crumbs. There’s a better way to spend money on fixing this problem.

    I’ve never met a veterinarian who is opposed to low cost spay neuter clinics, and this case is definitely NOT a witch hunt against those clinics or the people who run them.

    When you decide that you really want to solve the animal overpopulation problem, consider doing ALL of the following:

    A) Actually measure the problem. We know there’s an animal overpopulation problem, but if you want fix that, you have to start by measuring it. Then you have to measure it over and over again as you implement solutions so you know which ones are effective and which are not. This isn’t politics, it straight out science.

    B) Stop trying to solve the problem by completely cutting out of the loop the people who are best equipped, both physically, mentally and by virtue of their population. That would be the veterinarians. The math is very plain. If just 1/3 of the veterinarians in the state were engaged to do just one spay neuter a day at low cost, they would do in one day what one spay neuter clinic can do in two weeks.

    C) Instead of building clinics to spay and neuter animals in high volume, spend the resources on assisting and educating pet owners on how to be responsible pet owners and empower them to visit and form relationships with a veterinarian who can be the advocate for that animal through out it’s entire life.

    If you will do those three things, there are no losers. The animals get the care they need, the poor get the subsidized cost for the care, the veterinarians get to care for the pets they love and develop relationships with their owners, and the people who want to help these animals get to spend more of their resources on fixing the problem and less on administration of practices that cannot really impact the problem.

    • Andrea

      How arrogant of you to say such a thing that poor people should not have pets! People are not all born poor – there was this thing called a RECESSION where lots of folks lost their jobs and homes.
      And I do somehow doubt that you have ever actually taken part in a spay/neuter effort. They run like clockwork because they have to be highly efficient. I volunteered many times, helping to file paperwork, carry traps back and forth, watch recovery. Cats were given shots, flea treatment, and the incisions were always small – it’s the way they are done these days. These are trained vets, so I don’t know why you think these are some shady operations. Cats that were not healthy enough were given an evaluation and a foster situation where they could go back for spay at a later time.

      One local clinic here has already fixed over 100,000 community cats – according to your approach, their number would be 0.
      You’d still be…uhm…measuring.

    • Jester1137

      Read this whole comment by “Captain Obvious”.

      This is boilerplate from one of the hacks trying to take down clinics in order to pad his own wallet.

      If you want to know how greedy Vets justify their abuses, read this.

    • #HelpSaveAlSpayNeuter

      To clear up any misinformation:

      Alabama Spay/Neuter has all VETERINARY LICENSES, TECH LICENSES and PREMISE PERMIT (all issued by the Alabama State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners) prominently displayed in the lobby. Alabama Spay/Neuter has been thoroughly inspected about once a year by the Alabama State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners’ personal inspector. Alabama Spay/Neuter meets and EXCEEDS STANDARDS as outlined in the Alabama Veterinary Practice Act. All pets are watched by the veterinarian until they are completely awake. ALL medical operations are managed and overseen by a LICENSED veterinarian. There is an emergency contact number for Alabama Spay/Neuter for after hours. One would just dial 205-956-0012 then click ext. 5 and it goes directly to the emergency contact.

      Alabama Spay/Neuter’s chief veterinarian states, “Alabama Spay/Neuter’s veterinarians abide by the veterinary rule of “Do No Harm”. Thus, only small incisions are made for pet comfort. Large incisions should only be made in the event of an abdominal exploratory. Just as abdominal organs are not examined grossly in a neuter, there is no need to do so during a spay for females unless the veterinarian is suspicious of a preexisting problem or condition.”

      Alabama Spay/Neuter is 100% transparent to the public. Go take a tour to see for yourself or watch The Alabama Spay/Neuter Tour on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YR8vUbzqT_k

      The problem has been measured and so have the results:

      In Alabama over 200,000 healthy, adoptable pets are euthanized each year because of overpopulation in Alabama shelters. Since Alabama Spay/Neuter opened in 2008, Humane Societies in Central Alabama have reported a significant decrease in shelter intake and euthanasia rates. Call the Greater Birmingham Humane Society to find out for yourself. (205) 942-1211

      Alabama Spay/Neuter offers a service to the community:

      Almost 70-80% of the clients at Alabama Spay/Neuter need financial assistance. All donations received by Alabama Spay/Neuter go directly to paying for (with a voucher) or supplementing the cost of a spay or neuter for those who are less fortunate. Alabama Spay/Neuter requires proof of food stamps, disability, or some other government financial assistance program to receive the supplement. Aside from those who are less fortunate, a thousand plus rescue groups in Alabama are in dire need of low-cost spay/neuter because the humane societies and shelters in Alabama can not hold all of the companion animals due to overpopulation. While there are some veterinarians in Alabama that support and offer low-cost spay neuter, their is an excess amount of veterinarians in Alabama that do not offer a program low-cost enough to nudge the everyday Alabamian to want to get their pet fixed. Alabama Spay/Neuter’s mission aims to make spay/neuter affordable to all so that they may reduce shelter intake, thus eradicating the need for euthanasia. Alabama Spay/Neuter performs all medical procedures with the highest standard of care regardless of the high volumes. Every patient is checked by a licensed veterinarian prior to surgery to make sure the patient’s spay or neuter is not risky.

      While educating all on the importance of preventative reproduction in cats and dogs has been and on going a goal that veterinarians, shelters, humane societies, and rescues strive to accomplish, obviously, this goal is unreachable because there is still a proven overpopulation problem.

      Also, in reference to financial documents, look over them again before spreading misinformation. All grants applied for ask for financial statements. They are set at the same level as any other 501-C-3 nonprofit organization. Otherwise, Alabama Spay/Neuter would not be able to qualify for the grants received.

      Alabama Spay/Neuter is here to prevent overpopulation of companion animals through the humane solution of spay/neuter and to educate clients on basic preventative healthcare so that they may continue a relationship with their veterinarian.

      Alabama Spay/Neuter supports all privately owned veterinarians providing low cost spay/neuter in order to prevent overpopulation.

      Peter Marsh has an excellent book regarding the overpopulation issue which can be found in the link below: http://www.shelteroverpopulation.org/Replacing_Myth_With_Math.htm

      And It is a solution that works!

      Feel free to contact Margaret Ferrell, DVM at wifemomdvm@alspay.org or Dani at Danip@alspay.org for more information.

      Thank you for your concern.

  • jinnyh

    Dr Weber is the best, most compassionate vet I have ever had the privilege to know. Thanks for bringing this to my attention. I will write the board on his behalf.

  • Pat Griggs

    I cannot believe that only a few veterinarians in Alabama are against the low cost spay/neuter clinics! My own veterinarian encourages people to use the low-cost clinic option for their pets! So basically all these “caring” so-called professional veterinarians are worried about is how much money is lining their pockets. Shame, I say shame on all of you! You are a disgrace to the profession, and I will encourage everyone I know on Facebook and beyond for the rest of my life to never visit a clinic that you all are affiliated with in any way.. Oh and by the way, remember that pledge you took when you got your license to “help animals that are suffering”? Low-cost clinics keep unwanted animals from being born in the first place, and keep them out of shelters and out of gas chambers. You all are pathetic and do not think that we don’t know what you want doing…we know very well.

  • ETJ

    I just emailed the following; anyone that wants to copy any of this is more than welcome to do so. I’m an American by birth, FYI, and I actually went to university in Alabama. We in the third world are doing our best with even fewer resources, and also battle similar criticisms and actions from private vets and even government agencies. It is beyond discouraging to hear about such backwards and inhumane views continuing in the U.S.

    Dear Ms. Hester;

    I’m writing to urge the
    ASBVME to revisit and carefully reconsider the charges being laid
    against Dr. Weber and the non profit Alabama Spay Neuter Clinic.

    It
    is patently obvious to millions of animal welfare workers and advocates
    that there are a huge number of under-served communities in the United
    States, when it comes to affordable veterinary care, including spay
    neuter.

    It’s all well and good to say if you can’t afford a pet
    you shouldn’t have one, but it’s simply not realistic. Who’s to say
    that poor people, senior citizens, etc should not have pets? And further, that their pets which they cannot afford private
    veterinary care for, should all be impounded and killed?

    Just
    what is wrong with a non profit trying to ensure that those pets can be
    somewhat healthy, and also sterilized, both of which benefit their
    communities?

    Non
    profit clinics are not taking clients away from private for-profit
    veterinary practices. Their clients would never be able to afford to
    walk in those doors. To deny innocent animals the opportunity for some
    basic wellness care and s/n services is reprehensible.

    The
    leading cause of death for dogs and cats in America is SHELTER
    KILLING. Which your President Dr. Pitman reportedly profits from, which
    seems to be a clear conflict of interest, and I do not understand how
    such a person could be in charge of your Board to begin with. Never
    mind be a licensed veterinarian having taken an oath to “do no harm”.
    This smacks of corruption and greed, and shows a horrifying lack of
    concern for the welfare of Alabama’s animals.

    For
    your organization to oppose these low cost clinics which are helping
    animals instead of killing them, is despicable. In fact, you should be
    finding ways to help them subsidize FREE spay/neuter, for that last but
    large segment of every community, most of whom can’t even afford to feed
    themselves or their kids, never mind find even $50 for a spay for their
    pet.

    The nation, and indeed the world, is now learning about the disturbing and backwards actions of the
    ASBVME. The backlash is just beginning as Americans are removing the
    blinders and realizing that killing millions of dogs and cats has not
    solved any problem and never will.

    There
    is a better solution which involves compassion and being humane and
    these low cost clinics are an integral part of that solution.

    Please
    do the right thing and instead of fighting these clinics, ask how you
    can help them; if, that is, you are truly concerned with the welfare of
    animals in Alabama.

    Thank you,

    Elizabeth Burrows

    Executive Director

    Humane Society of Grand Bahama
    Freeport, Bahamas

  • Wendy B

    Everybody send an email or fax – let’s flood them to let them know THE WORLD IS WATCHING!! No more back room deals that cost animal lives.

  • hellenhighwater

    Any ideas of what should basically be said in the email/fax? Thank you.

    • #HelpSaveAlSpayNeuter

      I just posted under Captain Obvious to clear up misinformation. You may use the information I posted. You may also call Alabama Spay/Neuter (205) 956-0012.

  • Andrea

    We once paid $2,500 for spay/weekend boarding and bloodwork w/shots at a regular vet clinic for a dog we found starving in a bad neighborhood. There is simply no way a rescue group can pay these amounts – they need a low-cost basic clinic. Some regular vets don’t want to take on feral kitties – they are always better off in a high-volume spay/neuter clinic where they can dedicate a whole day just doing TNR work. Any business has different clientele from high-end to low-end needs and budgets. I don’t understand why Dr. Pittman doesn’t understand that. Shame on him.

  • Confused

    I don’t understand why rescue groups, funded by
    Best Friends, make veterinarians out to be the bad guy when the veterinarian is charging the same for spays and neuters as the “low cost clinic”.

    • icarus_falls@live.com

      Veterinarians typically charge FAR more than low cost clinics. Let’s say you have a large female dog (80lb or so). The low cost clinic will typically be around 150-200 total for the spay and meds. The vet clinic for a large female spay will be 400 just for the surgery, plus IV catheter placement and fluids and blood work an take home meds etc etc. It adds up quickly. And if you’re doing something like trapping an entire colony of feral cats or helping a senior citizen who has a house full of chihuahuas, a low cost option is a necessity!!

    • Wendy B

      Because the price is NOT the same. Low cost spay/neuter clinics cost far less that a regular Vet office.

  • Dee Santucci

    It’s pathetic how unethical some Veterinary professionals behave. This is meant to help people who cannot afford to get their pets fixed and would cut down on the number of unwanted pets along with their suffering. It would also reduce the amount of taxpayer dollars spent to deal with the problem of strays. I wonder how the Veterinarians that behave this way sleep at night.