A proposed bill, which would limit the services that animal shelters or rescue groups can offer to the public, was introduced last month in the S.C. Statehouse.

The bill currently states that animals in the possession of a shelter or rescue can be spayed or neutered, vaccinated and microchipped at that organization’s facility but would restrict them from offering those same services to the public.

The bill is sponsored by Rep. David Hiott and was composed with the assistance of veterinarians from around the state who said public funds are being used on services that compete with their businesses.

Humane Society of the United States S.C. Director Kim Kelly said, if passed as it’s currently written, some of the bill’s provisions could negatively impact adoptions and increase animal overpopulation, which would inevitably lead to higher euthanasia rates.

What our local rescues and shelters do

The SPCA Albrecht Center for Animal Welfare offers vaccinations as well as heartworm and feline leukemia/HIV testing in conjunction with spay and neutering surgeries at its clinic.

The nonprofit offers vouchers to both city and county residents who are eligible for its cost spay and neutering program.

Those services are made possible through donations made by the private sector – it does not receive government funding.

Barbara Nelson, current president and CEO of the facility, said animal rescues and shelters are reaching out to low-income families that can’t afford a spay or neuter procedure.

The Aiken County Animal Shelter offers vouchers to low-income families to have their pets altered at veterinarian offices of their choices. Those funds are provided and approved by the County.

Bobby Arthurs, director of Aiken County Animal Control, said the shelter gives out up to 65 vouchers a month (one per household) and said it’s a very popular program.

The shelter also offers microchipping for $23 to the public, which Arthurs said is another important service.

“If the animal has a microchip, we take them home rather than take them to shelter,” Arthurs said.

Jennifer Miller, Friends of the Animal Shelter president, said they are trying to expand the shelter’s spay and neuter program, adding that those who visit low-cost clinics are oftentimes those who don’t go for yearly visits or exams.

“I think most people in the community are very much in support of the low-cost spay and neuter programs,” Miller said.

The competition factor

Chrissey Miller, SCPA Albrecht Center’s development director, said, in 2011, the nonprofit gave out free vaccinations because of a grant it received from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

It placed flyers in rural gas stations and laundromats to notify low-income families of the vaccinations and asked a series of question in order to assure that the organization wasn’t “stepping on vets’ toes.”

The Aiken SPCA inquired about the number of pets in a household, if they were spayed or neutered, if they had a regular veterinarian and their income level.

Miller said more than 600 rounds of vaccinations were offered to approximately 250 pet owners. Only one made more than $20,000 a year, none of them had a regular vet and not only did the lowest income level families own the most pets, none of their animals were altered.

“The fact that so many organizations are willing to grant money to low-cost spay and neuter clinics illustrates the need for these clinics,” Miller said in an email. “When really low-cost surgeries are offered (around $15), there is usually a qualification that must be met (government assistance, etc).”

Nelson said the Albrecht Center’s services are not about competition – its about abating the overpopulation problem seen across the state and country. In fact, the SPCA shows adopters a list of local veterinarians for future care.

“We’re not offering wellness,” Nelson said. “We encourage them to go to a veterinarian for wellness. We are not going to compete with them for wellness.”

Local veterinarian Holly Woltz echoed that sentiment, saying the SPCA does a great job at what they do but it’s only a starting point of good health in an animal. Finding a veterinarian to ensure a pet’s future wellness is important, Woltz said.

“Working with a veterinarian one-on-one – that experience, that exam, that’s priceless,” Woltz said. “We can find things, we take the time and we educate the client. The quality, the continuing of care – that’s where us veterinarians really come into play.”

Hope for compromise

According to Kelly and Wayne Brennessel, chief executive director of the South Carolina Humane Society, there was a discussion between several shelters, the South Carolina Association of Veterinarians, and Rep. Hiott last week.

There has been a verbal compromise between those parties that the role of shelters and nonprofits is vital in fighting animal cruelty and overpopulation.

Brennessel feels the limitations on shelters and rescues described in the bill, which is in the process of being redrafted, will be removed.