Update on the Animal Welfare Bill (S687) by Dr. Mary Keisler

Posted on Wednesday, February 10th, 2016 at 8:33 pm.

I am Dr. Mary Keisler.  I have served for the past seven years on the board of the SC Association of Veterinarians and I am currently the President of the association.  I have practiced veterinary medicine for 31 years in a small animal practice and I have provided volunteer veterinary service at shelters and rescue organizations.  I also served on the Board of Veterinary Medicine for the District of Columbia and the executive board of the Greater Columbia Area Veterinarians.

Much has been written and commented on as relates to the Animal Welfare Legislation that is moving through the SC Senate (S687).  Unfortunately for everyone, and especially animal lovers, a massive campaign led by some in the shelter community misstates almost everything about the process to date as well as what the bill actually does.  This has led to needless confusion and uncertainty by the public and the media.

The Senate Animal Welfare Subcommittee took untold hours to receive testimony from around the state to understand animal welfare issues.  In addition, once the bill was crafted the subcommittee held multiple lengthy hearings on the bill where the shelter community testified at length as did the veterinary community.  As a result of those hearings, the subcommittee amended the bill to accommodate some of the issues raised by the shelter community and to clarify the bill.  As amended, the bill would for the first time provide Labor Licensing and Regulation (LLR) with the ability to fully regulate the medical care at shelters just like private veterinary clinics.  Unfortunately, not all shelters are created equally.  Some shelters do not have veterinarians to assist with medical care and this care is currently not regulated. Their normal day to day veterinary services will continue largely unaffected.

The full Senate Agriculture Committee recently amended the bill further in large part in response to issues raised by the shelter community and the legislation was then unanimously adopted by a strong bi-partisan Committee.  This is a work product that the full Senate Agriculture Committee as well as the public should be confident in and have a great sense of pride in how the process was conducted.

There are several specific statements that must be clarified with facts:

Shelter statement – Animal organizations had zero input into Senate Bill 687.

Facts – this is a sad statement that simply ignores the fact that 4 lengthy hearings were held across the state before the bill was even introduced.  In addition, hearings were held by the subcommittee where the shelter community and supporters testified at length.  An amendment was offered and adopted that included suggestions made by the shelter community to make sure animal welfare was maintained and improved.  A sit down meeting between the SC Association of Veterinarians and the shelter lobbying entity was held where the shelter community simply opposed the key provisions of the bill.  It is hard to work together when one side says no to all of the key components of the bill.  To imply there was zero input is offensive to the process.

Shelter statement – The Bill is disguised as an attempt to improve shelter standards while excluding standards for veterinary clinics, boarding facilities, etc.

Facts – First the bill has nothing to do with boarding facilities as they are not providing medical services.  All veterinary clinics are currently regulated by the Department of LLR so to say veterinary clinics are excluded is simply misleading and a distraction.  Shelter standards will be improved due to the fact that, under the bill, shelters themselves will be held accountable for poor medical services.  Currently shelters run by non-veterinarians can be inspected by LLR but are not disciplined or fined for poor animal welfare care.  Currently only a veterinarian can be disciplined.  Many shelters are now run by professional administrators and the employed veterinarian only provides day to day veterinary services but does not have a say on how the shelter is run or how it prioritizes animal welfare.

Shelter statement – It is important to note that animal organizations have wholeheartedly agreed with any and all elements of the Bill that deal with quality of care issues.

Fact – if the shelters actually agreed with the statement they made about quality of care they would not be fighting the bill.  Veterinarians around the state have seen numerous cases which have raised great concern including many sad and painful examples of poor care (by non-veterinary shelter employees) when the pet is brought to them later, medications dispensed in unlabeled, non-child proof zip lock bags, and improper representation of vaccination against zoonotic diseases.  It is past time for medical care at shelters to be held accountable.

Shelter statement – If passed into law, Senate Bill 687, pushed by for-profit veterinarians from the Upstate and Midlands through a special interest group, will turn back the clock on animal welfare to the dark days of the past and ignores what is in the best interest of pet owners and their pets.

Fact –    The existing services offered by shelters are embraced by this bill.  The bill keeps intact all public safety services (including spaying, neutering,  and vaccinations) currently offered by shelters for ALL owners, allows all rescued pets the shelter services, allows the shelter to perform any and all veterinary services to animals it holds for adoptions and allows any and all services for low income owners.  Shelters do a great job with these services and the SC Association of Veterinarians is not suggesting that those services be taken away.  The statement is apparently intended to stir up the passion of pet lovers without a basis in fact – this is very sad and unfortunate.

Shelter statement – Deny affordable veterinary care to Social Security recipients, veterans (who have risked their lives for our country), military families, firefighters, teachers, law enforcement officers, nurses, visually-impaired individuals and others who require service animals and the entire middle class!

Fact – this is a classic scare tactic that has no place in this discussion.  Under the bill NOBODY and no pet is denied affordable veterinary care as it relates to the basic public health services which comprise basically all of the services currently offered by shelters.  To attempt to scare some of the most revered groups in the State without any basis in fact is inexcusable.

Shelters play an important role in controlling the unwanted pet population and helping to provide public health services.  The animal welfare bill (S687) will assure that ALL pet owners as well as rescue groups will continue to have unfettered access to subsidized low cost public health services, while at the same time protect our four legged friends that cannot speak for themselves.