This blog has raised the issue before about growing concern over the scale and scope of shelter veterinary clinics, with Alabama and South Carolina being two states considering restrictions. Add Idaho to the list as the Idaho Veterinary Medical Association (IVMA) seeks to restrict Idaho shelters and humane societies from serving commercial clients other than low-income pet owners.
Shelter veterinary practices cover the spectrum across the United States:
> Veterinary care only for pets in custody of shelter;
> Veterinary care for shelter pets plus spay/neuter services for low-income pet owners;
> Veterinary care for shelter pets plus spay/neuter services for any pet owner in community, generally at a lower rate than private practitioners;
> Full-service commercial veterinary clinic serving low-income pet owners; or
> Full-service commercial veterinary clinic serving any and all pet owners in community, ostensibly with a lower pricing model than private practitioners.
Veterinary and animal health communities are beginning to wake up to the challenges of these models, in particular the full-service scenario. IVMA specifically raises the issue of whether this model crosses the line for a 501c (3) non-profit exemption. Idaho appears to accept the premise of a shelter veterinary clinic serving low-income pet owners without jeopardizing its 501c(3) status, but draws the line there. Other professions have dealt with similar issues, but as of yet, no legal challenge is pending in the veterinary world.
dvm360 readers may expect that legislative initiatives will pick up steam from both sides. This blogger predicts that the profession will soon take up the issue in local, state and national venues, and particularly in veterinary medical associations—as will shelter and animal welfare organizations. It makes sense for stakeholders to sit down and explore all of the ramifications, including how it would affect longstanding relationships with private practitioners serving shelter veterinary needs. No one will be served by a full-scale skirmish, least of all pets, and it’s hard not to envision solutions where shelters do what they do best without competing directly with private practices. And at the end of the day, shelters may discover that the economics of managing full-service commercial practices alongside their non-profit efforts is an uphill financial climb.