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By D.R. Bartlette

Arkansas Law Prevents Veterinarian From Offering Services

Fayetteville’s city-owned Animal Services Division has been running a low-cost spay and neuter clinic for low-income residents for a decade. By all accounts, it has been successful. But a controversial regulation has put a stop to it, at least temporarily.

Jill Hatfield, Animal Services superintendent, says even though Fayetteville’s population has increased dramatically in that time, there has been a relatively low increase in the number of animals coming into the shelter. She attributes this to the low-cost spay and neuter clinic.

“In the last 10 years, we’ve ‘fixed’ about 5,000 animals,” Hatfield said.

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Robb Jones, staff veterinarian for the city of Fayetteville,

prepares to spay a cat on Aug. 24

However, when the new Animal Services’ veterinarian Dr. Robb Jones applied to the Arkansas Veterinary Board to change his license from a private practice to a shelter employee, the board issued a letter stating if Jones, as a city employee, offered services to the general public, he would be in violation of the Professional Practices Act and could have his license revoked.

“When we got that letter from the Veterinary Board, we had to put the program on hold,” Jones said.

So, since February, the low-cost spay and neuter clinic has had its doors shut.

The regulation, Arkansas Code 4-29-208, essentially states that all officers, shareholders and directors of a corporation must be licensed in said profession. For example, when retailer PetSmart tried to have a veterinarian on its staff, that was ruled as a violation because the owners of PetSmart are not licensed vets.

Everyone interviewed for this story said they were surprised and had never heard of this regulation, though the Veterinary Board contends it has been on the books for many years.

“We’ve been doing this a long time, and there was never a question,” said City Attorney Kit Williams. “I still don’t think we’re in violation of any law or regulation.”

Williams argued that this regulation doesn’t apply to Fayetteville’s animal shelter because the City of Fayetteville is not a corporation.

“The board is trying to regulate businesses, not cities,” he said. “They probably don’t have the power (to do so).”

So in June, Williams, Hatfield, Jones and State Rep. Sue Madison attended the Veterinary Board meeting in Little Rock to discuss excluding Fayetteville’s low-cost spay and neuter program from this regulation.

The Fayetteville-based nonprofit SpayArkansas states on its Web site that: “Despite 300 signed petitions from citizens and every vet clinic in Fayetteville, and eloquent arguments from Kit Williams, there was no change. In other words, it is still not possible for a vet employed by a municipality (or a nonprofit) to perform low-cost spay/neuters for low-income pet owners, unless he (or she) owns or leases the facility.”

Hatfield said her question to the state board is, “Why do you have to regulate this?”

She said no other state has a regulation like this.

“I think they made this regulation because (some) vets don’t like this competition. They don’t want humane societies and shelters offering the same services at lower cost. But in this area, all the vets signed the letter of support.

“We’re not trying to compete with private vets. We’re only offering rabies vaccinations, for the public health, and spaying/neutering to control the animal population.”

“This program is critical to the quality of life and public safety.”

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Jones takes a phone call in the shelter clinic on Aug. 24

According to Marcia Donley, founder of SpayArkansas, low-income people represent the majority of shelter drop-offs.

“That’s why they need it the most,” Donley said, adding that these animals (owned by low-income people) otherwise wouldn’t see a vet at all.

Jones said that since the program has been shelved, the shelter has had a lot of intakes that might have been prevented. He said that springtime is particularly busy with “lots of litters of kittens and puppies.”

Some have suggested simply finding a loophole, such as having low-income pet owners “abandon” their animals to the shelter, then “adopting” them after they have been treated.

Williams dismisses these suggestions. “I want to hit this head-on; I don’t want to finesse or find a loophole. I would rather get a clear decision — not just for our city, but for any city who wants to offer this type of program.”

Williams said he has researched this law, and will send the state attorney general his research and ask him to render on opinion. The Arkansas Veterinary Board has also requested an opinion from the attorney general.

Williams said he is dedicated to seeing this resolved. “If we can’t get anything resolved, we might have to go to court. I don’t want to have to do that, but if need be, I will. This is a very important program.”

Spay and neuter facts

  • Arkansas has one of the highest rates of euthanasia per capita in the U.S. about 35 animals per 1,000 people for Washington County, compared to the national average of 15.5 animals per 1,000 people.
  • Of the 5,095 animals taken in by Fayetteville Animal Services in 2007, half were euthanized.
  • For every dollar spent on a low-cost spay and neuter program, $3 is saved in animal-control costs.
  • In 1993, the New Hampshire legislature passed two state-funded spay/neuter assistance programs. In the first seven years, almost 30,000 surgeries were done; 37,210 fewer dogs entered shelters and the state saved almost $4 million.
  • In 1994, Humane Alliance of North Carolina opened a low-cost spay and neuter clinic. Now shelter euthanasia is down 70 percent.

From the SpayArkansas Web site

Where to go

There are other options for low-income residents who want to spay and neuter their animals.

  • Humane Society of the Ozarks provides reduced-cost vouchers to individuals. Call 444-7387.
  • Washington County offers free spaying and neutering to qualified low-income applicants utilizing area vets. Call the county clerk at 444-1701.

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