Veterinarians Get Funky in Alabama in Attempts to Outlaw Nonprofits

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Pug hooking

February 17, 2015; Huntsville Times (

NPQ has previously covered the near-hysteria of two trade associations in Alabama that have organized to try to edge nonprofits out of their respective fields, dentistry and veterinary medicine. Their stated concern has to do with what they see as unfair competition from nonprofit and other low-cost clinics. In the case of the dentistry dust-up, the nonprofit Sarrell Clinic finally brought and won an antitrust lawsuit against the Alabama Dental Association. PBS made a documentary about the situation and NPQ’s Rick Cohen wrote a piece detailing the lessons to be derived for other nonprofits with similar issues.

But now, virtually the same type of campaign is being waged by the Alabama Veterinary Practice Owners Association, a splinter group of the Alabama Veterinary Medical Association, against nonprofit spay and neutering clinics, which they call “radical.” The tactics are eerily familiar. Generally, the for-profits represented by AVPOA claim that nonprofit clinics are interfering with their business and that only animal clinics owned by a veterinarian should be licensed by the Veterinary Medical Examiners Board. Their campaign is couched in concern for the animals, and their focus has recently been on the Alabama Spay/Neuter Clinic in Irondale. Its lead veterinarian, Dr. Margaret Ferrell, was recently brought up in front of the Alabama State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners on 29 charges. An administrative judge recommended that she be found not guilty on 26 of the 29 charges and be fined $250 for the other three, which were minor issues.

Yesterday, Dr. Michael Blackwell, the Senior Director of Veterinary Policy at the Humane Society of the United States and its chief veterinary spokesperson, weighed in with a letter to the local paper with a nice analysis of the situation. It read, in part:

“By blaming nonprofits, veterinarians are barking up the wrong tree. They are seeking even more government regulation of one of the most highly regulated industries. In fact, what the veterinary profession needs is not more government interference, but more tolerance for free-market principles.”

Blackwell continued, “Rather than competing with established veterinarians, nonprofit organizations and low-cost services are reaching a new audience of pet owners and introducing them to veterinary services for the first time, expanding the overall universe of veterinary customers and responsible pet owners.

One program providing free spay and neuter and veterinary wellness services for families in poverty-stricken communities nationwide found that 83 percent of patients had never before seen a veterinarian. When these families see a veterinarian for the first time and have a positive experience, they may become lifetime veterinary customers.

A 2011 study by Bayer found six primary reasons for the decline in visits to private veterinary practices:

  • Pet owners are still feeling the impact of the recent recession, even while most veterinarians increased their fees during that period.
  • The number of veterinarians practicing companion animal medicine increased dramatically from 1996 through 2006, far outpacing the growth in cat and dog ownership.
  • Many consumers rely on Internet advice rather than a visit to the veterinarian.
  • The majority of cat owners do not take their cats to the veterinarian because they think it’s unnecessary or too difficult.
  • Many pet owners still believe that regular medical check-ups are not needed.
  • Many consumers cite “sticker shock,” thinking veterinary costs too high.

Nowhere, he points out, is the existence of nonprofit alternatives mentioned.

While this particular skirmish has resolved temporarily, each side has 15 days to appeal the decision by the Medical Examiners Board.—Ruth McCambridge 

  • Victoria Ayers

    My little dog was very ill, and quite old. She seemed to be failing and in distress, and we took her to the vet where a doctor began a litany of what they could do for her, starting with “IV’s, medication, and oxygen to make her more comfortable”. Sounds humane, right? They “did all they could” and she died, I hope comfortably, but alone, in the night. When we went to pick her up, they handed us a bill; less than 14 hours of care, most of which was unattended overnight, in a cage, $1,200, including a charge for every single bit of materiel they used, from the needles to the tubing to the medications themselves. Had I been able to access a walk-in clinic such as they have in Pittsburgh, and a compassionate professional had said, “We think it’s time to say good-bye” I could have been with her, and her loss would not be exacerbated by trying to figure out how to squeeze $1,200 out of an already tight budget.

  • Bham Resident

    The ALJ recommended Dr. Ferrell be cleared on all 29 charges. The ASBVME went against the judge’s recommendations on 3 of the charges.

  • Vicki Burns

    These low cost services are the only way many Alabamians can afford to vet their pets. Stop being so greedy.

  • Catherine Goodwin

    Our spay/neuter clinic is a huge help in our community. Because of them we have been able to have many colonies contained and the private sector educated on the importance of spay/neutering their pets. Please think about something besides your greed when this law comes up for consideration. Thank you.

  • Cathy Colorado

    It’s disgusting, if not downright immoral for these money hungry professionals to go after other professional that service and try to help the poor. It’s sad. Alabama is suppose to be more friendly than the North. Not… Alabama has always been considered the bible belt, and the fact is, they hate and feel disgust for their poor. It’s an oxymoron, and a contradiction of terms. Oh, the irony. For those in Alabama that claim to be Christian, yet don’t read their bible, let me fill you in: He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the Lord; and that which he hath given will he pay him again.~ Proverbs 19:17 Alabama, don’t be so selfish. Don’t be so hateful to the poor. Your selfishness and hatefulness is exactly why you are always at the bottom of the per capita income bracket. Give and it shall be given, pressed down, shaken together, running over. It’s better to give than receive. Help the poor to help the poor animals to not have poor animals that nobody wants. Help people with toothaches and no where to go. Give now, so you won’t have to give more later. It’s a no brainer. It ain’t rocket science. It’s common sense. Show that you really love Jesus, by helping those that cannot help themselves.