Beaufort County animal rescue groups speak out against shelter bill

In this file photo, one of the cats at the Beaufort County Animal Shelter purrs from the top of a scratching post inside the shelter's adoption room in Beaufort.
In this file photo, one of the cats at the Beaufort County Animal Shelter purrs from the top of a scratching post inside the shelter's adoption room in Beaufort. Sarah Welliver

Animal-rescue and shelter groups oppose legislation that would limit services they can provide, despite a meeting with lawmakers designed to quell their fears.

Several state and local groups say House Bill 3492, drafted at the request of the S.C. Association of Veterinarians, would place more regulations on rescue organizations and prevent them from providing services needed to reduce stray-pet populations and euthanasia rates.

Franny Gerthoffer, executive director of the Hilton Head Humane Association, said her group works closely with local veterinarians to spay and neuter, microchip and vaccinate animals.

"It's really working, and this bill will stop the momentum if it passes," she said.

The meeting last week, organized by Reps. Kirkman Finlay, R-Richland, and David Hiott, R-Pickens, was held behind closed doors. Leaders of the veterinarians group emerged from the meeting hopeful that the groups had found common ground. Shelter and rescue groups were less optimistic.

If passed, the bill would:

  • Require that animal shelters receiving public grants or taxes use the money only for sterilization of animals in the shelter, not for non-shelter animals.
  • Require that shelters be regulated by the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation and the Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners. The bill's backers say some shelter employees without veterinary credentials provide veterinary care and that some shelters either don't keep patient records or don't share them with other vets.

Gerthoffer said she doesn't believe that's a problem: The Humane Association employs two licensed vets, and other groups work with local veterinarians to provide medical services.

  • Require that some veterinary services at shelters be available only for prospective pet owners who are considered low-income. The presumption is people with sufficient income could pay for the services at a private veterinarian's office.
  • This would add another layer of paperwork for shelters to prove low-income status and a hurdle for prospective pet owners, shelters say.

    Amy Campanini, executive director of the Palmetto Animal League, said her group, the Beaufort County Animal Shelter and others have asked local representatives to stop the bill.

    "You have to make it a value, or people can very easily choose to not live with pets," Campanini said, noting her group provides veterinary care to its animals to make pet ownership more attractive for prospective adopters.

    County animal shelter director Tallulah Trice said her shelter saves taxpayers about $10,000 a month through partnerships with groups such as the Hilton Head Humane Association, which provides free spaying and neutering of shelter animals.

    After a hearing in a House subcommittee, the bill was put on hold to allow the sides to discuss their differences and come up with amendments.

    Bluffton veterinarian Ben Parker of Coastal Veterinary Clinic said he supports local shelters providing care such as spay and neuter, vaccinations or microchipping. He and many other local vets volunteer to help provide those services as a low cost for area groups, he said.

    But he doesn't believe nonprofit groups should be providing more complicated treatments, such as major surgeries, or attempting to diagnose medical problems unless they are regulated in the same way veterinary practices are.

    Joey Holleman of the (Columbia) State contributed to this report.

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