It’s a pretty good sign that there’s too much politics in health care when it starts affecting your dog.

The South Carolina Association of Veterinarians is trying to get a state law passed that would stop animal shelters and non-profit clinics from providing some medical care for your cat. Or chicken. Or duck. Or pig.

So your pet can’t choose his or her own doctor? What is this — OldMacDonaldcare?

The vets’ association says this is all about quality of care. But what it’s really about, as Charleston Animal Society CEO Joe Elmore told Diane Knich last week, is money.

There’s no sense in getting mad at your local veterinarian about it. This is not about Charleston; it all stems from a cat fight in the Midlands.

Unfortunately, that little spat could have serious repercussions for the Lowcountry, and the entire state, if it isn’t neutered pretty quickly.

Really not for profit

Pawmetto Lifeline in Columbia is a non-profit shelter and clinic that provides services like grooming, boarding and even dental care.

It’s pretty popular, but vets don’t like it because they believe the clinic’s wide variety of services is hurting their bottom line.

Now you’d think the business-friendly Legislature would point out that those are the breaks in the free market — you don’t down the Salvation Army because it cuts into Walmart’s nut.

The vets claim this is about the quality of care coming out of these shelters and clinics. But if that’s the issue, why did the association offer the animal welfare folks a compromise that said shelters could offer these additional services to “low-income” pet owners?

What, poor pets don’t deserve the same level of care as the fat cats?

It sounds like this is all about money.

Well, here’s a newsflash: “Non-profit” is not just a tax designation for many of these shelters and clinics, it’s a description of their bank accounts.

Carol Linville, president and founder of Pet Helpers, says if a shelter adopts out a dog for $100, you can bet it has $400 invested in him. It costs $150,000 a month to run a place like Pet Helpers, and they do it without any public money.

They scrape by because they are concerned about animal welfare.

And we should thank them for it.

Affordable care act

Elmore says this bill would not even affect the Charleston Animal Society, but he doesn’t want the shelter’s hands tied in case it needs to change in the coming years.

See, part of the challenge of being a no-kill shelter is finding homes for older and sick pets. It may come to the point that shelters have to offer adoptive owners free or cheap medical care just to find these old dogs a home.

And most of these places, like Pet Helpers or the Animal Society, have to make sure their animals are healthy and not carrying disease before they let them out. The only way to afford to do that is to do it in-house.

The Animal Society spends $1,000 a week on heartworm meds just to treat animals it already has adopted out because, well, folks probably wouldn’t adopt a dog with a pre-existing condition. Couldn’t afford it.

Fact is, vets aren’t really competing with shelters — they are competing with Pet Meds on the Internet, and they are competing with each other.

Linville says there are about twice as many vets in town as the city can support. And it’s a wonder they can stay in business, given the amount of discretionary income folks have these days.

“In this economy, a lot of people can’t afford to go to a private veterinarian,” Linville says.

And that’s what this is really all about — affordable pet care.

You can play politics with human health care all day — in fact, denying Medicaid coverage to the poor actually helps some pols at the polls — but you can’t go messing with animals.

For that reason alone, this bill is probably doomed to fail. If veterinarians are going to survive, they are going to have to find a way to compete with the Internet — like everyone else — and find a new niche in the new world order.

And frankly, the shelters don’t have a dog in that fight.

Reach Brian Hicks at bhicks@postandcourier.com