The joy of having a pet doesn't erase the responsibility of taking care of it. And as veterinary costs have soared in recent years, too many animals have gone without the basic medical care they need - and too many families have decided against having a dog or cat because they could no longer afford it.

That's why Pet Helpers is expanding its clinic offering low-cost veterinary services.

That's also why the General Assembly should not pass a bill setting limits on the veterinary services such nonprofit clinics can offer.

As reported on our front page Wednesday, Pet Helpers is living up to its name by expanding its Greer Clinic. Pet Helpers founder and president Carol Linville and Dr. Janet McKim, the clinic's chief of medicine, stress that the facility aims to fill a crucial need in the community - not to compete with private veterinarian practices. There's even a sliding discount scale based on the income of pet owners.

In other words, the clinic's target customers are generally people who wouldn't otherwise take their animals to the vet.

With prevalence of heartworm disease too high and levels of rabies vaccination too low in our community and state, the clinic can help improve those statistics.

As for public opinion about the bill that aims to curtail such clinics' veterinary services, Mrs. Linville correctly observed: "I can't imagine a single citizen out there who would say, 'Oh, yeah, don't let shelters help us.' "

Locally, both Pet Helpers and the Charleston Animal Society have provided such help - and are expanding their efforts.

As Dr. McKim wrote in a guest column that ran on our Opinion page Wednesday, the shift toward "corporate medicine" in the veterinary business model requires a shift to provide a different animal-care "safety net."

After all, people of modest means should be able to afford pets - and their basic health care needs.

Pet Helpers, the Charleston Animal Society and other non-profits are serving that need, with the help of their financial supporters.

And this worthy, humane mission shouldn't be blocked by misguided legislation.