Put animals’ health first

Caitlyn was nursed back to health after having had her mouth taped shut.

A state where two dogs with their mouths taped shut have been rescued from an agonizing death ought to be looking for more ways to protect animals.

A state where dog fighting and bear baiting have been popular should be eager to provide more inexpensive health care for animals.

But a bill in the state Senate, sponsored by Sen. Thomas McElveen, D-Sumter, and supported by some private veterinarians, would do the opposite. It would limit the medical services that animal shelters can provide, and thus force pet owners to pay higher prices for private veterinary care.

Animal advocates warn that such a law would also discourage people from adopting animals. For example, the bill would stipulate that shelters could provide follow-up medical services for only 30 days after a pet is adopted.

People might be reluctant to adopt a dog with heartworms or some other ailment in anticipation of large private vet bills.

Many private veterinarians have been complaining about shelters providing low-cost medical services to animals for years. They point out that nonprofit shelters don’t pay taxes and take business from those who do.

But these nonprofits, which rely on donations, say they provide services that are needed to help animals get adopted, or to enable a family to adopt a pet.

Charleston Animal Society CEO Joe Elmore says his organization has asked private veterinarians to provide evidence that nonprofits are eating away at their business.

No such evidence has been provided.

It is even possible that the converse is true. The more pets that are adopted, the fewer shelter animals are euthanized. Thus, the more business veterinarians could eventually get.

If the misguided bill passes, animal shelters would be allowed to perform only certain services: sterilizations, microchip implantation, vaccinations, prevention of parasites and treatment of intestinal parasites, fleas and ticks.

They would also be able to perform life-saving services and humane euthanasia.

Shelters would be required to keep more records, and mobile nonprofit vet clinics would be restricted from parking too closely to a private pet clinic.

And shelters would be allowed to provide services to low-income pet owners only if their incomes were documented by affidavit.

The Charleston Animal Society arranged to take supporters to Columbia by bus Tuesday to plead their case to the Senate. No legislative action was taken.

But animal advocates should remain vigilant.

The bill is alive and still threatens to make it more difficult and expensive to adopt a pet from a shelter.

Local shelters have made progress toward becoming “no kill” facilities.

The Legislature should reject the bill that would make them less likely to achieve that goal.