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Animal Advisory Commission wary of animal legislation

Friday, March 13, 2015 by Audrey McGlinchy, KUT

Members of Austin’s Animal Advisory Commission requested more time Wednesday night to consider whether to recommend a bill some say would threaten city shelters’ “no-kill” status.

The committee considered two bills filed by state representatives concerning veterinarian practice in city shelters, but because of confusion over what the bills would mean for animal care, it agreed to move the discussion to a special meeting next week.

Austin-area lawyer Ryan Clinton urged the commission to strongly advise City Council to vote against one of the bills. Clinton said HB 1274, filed by state Rep. Lyle Larson (R-San Antonio), overturns “owner exemption,” or the designation that allows someone other than a certified veterinarian to perform any medical procedures on an animal. This was made possible with the passage of the Veterinary Practice Act, which states that the law does not apply to an animal owner, someone employed by this owner or an animal’s designated caretaker.

Many shelters across the country have operated under the notion that, once an animal shows up at their doors, their staff members are the animal’s caretakers.

Commissioner Dr. Rita Geigel denied that this bill would threaten shelter staff’s rights to care for animals.

“The intent of 1274 is to allow veterinarians to come up with protocols for shelter medicine, and for those who are taking care of the animals in the shelter,” Geigel said, stating that the bill requires protocols be put in place by certified vets and would still allow trained staff within shelters to give an animal medical attention as long as they followed the standard of care laid out for them.

Geigel also questioned why certified veterinarians, working in shelters or elsewhere, should be exempt from a law to begin with.

“There’s absolutely no reason why a licensed professional should be exempt from the licensing laws of their profession,” she said. “You wouldn’t want to go to a doctor that’s been exempted from the licensing laws. The same applies to veterinarians.”

Who qualifies for this exemption was the subject of a court case between the Texas State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners and Dr. Ellen Jefferson, executive director of Austin Pets Alive! and San Antonio Pets Alive! She sued the board after it fined her when it received two complaints about care at her shelters. Jefferson argued she wasn’t subject to the board’s purview because she was exempted from the law as a designated caretaker of these shelter animals.

According to the TBVME, the case is currently being heard by a 3rd Court of Appeals.

TBVME Executive Director Nicole Oria says the court case is an attempt to clarify the act, which she said wasn’t written with a place like Austin Pets Alive! in mind.

“I can honestly say our act was written without consideration of shelters and no-kill shelters,” Oria said. “Our board is absolutely all in favor of no-kill theory.”

Commission member Larry Tucker said that, for what it was worth, other cities in the state had already taken strong positions against Larson’s bill. But Commission member Babette Ellis cautioned her colleagues about making any recommendation to Council before having thoroughly read and understood the two bills.

With a unanimous vote, the motion to discuss the bills at a later special meeting passed.

Photo By Jocelyn Augustino (This image is from the FEMA Photo Library.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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