BOISE -- There is some disagreement in the Boise veterinary community about how organizations like the Humane Society operate when it comes to offering veterinary care.
Because the Humane Society is proposing a new complex that would include a large clinic, a group of private vets is formally asking lawmakers to create restrictions in the services non-profit organizations can offer.
Private vets: Non-profit expanding could create unfair competition
The Humane Society is looking at building a new complex near West Overland Road and South Maple Grove Road which would have an adoption center, education center and an animal hospital.
"We had a study done that said if you opened a really large practice in that location, it would have a devastating effect on the practices that are already there," said Dr. Richard Shackelford, Treasure Valley Veterinary Hospital veterinarian.
Shackelford is helping lead a committee of local veterinarians that believes the Humane Society has financial benefits from being non-profit and would unfairly compete for clients of all income levels.
"Their practice is not a standard practice because they do not have the same tax burdens that we do," Shackelford said.
The proximity to other existing clinics is also a concern. The group says there are four clinics within one mile of the proposed location.
"Because of those logistics and they're being so close, the new facility would have a dramatic effect on the income level for the surrounding practices," Shackelford said. "That's our concern. That they would establish themselves there and it would have some devastating effects on the local practices around them. Where they're located right now, they're in a very small facility: 2,500 square feet. There are no other veterinarians within one mile of them and only one veterinarian within two miles."
Committee has worked for months to try to get non-profit restrictions
Shackelford says the committee of around eight vets he's been working with started working in the spring. He says a recent meeting drew more than 50 other vets interested in their work.
Initially, the private vets said they wanted to Humane Society to enter into an agreement with restrictions that included only performing spays and neuters for low-income clients. Shackelford says that didn't work, so now they are looking at proposing a law similar to Washington state's. They have already presented information packets to some lawmakers and say they've had some enthusiasm.
"That law says that 501C3s (the charitable, tax-exempt organizations) are not allowed to provide anything other than basic veterinary services. So that would be spays, neuters, vaccines, microchips. And they can only be provided to people that can prove they are low income," Shackelford said.
Humane Society says it's not competing with private clinics
The Humane Society says they do not compete with private veterinarians. They say most of their animals getting veterinary care are shelter animals or have low-income owners. Those who come and pay full price are sometimes doing so because they want to help support the organization, says Executive Director Dr. Jeff Rosenthal.
Rosenthal says their prices are comparable to other clinics, and they can run higher or lower than private clinics. He also says their objectives and main clientele would not change in a new, expanded clinic.
"We intend to continue to focus on the low-income demographics and most of the expansion does involve just catching up to where we are. We're just undersized for the number of animals we handle," Rosenthal said.
Humane Society: Legislation 'would have extremely negative consequences' to pets and owners
Further, he says restricting services allowed even to those low-income would be devastating. He gave examples of animals currently in the clinic who had surgery there because private vets had sent low-income clients there.
"The legislation that has been proposed would prevent us from caring for all of those animals. It would cause suffering and death to potentially thousands of animals per year," Rosenthal said. "It would take spay/neuter back decades in Ada County, back to the day where nearly 10,000 animals a year were euthanized here. That would be my fear. That that would be the result of the legislation."
Both sides say they all work together on a regular basis and hope to work things out.
Private veterinarian group says a lawsuit is possible if legislation doesn't happen
The group hoping to change the law to restrict the Humane Society's clinic offerings says if legislation doesn't work, they'll consider litigation. Shackelford says they would sue because a tax-exempt organization is directly competing with the private sector, he says putting private business at a possibly illegal disadvantage.