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Bill introduced to Texas Legislature could increase access for low-income community members to veterinary care

Under current Texas law, low-income pet owners are forced to surrender their pet to the shelter if they want to receive medical care.

AUSTIN, Texas — Currently, animal shelter veterinarians aren’t able to provide non-emergency medical services, other than sterilizations, to pets if they have an owner.

A new bill filed in the Texas Legislature might be able to change that. State Rep. Ann Johnson proposed House Bill 3439, which aims to help provide vet services to pets that have owners.

“What this bill would do is allow those animal shelters who want to participate and provide vet services for those folks who are economically having a tough time and may otherwise surrender their pets for vet care, that they can provide services and keep that pet with their family,” Johnson said.

Under current Texas law, low-income pet owners are forced to surrender their pet to the shelter if they want to receive medical care, leaving owners in a difficult position.

“It's basically having to pick between your animal, getting the emergency help, medical help they need, or keeping them as a family member,” said Nipuni Ratnayaka, a veterinarian with Austin Pets Alive!

Austin Pets Alive!, a nonprofit shelter that helps animals needing extra medical care other shelters can’t provide, sees pets being surrendered all the time.

“We experienced this almost every single day at the shelter here< where a person is having to surrender their animal just so that they can receive medical care,” Ratnayaka said.

If the owner does have to give up their pet, the pet will likely end up in an already overcrowded shelter. But Johnson is passionate about changing that.

To me, this just makes common sense that we want pets to stay with their families, with children who love them. They're an important part of all of our family units, and this just gives an opportunity for those who want to provide services to be able to do it,” Johnson said.

The veterinarians who want to help are thankful for the support. 

“It's just amazing to think about a future where we might be able to treat these animals [and] not have to take them into our shelter,” Ratnayaka said.

If the bill is passed, it will go into effect in September. In addition to HB 3439, Senate Bill 1673 that has been filed by State Sen. Morgan LaMantia. It also relates to emergency veterinary care for animals with owners. 

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