Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there are many issues understandably taking precedence in society at the moment. At all levels of government, resources and attention are exclusively focused on getting us through this crisis. However, when things return to a new normal, we will once again be able to advocate effectively on behalf of animals, and in the meantime, we are continuing to plan for that day.

As a continuation of our previous article on using the law to protect animals, this piece will address legislation that provides veterinarians with license mobility, which allows them to quickly obtain a temporary license to practice in a state where animals are involved in a large-scale emergency.

One of the many lessons from our current global crisis is the importance of being prepared. When it comes to preparing for a situation where a large number of animals are suffering – be it from a disease outbreak, a natural disaster, or a case of cruelty or neglect – one of the most important resources would be a team of veterinarians trained to handle the situation. However, there is no guarantee that the location of a crisis impacting animals would have enough veterinarians available and trained to respond to the challenge. For that reason, a key aspect of a state’s preparation for dealing with an animal-related disaster is a statute that provides for veterinarian license mobility.

The importance of license mobility was reinforced during Michigan Humane’s response to Hurricane Harvey in 2017 in Houston, Texas. Dr. Robert Fisher, who has experience and special training in responding to disasters involving animals, was part of our team deployed to assist in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. He was able to complete a straightforward online application and obtain a temporary license to practice veterinary medicine in Texas before leaving Michigan.

Licensing professionals, including veterinarians, is entirely within the authority of each state’s government. For that reason, licensing requirements vary by state, and generally, a license to practice in a particular state is required before a veterinarian can provide services there. However, there may not be a sufficient number of local veterinarians who have the necessary training and experience in shelter medicine, FEMA emergency management protocols, and emergency medicine and who are able to leave their practices for days or weeks to work without  pay. For that reason, a statute that provides access to out-of-state veterinarians qualified and available to help is critical to effective disaster response. The responding veterinarians in no way displace local practitioners, and in fact, they typically work together in some capacity.

In addition to Texas, which was noted above as providing temporary veterinarian licensure, other states, including California, Illinois and New York, also allow out-of-state veterinarians to obtain a temporary license to assist with cruelty cases, disaster relief, or both. Typically, these statutes require that the Governor has declared a disaster or that the out-of-state veterinarian has been invited to assist by law enforcement or other officials. The visiting veterinarian has to hold a license in good standing in another state. The scope of permitted services is limited to that required by the emergency situation, and there is usually a limit on the duration of a temporary license.

Michigan Humane has worked with the Michigan Veterinary Medical Association (MVMA) on drafting a bill that will update Michigan’s Veterinary Practice Act. One key feature of the bill is the introduction of temporary license availability for both veterinarians and veterinary technicians. The current draft reads as follows:

During an emergency or natural disaster within this State, a veterinarian or veterinary technician license may be granted by this State to a veterinarian or veterinary technician for up to 90 days without examination or other qualification if the following criteria are met:

  1. The applicant has a current veterinary license in good standing in another state with no pending board actions in any state; and

  2. The veterinarian or veterinary technician does not assess or collect a fee for his or her services performed under the emergency license; and

  3. The Governor or delegated State official has declared a disaster situation in Michigan impacting animals including, but not limited to, a natural disaster, environmental disaster, disease outbreak, bioterrorism, or the emergency veterinarian or veterinary technician is responding to a large-scale animal cruelty case; or

  4. An official invitation has been extended to the veterinarian or veterinary technician for a specified time by the authority that has jurisdiction for coordinating the animal/agricultural issues in this State during emergencies either within or outside the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC).

We are happy to report that Representative Hank Vaupel (R – District 47) has agreed to sponsor the bill. We anticipate that it will be ready to introduce in the near future.

We are going to keep working to improve animal welfare and serving as a voice for the animals through advocacy. We’ll let you know when the bill is introduced and when you can help advocate with us! Together, we can continue to make a difference in animal lives.

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