The increase in abandoned animals, an unhealthy and insensitive situation that has become all too familiar in most neighborhoods in Puerto Rico, can be mitigated through a law that creates temporary licensing processes to allow out-of-state veterinarians to offer different procedures on the island.
Over the past few months, the fact that US veterinarians were coming to Puerto Rico to participate in the "Spayathon for Puerto Rico" initiative raised legitimate concerns among professionals who felt that a decree was opening a door to provide veterinary services without any kind of guarantee.
Since 2018 -after Hurricane María hit the island- when many animals were abandoned and there was no possibility to care for them, "Spayathon for Puerto Rico" began working to spay, neuter, and vaccinate for free unowned animals without any possibility of veterinary assistance. Now, with the pandemic, the growing number of animals on the streets is clear to everyone, a situation that neither health authorities nor private veterinarians can control since they are struggling to stay afloat amid so many restrictions associated with COVID-19.
The new Provisional License Act for the Practice of Veterinary Medicine Free of Charge to the Public does not affect, in any way, the work of professionals who continue with spay/neuter surgeries, vaccinations, and other procedures for those pets that have a home. It does represent, however, a relief to risky situations in the streets, both for drivers and pedestrians. And, above all, it is an important step in slowing down what has so far been an unstoppable wave of animal abandonment, a phenomenon that if not addressed can reach high levels in urban and rural areas.
The wise thing to do is to develop strategies to gradually reduce animal overpopulation without affecting public resources or the practice of veterinary medicine for the island´s professionals, who pay taxes, contribute to the local economy, and are important employment generators.
Off-island veterinarians are birds of passage. But they are necessary birds of passage since their contribution is aimed at relieving the burden of abandoned or unowned animals, a problem for which we lack resources and all kinds of equipment.
The initiative included in Law 86 regulates future programs such as "Spayathon for Puerto Rico" and avoids lawsuits in court, like the one that gave way to the last June injunction, when a first instance court invalidated the executive orders that granted exemptions to out-of-state veterinarians without a license in Puerto Rico.
The aim should be to benefit the health of animals and people, and even the urban landscape. This is not an exclusive practice for certain jurisdictions, since volunteers rotate and go where they are needed. Their voluntary work takes place in areas also affected by wildfires, floods, or tornadoes.
We must consider that volunteers participating in these initiatives have no intention of replacing our professionals, nor do they charge for their services. They have been recruited by the Humane Society of the United States and come with special equipment, mobile units, and other facilities available in many European countries that have solved the problem of abandoned animals.
The sensible solution was the Provisional License Act for the Practice of Veterinary Medicine Free of Charge, and we hope it will help to coordinate a joint effort.