Animal shelters would be able to provide a wider range of low-cost services to pet owners on limited incomes, under legislation heard today by the Senate Health & Long Term Care Committee.

Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver said the idea for Senate Bill 6196 came from her district and has been championed by Stacey Graham, president of the Humane Society for Southwest Washington in Vancouver.

“Our purpose in life is to match animals and people, and we want them to stay together,” Graham said. “With this bill, we will be able to let more low-income families keep their animals and their animals will be healthier.”

Current law limits the low-cost services provided by veterinarians in shelters to inserting microchips, spaying or neutering, and administering vaccines. Fewer than 10 other states in the country have similar limits. Cleveland’s bill would expand the range of services shelters can perform, limiting them to clients who meet specific income criteria, and enable the center to pursue fundraising for an endowment to open a three-day a week clinic with sliding fees for low-income people.

“We surveyed about a thousand low-income people who came to shelters around the state and what we found was that 60 percent didn’t regularly see a vet and 46 percent would need to borrow money to pay for treatment,” Graham said. “And 65 percent would leave their pets untreated because they couldn’t afford treatment.”

In addition, nearly 70 percent of those surveyed said they surrendered animals to be euthanized because they couldn’t afford veterinary care for aging, sick animals.

“Affordable care can help families better care for their beloved pets, it relieves pain and suffering for animals, and it prevents economic euthanasia, which is when people bring animals in to be euthanized because they cannot afford them,” Cleveland said. “This would not increase competition between veterinary clinics, it would simply provide services to people who cannot afford them and otherwise would go without.”