The Humane Society of the United States is praising Puerto Rico Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced for signing Senate Bill 1621, which creates a new temporary licensing mechanism to allow U.S. and Canadian-licensed veterinarians to offer much-needed free spay/neuter surgeries and other veterinary procedures in underserved communities on the island.

Sen. Miguel Romero introduced the bill to address a prohibition on practicing veterinary medicine by out-of-state veterinarians without a local license. Existing statutes did not allow for temporary licensing or any other mechanism that would make it feasible for out-of-state veterinary doctors to practice on the island.

While well intentioned, Puerto Rico law negatively affected animal welfare as the commonwealth does not have sufficient low-cost and free veterinary practices to perform desperately needed spay/neuter surgeries, vaccinations and other procedures for hundreds of thousands of free roaming dogs and cats.

Following the devastation caused by Hurricanes Irma and Maria, the Humane Society of the United States, together with over 25 national and international partners, created the world’s largest and most effective high quality/high volume spay/neuter and vaccination effort in history: SpayathonTM for Puerto Rico. Since 2018, the initiative has impacted over 53,000 animals who have received free lifesaving surgeries and vaccinations across the island. The first year of procedures prevented the unwanted births of more than 300,000 animals. 

The HSUS has been able to bring in expert, licensed veterinarians specialized in high-quality/high-volume spay/neuter procedures through a series of executive orders signed by the island’s previous governor. Nevertheless, these executive orders, while allowing Spayathon for Puerto Rico to continue, did not address the underlying restrictions that regulate the practice of veterinary medicine.

“The Humane Society of the United States is committed to addressing Puerto Rico’s companion animal overpopulation issues in a sustainable way. While we have been able to spay or neuter over 53,000 animals in two years, and will continue our efforts on the ground for a further four rounds of events, this law will allow other national and international organizations to come to the island and provide much-needed free services,” said Tara Loller, senior director of strategic campaigns for companion animals at the HSUS. “The bill also allows the HSUS to continue to offer free veterinary services in underserved communities across the commonwealth.”

Kitty Block, president and CEO of the HSUS, applauded the governor’s decision and celebrated the bill becoming law: “We are grateful to Governor Vázquez Garced for signing a bill into law that can dramatically increase access to care on the island. We thank Senator Miguel Romero for taking the necessary action to introduce this important piece of legislation which will benefit countless animals for years to come.”

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