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Veterinary group wants animal sterilizations classified as essential veterinary services

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The Michigan Veterinary Medical Association is calling on Governor Gretchen Whitmer to loosen restrictions on non-agricultural veterinary practices as she develops plans to open up the state's economy.

In a letter sent Monday, the group requested that Whitmer allow veterinarians to begin conducting sterilization procedures as soon as possible.

"We feel this is the next logical step in veterinary medicine to accompany those lists of essential services that the Governor's office has outlined in previous executive orders," said John Tramontana, chief executive officer of the MVMA.

Services currently defined as essential by executive order are limited to those necessary to preserve an animal's life, to treat serious pain, to euthanize, and to treat and prevent infectious diseases that can be transmitted between animals and people. The order specifically permits any medically indicated vaccinations.

"We think the Governor has done a fantastic job with her stay-at-home orders, protecting and obviously putting the public health first," said Tramontana. "And sterilization surgeries actually tie directly into public health. For example, more animals mean that there's a higher rate for people to get bitten. There's research to support that. There's also a potential for more rabies exposure."

"Spring is really the time when a lot of these surgeries would take place with animals coming into heat," Tramontana said. "We don't want to run the risk of overwhelming animal shelters. We don't want to run the risk of overwhelming or overburdening animal control offices."

Tramontana said animals cannot be adopted from shelters unless they've been altered, and euthanizations of potential pets could increase if shelters become overwhelmed.

According to Tramontana, sterilization procedures benefit public health and animal health with minimal risk of COVID-19. That's because the surgeries can be safely performed with little or no contact with pet owners. 

The governor's office did not reply to a request for comment.

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Virginia Gordan has been a part-time reporter at Michigan Radio since fall 2013. She has a general beat covering news topics from across the state.