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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Taxing Prognosis for California's Pets

The current economic crisis has impacted many aspects of our lives, and pets are no exception. Pet food and regular veterinary care are necessities, not luxuries, for the companion animals in our lives, and we can’t skimp on these costs without jeopardizing the health and safety of our pets. Animal shelters are filling up with dogs and cats who were abandoned or relinquished when their families lost their homes due to foreclosures.

Rather than find solutions to help pet owners during this money crunch, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has found a way to make matters worse. He announced plans to add a sales tax on veterinary services as part of a larger set of program cuts and revenue increases to deal with the state’s multi-million budget shortfall. In other words, because state lawmakers failed in their basic responsibility to keep government functioning, pet owners have to foot the bill.

Cat in woman's hands, credit istockphoto Under the governor’s proposal, essential veterinary services like routine exams, vaccinations, and prescription medications would be lumped into the category of taxable services such as “appliance and furniture repair, vehicle repair and golf.” All other medical professions were excluded from the sales tax proposal. As Dr. Barbara Hodges of the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association said, “Veterinary services should not be considered nonessential or luxury services, but as truly essential family medical services.”

Gov. Schwarzenegger, in the past, has been a friend to animals, but his attitude of late has taken a turn for the worse. He sided with agribusiness giants against Proposition 2, which had the support of veterinarians, family farmers, religious leaders, environmentalists, and animal advocates, and received more than 63 percent of the statewide vote. Now, he appears to consider our companion dogs and cats to have no more value than a stovetop range or a nine-iron.

Under the governor’s plan, pet owners who are already making tough choices would be forced to add approximately 9 percent to the current cost of veterinary care. This financial burden would jeopardize the health and welfare of our companion animals, and may result in more dogs and cats being abandoned or relinquished to animal shelters if people simply cannot afford to pay the additional costs. It’s bad policy, and rather than alleviate the state’s economic problems, it will add to the financial burden of animal control and sheltering in our communities.

Our friends at the California Veterinary Medical Association are working hard to defeat this draconian, anti-pet proposal, and we need every pet owner in California to join the chorus of opposition. A special session of the legislature has convened to act on the budget deficit, and this issue may be decided in the next few days. We need to send an urgent message that veterinary care should be treated like other essential medical services, not like home decorating or auto detailing.

Please contact the governor and legislative leaders today and ask them to remove the proposed sales tax on veterinary services. You can also ask your own veterinarian to get involved, and send an urgent alert to his or her clients. This is an issue that affects all of our beloved pets, and we can’t let Gov. Schwarzenegger get away with terminating their health and safety.

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