California Veterinary Tax Plan Draws Opposition

In trying to close a $41 billion budget gap, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is proposing to tax a number of services — including veterinary care. The idea has both pet owners and veterinarians up in arms.

Many fear the proposed 9 percent tax will put a financial strain on pet owners and result in more animals being abandoned or euthanized.

At the Holiday Humane veterinary clinic in Los Angeles, it's standing room only — every seat is full. Most people are holding small dogs and cats in their arms, others with cardboard boxes between their feet. A few larger dogs are hunkered down on the linoleum floor.

"Our average waits went from a half hour to two hours," says Christinia Paris, who works the front desk of this low-cost, nonprofit clinic. She says that in the past few months, people have been bringing in their pets from as far as two hours away.

"There's not a day that goes by that I don't have a patient walk up to me and say, 'I lost my job today.' If they were to have to take [their pets] to another place, they would just put them down."

Difficult Decisions For Pet Owners

An hour south, at Orange County's Community Veterinary Hospital, Dr. William Grant II is hearing some of the same stories.

"We have people already with the economy that are having difficultly making decisions for their pets' treatment protocols — different things they need to do. And now we're going to increase that burden," he says.

Grant, who is also president of the California Veterinary Medical Association, says the levying of a tax on veterinary services could result in more animals being abandoned or relinquished to already overcrowded animal shelters.

"I think we're already seeing more euthanasias. We've already dealt with in the last two weeks, we had three or four owner returns. People say ... 'Can you fix it and find a home for it?' And it is a very difficult thing for people to deal with."

Official Says Veterinary Services Not Singled Out

The California Department of Finance is not attempting to single out any one service, according to spokesman H.D. Palmer. He points out that the proposed tax also would extend to auto and appliance repair, golf fees, sporting events and amusement parks such as Disneyland and Knots Berry Farm.

"We have to close a $41 billion budget gap, and that by definition is going to mean difficult decisions, whether it's taking days off of the school year, whether it's not giving a cost-of-living increase to those who are aged, blind and disabled, or whether it's increasing the sales tax on services such as veterinarian services or auto repair," Palmer says.

But according to Suzanne Lindley, medical care for her pet is not a discretionary spending decision. Her dog Ginger sits at her feet. The white lab with the perpetually wagging tail has cancer.

"Obviously, golf and amusement parks — that's a form of entertainment. But as far as pets, they're a member of your family. If they're sick, you want to have them treated. So it's not really an expense that's a choice," Lindley says.

Palmer says he recognizes this is an emotional issue for animal owners.

"We don't put these proposals forward lightly," he says. "In a perfect world, we would not have to put these proposals on the table."

Because of the high number of calls on the issue, the governor's office has designated a special hotline to register comments from constituents.

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