Veterinarians target Idaho Humane Society

They want the nonprofit’s medical services to be restricted by lawmakers.

kmoeller@idahostatesman.comNovember 27, 2013 

Dogs rescued by the Idaho Humane Society from an overwhelmed breeder rest in comfort in this 2010 file photo. A group of private veterinarians are considering lobbying for legislation that would restrict the Humane Society to offering medical services only to low-income pet owners. They also fear increased competition from the Humane Society's planned 10,000-square-foot facility on Overland Road.

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A group of private veterinarians plans to pattern legislation on a 2003 law in Washington state that might be the only one of its kind.

“I’m not aware of any other state laws,” said Adrian Hochstadt, assistant director for state legislative and regulatory affairs for the American Medical Veterinary Association. “It wouldn’t shock me to see bills in several states introduced next year.”

South Carolina and Alabama considered bills this year but neither passed, Hochstadt said.

“We’ve seen a proliferation of not-for-profits doing more and more services,” he said. “And I think that’s leading to this.”

The Washington law limits animal welfare agencies and groups to performing a few services — electronic identification, surgical sterilization, vaccinations and some emergency care — for pets in low-income households.

“We believe that is too restrictive,” said veterinarian Linda Donerkiel, owner of The Pet Doctor on Overland Road in Boise. “This is a work in progress, but what we’re proposing is nonprofit veterinary organizations limit their care to low-income clients through needs testing.

“We are trying to ensure that low-income people’s needs, people on fixed incomes and Social Security, that they have access to low-cost and timely veterinary care for pets. People with needs like this can’t get in and are being turned away.”

The talk of legislation comes after the Idaho Humane Society received approval from the city of Boise to build a new, larger and centrally located shelter at 8506 W. Overland Road, west of Wal-Mart. The society’s existing shelter is on the far edge of town, southwest of the airport.

One of the biggest concerns voiced by opponents was the proposed 10,000-square-foot hospital, more than three times the size of the society’s existing hospital. The nonprofit is partnering with Washington State University to expand its training of veterinary students, who will care for animals sheltered prior to adoption.

Four veterinary clinics operate within a mile of the Overland Road site, including Donerkiel’s clinic, and some critics have expressed concern about the economic impact of the new hospital on those and other private businesses.

A group of 40 to 50 veterinarians met in Garden City last week to discuss possible legislation, with another dozen participating via conference call, Donerkiel said. She said the Idaho Medical Veterinary Association has been asked to poll its members to gauge support for a bill and determine whether the group will bankroll a campaign for a new law.

Donerkiel said proponents have interested legislators but don’t yet have a sponsor.

More than 600 licensed veterinarians live in Idaho, and the professional association has 521 members, according to Vicki Smith, executive director of the IVMA. About 167 veterinarians live in the Treasure Valley, from Caldwell to Mountain Home.

To fight proposed regulations, the Idaho Humane Society has hired lobbyist Jeremy Pisca, said Dr. Jeff Rosenthal, CEO of the nonprofit shelter.

The Boise shelter cares for about 14,000 animals each year and has provided medical care since 1984.

“Vets refer cases to us all day long that they cannot treat because these folks do not have the economic resources,” Rosenthal said. “We don’t try to keep these animals as clients of our hospital. We encourage them to go out and get a relationship with a local veterinarian.”

Rosenthal did not know Tuesday what percentage of pets treated at the clinic last year had low-income owners. The IRS, which oversees the society’s ability to operate without paying taxes, has examined the society and “said we’re fine,” Rosenthal said.

“Like all nonprofits, we all derive some revenue to make our nonprofit work. The IRS makes a distinction between related and unrelated income. Veterinary care is an exempt purpose because it’s related to preventing suffering,” he said.

If the shelter added grooming and boarding, Rosenthal said, it would have to pay taxes on that income. Those services were part of the long-term plan for the new facility.

Katy Moeller: 377-6413

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