IHS veterinary care needs to focus on low-income public


December 19, 2013 

My letter represents a large number of local veterinarians and our concerns regarding the Idaho Humane Society Veterinary Medical Center’s operations, as well as the planned expansion.

The IHS, a 501(c)3 organization (nonprofit), provides valuable services to our community, but the VMC falls short in terms of providing veterinary services to low-income pet owners. We are very grateful to all the wonderful supporters and volunteers of IHS. The adoption rates are phenomenal and exceed the national average. Thousands of abandoned and neglected animals are helped. We are very fortunate to practice in such a caring community.

Dr. Jeff Rosenthal, CEO of the IHS, claims that the income earned by the VMC is used to help fund the shelter and its mission. Help us understand this when it operates at a loss.

Based on 2010 and 2011 forms on its website, the VMC lost $496,145 and $314,753, respectively. Shelter/adoption costs and animal control costs are reported completely separate from the VMC. The 2010 and 2011 forms show the VMC provided only $40,000 and $50,000, respectively, in discounted medical services to qualified low-income people. It operated at a $720,898 loss, while providing care to the public. If not for this operating loss, there would have been more funds available for other worthy programs.

The 990 forms report that the VMC served more than 25,000 animals each year. In the past year, Dr. Rosenthal reported 1,327 pet owners qualified as low-income clients and received reduced-cost veterinary care. This accounts for only 5 percent of its total annual clientele.

We wonder whether the VMC is too busy seeing full-paying clients and is unable to provide care to those who really need it, when they need it. We wonder because pet owners who have been offered appointments two to three weeks out when their pet has a critical or life-threatening problem come to us.

This is a very frustrating situation for us. We see the pets that have been turned away from the VMC. We treat those pets because we care, and it is usually at a financial loss. On the IHS website we found several well-funded programs specifically created to help low-income people in emergency situations such as these.

The IHS is planning to build an impressive, multimillion-dollar facility that includes an 11,000-square-foot, expensively equipped medical center. This is four times larger than its existing center. This represents a huge amount of donated money with ongoing expensive upkeep. It seems these donations will be used, for the most part, to provide full-service veterinary care to the general public. Instead, we would like to see IHS direct its resources to continuing to address our pet overpopulation problem and helping those truly in need.

We propose passing legislation that would allow nonprofit veterinary organizations in Idaho to give full-service veterinary care only to qualifying low-income pet owners and shelter animals. This would provide the financially struggling public with a muchneeded service. Their pets would be able to be seen and cared for in a timely manner.

We are in full support of efforts to fight pet overpopulation for everyone, and to provide full-service veterinary care to those most in need. We hope the IHS would follow the business model of most every other humane society in the United States by focusing on these issues, not by providing unprofitable veterinary services to the general public.

Our greatest concern is that the low-income community receives quality and timely veterinary care.

Linda Donerkiel, of Kuna, is a veterinarian.

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