The Idaho Humane Society's Veterinary Medical Center, which treats more than 25,000 animals annually, spent nearly $450,000 more than it took in for the budget year that ended Sept. 30, 2012, according to documents the nonprofit filed with the IRS.
It wasn't a surprise, and it doesn't mean the shelter is in financial trouble. The clinic, which had total expenses of $1.8 million last year, is just one part of the larger Humane Society operation. And the net drain on operations is a byproduct of the group's mission, shelter officials say.
"Not too many (stray or abandoned) pets come in with wallets in their pockets, or bank accounts," said Dr. Jeff Rosenthal, CEO of the Idaho Humane Society. "We're providing the same procedures for pets that have no owners as those that do. That's why we've become a shelter that no longer euthanizes dogs for treatable injuries."
The whole operation had total revenue of $4.7 million in 2011-12, and $166,003 after expenses, according to the Human Society's 2011-2012 IRS Form 990. It makes up for the clinic's losses through fundraising and providing medical care to the pets of Treasure Valley residents who can pay full price for services.
The shelter clinic's prices are similar to or in some cases higher than those of private animal hospitals, according to shelter officials and local veterinarians.
Some private veterinarians are concerned about the financial impact of the Humane Society's expansion to a new Boise location with a much larger hospital. They've spurred an effort to persuade the Legislature to pass a law to limit the shelter clinic's medical services to pets of low-income clients.
The Idaho Veterinary Medical Association is polling veterinarians across the state on whether they want to pay for a legislative effort, which they estimate could cost up to $50,000 for a lobbyist and public relations firm.
"The IVMA board of directors feels that this threat to veterinary business is real," the association said in a letter to more than 500 veterinarians in Idaho. "This is not just a local problem as the expansion of such a facility in the Boise metro area could set the precedence of expansion into other parts of our state."
That letter was mailed just before Thanksgiving. About 100 veterinarians had responded by last week, said Vicki Smith, executive director for the group. The poll doesn't have a deadline, but the IVMA needs to hear from at least 80 percent of its membership before deciding to take any action, Smith said.
She said she plans to call veterinarians who haven't responded to the letter.
"They're busy, that's all," she said.
WHY DOES SHELTER OPERATE A CLINIC?
An estimated 5,000 shelter organizations care for unwanted and abandoned pets in the United States, said Dr. Brian A. DiGangi, vice president of the Association of Shelter Veterinarians.
"Very few of these organizations offer medical services of any kind to the public and even fewer have a 'full-service clinic,' " said DiGangi, a clinical assistant professor of shelter medicine at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine.
He said most of the shelter clinics he's aware of require pet owners to provide proof of need for discounted services or limit services to those at most risk of having to give up their pet.
DiGangi said the discussion about medical services provided by nonprofit shelters began to bubble up in the 1990s, when rescue groups got aggressive about preventing pet overpopulation through nonlethal means. Also, research revealed a link between people who give up their pets and their inability to afford basic veterinary care for their animals, he said.
The Idaho Humane Society formed in 1941 and opened a clinic in 1984. Before opening the clinic, injured and sick animals brought to the shelter often were euthanized, said Susan Allison, president of the nonprofit's board.
"We've been able to significantly decrease the euthanasia rate," Allison said.
Since the early 2000s, the shelter's dog euthanasia rate has been reduced by 27 percent (98 percent of healthy, adoptable dogs find new homes), and the cat euthanasia rate is down 33 percent (75 percent of healthy adoptable cats find homes).
The group attributes part of that decline to a nearly 20 percent reduction in the number of unwanted animals, particularly dogs, that have come through the shelter since 2000. That's why the shelter is able to bring in dogs from smaller shelters from Idaho and other states.
Shelter officials view that reduction as a win, too - evidence of the success of spay and neuter programs. The Idaho Humane Society spayed/neutered more than 9,000 animals in 2011-12.
The shelter houses about 14,000 abandoned and unwanted animals a year.
HOW MANY QUALIFY AS LOW-INCOME?
In the past fiscal year, 15,421 procedures were done on pets brought in by members of the community, according to the Humane Society. Of that, 4,322 - 28 percent - qualified for discounts as being low-income, meaning people living at 150 percent of the poverty level.
The remaining 72 percent of procedures were done for pet owners with unknown income, which accounted for 93 percent to 95 percent of the hospital's revenue. Qualifying as low-income requires a fair amount of documentation, so procedures done for pets of the neediest owners tend to be the most serious, Rosenthal said.
The most common procedures at the clinic are: spay/neuter, treatment for infectious diseases, microchip implants, vaccinations and laceration treatment.
"For any given service, someone can always find it cheaper someplace else in the Valley," Rosenthal said.
Allison said the shelter does not advertise or promote its medical services. "It can take weeks to get into the clinic," she said.
Some of the veterinarians opposed to the shelter's expansion plans say the difficulty in getting an appointment at the clinic affects low-income pet owners, too. That's why they want a law limiting those services to low-income people.
"Their pets would be able to be seen and cared for in a timely manner," veterinarian Linda Donerkiel said in a letter to the Statesman.
CLINIC STAFF GROWS, HOSPITAL CRAMPED
When Rosenthal joined the Idaho Humane Society in 2000, he was one of three or four veterinarians. Now there are at least a half-dozen part-time and full-time veterinarians at the hospital.
Allison said the clinic is cramped for the thousands of animals cared for there, which is largely why the Humane Society wants to build a 10,000-square-foot hospital, four times the size of the current clinic south of the Boise airport.
In 2011-12, 15 veterinary students completed two- to three-week stints at the hospital - work experience that veterinary students must do in their senior year, according to the shelter's 990 form. The Humane Society has partnered with Washington State University to expand training for young veterinarians.
"Our clinic is cramped, crowded. It's antiquated," Allison said. "For 14,000 animals (a year), it's completely inadequate, and it's in a location that's not central to the Valley."
The new facility that IHS plans to build at 8506 W. Overland will cost an estimated $9.2 million, Rosenthal said. The money will be raised through a capital campaign, not donations for day-to-day care or programs.
Some of the veterinarians say it's wrong-headed and unnecessary.
"Making the IHS the largest and nicest facility in the state of Idaho will only reinforce the belief that, 'Hey, if I don't want to take care of my animal any longer, I can dump it off at the Humane Society, because their place is a lot nicer than the place that I live in now,' " Dr. Ellen German wrote in a letter to the Statesman. "The expansion will only reinforce irresponsible pet care."
Katy Moeller: 377-6413