Idaho veterinarians renew effort to limit nonprofits

A professional group is trying to get the Idaho Humane Society to offer services only to needy pet owners.

kmoeller@idahostatesman.comJune 7, 2014 

More than 200 Idaho veterinarians want to see a new law that would prohibit nonprofit animal welfare groups - such as the Idaho Humane Society - from treating pets belonging to people who aren't low-income.

That's what a December survey of the Idaho Veterinary Medical Association's members found. Ninety-three percent of those who responded were in favor of the association bankrolling a campaign for a new law.

The IVMA's bylaws require a vote of 80 percent of its 400-plus members before it can take action. This survey garnered just 52 percent.

But the push for a new law continues.

Another vote - this one at the group's annual meeting - will happen next week.

The vote may be called off if the IVMA is able to reach an agreement with the Idaho Humane Society on income limits for pet owners seeking services at the shelter's hospital. The groups' leaders are negotiating.

"We're trying to resolve it," said Dr. Robert Pierce, a Sandpoint veterinarian and president of the IVMA board.

Pierce said the veterinary association wants the Humane Society's hospital to screen pet owners to be sure they are low-income and truly needy - and refer all those who can pay full price to community veterinarians. The Idaho Humane Society currently serves all comers, using the money from full-paying pet owners to meet its bottom line.

"As always, we remain open-minded about how our practice operates but we have many things to consider and many stakeholders," said Dr. Jeff Rosenthal, CEO and executive director of the Idaho Humane Society. "Our current practice model has provided amazing care to shelter animals and to many pets owned in the community for decades."

The shelter's plan to build a new campus on Overland Road - with a hospital that's three times the size of its current facility - triggered backlash from some Treasure Valley veterinarians, who are concerned about losing business.

"The profit margin in veterinary medicine is really small," Pierce said. "The capital expenses and the labor expenses are intense ... It's a really fun job, but the finances make your hair gray."

Pierce pays $10,000 a month in mortgage, property taxes and equipment costs; his family lives in an apartment above the hospital he built. He said veterinarians shouldn't have to compete for full-paying customers, including those with six-digit incomes, against a nonprofit that doesn't pay property taxes.

"If they're using government-sponsored veterinary care, then they're not supporting local businesses that build roads and schools. Our whole society depends on the tax base," Pierce said.

The IVMA's annual meeting is next week in Post Falls. Just 10 percent of members (or about 40 people) need to be present for the vote to count, and organizers are expecting up to 90 participants, according to Vicki Smith, executive director of the IVMA.

Katy Moeller: 377-6413

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