The Idaho Humane Society (IHS), a Boise nonprofit animal group, recently signed an agreement with the Idaho Veterinary Medical Association (IVMA) to limit their services. This event has inflamed emotions in recent months, but given the cursory media coverage, most people probably don’t fully understand what happened, what the agreement means, or why it is important.
The IHS is a well-respected group that has served the Boise community for over 40 years. Currently they operate from a small facility near the airport, where they care for stray animals and perform spays and neuters. They also operate a small general hospital that offers veterinary medical and surgical care. Recently the IHS announced plans to move their operation to a prime commercial location and build an $11million facility. This will include a vastly expanded and improved veterinary hospital.
Veterinarians all across the state became concerned over the IHS’s change of direction, not simply because it would impact local veterinarians, but because they felt that without some clarification, it might set a very bad precedent in Idaho. The IVMA firmly believes that charities such as the IHS are not the same as regular veterinary businesses any more than food banks are the same as grocery stores. A charity should focus on helping the poor and this needed to be clearly stated.
The increasing costs of pet care in the United States have been influenced by the soaring costs of medicines and equipment, as well as the overwhelming expense of a medical education. The public expects veterinary hospitals to possess all the needed tools to deliver a high level of care to their pets and thus, prices have risen. Many low-income families struggle with the rising costs of care. This is where our nonprofit animal groups enter the picture. Delivery of basic veterinary care to low-income families is a vitally important role for charitable organizations such as the IHS.
This idea that community charities have a distinctly different role than regular businesses is a well accepted fact and a number of legislators agreed. Although a bill to clarify this was in the Legislature, presentation of this bill during this year’s legislative session did not occur as the IHS and the IVMA reached their agreement and thus obviated the need for a new statute. Simply put, the IHS agreed to limit their delivery of veterinary medical and surgical care to means-tested, low-income families.
The agreement goes into effect in this month. Other nonprofit animal groups in Idaho who solicit donations from individuals or who receive tax-free federal, state, or private grants will understand that these financial advantages come with the expectation that they will be used in a charitable fashion — namely, helping low-income people to receive basic veterinary care, housing stray and shelter animals, and providing spays and neuters in an effort to reduce unwanted pet populations.
Ironically, the doctors of the IHS are also members of the IVMA and thus this was really a family quarrel. The fact that the IHS has agreed to means-test their clients as low-income before delivering veterinary medical and surgical care does more than simply reaffirm that nonprofit charities operate in a different arena than regular businesses. It also reassures the taxpaying public that the tax-free advantages given to nonprofits, which take money out of the pool of public dollars used for schools, infrastructure and other public purposes, are truly serving a charitable or public purpose. The family fight has ended and a needed precedent has been established; both sides are happy to move on.
Dr. Robert Pierce is president of the Idaho Veterinary Medicine Association.