Anyone who owns a furry, feathered or scaly critter is apt to tell you their companion isn’t a mere pet but a member of the family. But what happens in low-income households when these family members get sick or injured?
Too often their owners are left with an excruciating choice: Pay for groceries, or emergency care for Fido? Rising costs have invaded veterinary medicine as surely as they have the human health care industry.
From 1991 to 2015, the money people spent on vet bills rose at three times the rate of inflation, according to Bloomberg.
Being poor shouldn’t prevent people from owning a pet; neither should it hinder folks from properly taking caring of one.
Fortunately, eleven senators who sit on the state’s Health and Long Term Care Committee agree. It’s why they sponsored Senate Bill 6196, which would allow animal care and control agencies and nonprofit humane societies to provide a broader spectrum of veterinary treatment to households that can’t afford it.
It means folks with limited incomes would no longer have to relinquish pets to overcrowded shelters — or worse, elect what is known as economic euthanasia and say goodbye for good.
Under current Washington Department of Health rules, nonprofit animal welfare agencies are permitted to spay, neuter, vaccinate and install ID chips in pets, but more advanced (and expensive) procedures must be handled at for-profit vet clinics.
There is financial assistance out there for these procedures, but it’s not enough. The Washington State Veterinary Medical Association provides a list of charitable agencies willing to help low-income pet owners, such as United Animal Nations, the Feline Veterinary Emergency Assistance Program and Humane Societies.
The scope and scale of the problem are beyond what these non-profit providers can do.
Financial hardships get transferred to area veterinary clinics, which either have to provide uncompensated treatment or send unpaid accounts to collections.
The burden is shared by taxpayers, who pick up the cost of municipal animal control agencies rounding up abandoned pets and housing them in shelters.
SB 6196 doesn’t promise free animal care for everyone, and won’t drive veterinarians out of business. In order to qualify for nonprofit assistance, a household’s income would have to be less than 80 percent of the median family income for the county where Scruffy is living.
It doesn’t take reams of research to tell us pet ownership adds to the quality of a person’s life. For a senior citizen living alone, the daily ritual of caring for an animal lends purpose to the day, provides love and affection, and reduces stress.
There’s a reason support and service animals can be found in hospitals, convalescent homes and schools. The comfort and companionship they bring can’t be overestimated.
And while we’re on the subject of support animals, we should mention another bill in the Washington Legislature this year — one that would establish a $250 fine for people falsely claiming their pet is an emotional support animal.
It’s a flagrant problem in need of a solution. Leave it to a peacock to illustrate the point, but not just any peacock — an emotional support peacock, the kind that plumes and preens when you’re feeling sad or a bit under the weather.
We thought it was common knowledge that peacocks can’t fly, but last weekend at the Newark International Airport, a woman tried to bring her bird on a United Airlines flight.
Legitimate service or emotional support animals are one thing; peacocks on planes are quite another. Washington lawmakers should pass House Bill 2822 and join the 19 other states cracking down on this abuse.