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Has pet ownership become a luxury?

Here in tax-strapped California, Arnold and the legislature are thinking of all types of ways to balance the budget. One way is to increase taxes, of course. Now a "luxury" tax on golf course fees, sporting events and trips to Disneyland, I can sort of understand; those do seem like non-essential budget items during these times.

But a tax on veterinary care?

California's pet owners and animal doctors are up in arms about a suggested tax of 9% on all vet bills. My husband and I have three cats and a dog, so the vet bills can add up if any of them get into a fight with the dog next door, but it's not like we're the pet version of Nadya Suleman (who, by the way, is now taking donations via PayPal on her Web site). Why should pets be put into the same taxable category as greens fees and amusement park tickets? I think I speak for many pet owners when I say that Fluffy, Bow Wow and Kitty are family members, not luxury items.

The worst fear is that if this bill passes, say opponents, more pet owners will have no choice but to abandon or euthanize their pets. And with the recession in full force, more animal shelters are overwhelmed, adoption rates are down, and more animals are being dumped by the side of the road by families who can't look after them. Last year, I was living near Bakersfield, California, which has one of the country's highest home foreclosure rates. The reason I now have three cats is because my neighbors two doors down lost their house so they packed up the car in the middle of the night and drove away -- leaving two dogs, two cats and some newborn kittens behind.
Three of the kittens came to our house looking for food; the others were picked up by Animal Control. A year later, I can't imagine life without them. Abandoning them is as unthinkable as leaving any human member of my family to struggle for help. On an upbeat note, Amy Benfer at Salon.com reports that while animal shelters in foreclosure-heavy states are seeing more activity, areas in the Northeast, West Coast and Midwest are seeing record rates of pet adoptions.

"Some shelters in Vermont and New Hampshire have seen such an increased demand for pets that they've had to import animals from shelters in places like Kentucky and Tennessee."

Like many states, California is in a major hole. The Department of Finance says it's not attempting to single out any one service as it tries to close a $41 billion budget gap. But if you're a California pet owner and the vet tax raises your hackles, you can join forces with the California Veterinary Medical Association, which is urging people to call Arnold in Sacramento and voice their opinion over the phone. You can do that, even if you're for the tax.

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