Lawmakers eye pet food fee to fund spay, neuter efforts

By Robert Nott
The New Mexican
Posted 1/4/18

Two New Mexico legislators are proposing a special tax on pet food to raise money for spay and neutering fees for dogs and cats...

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Lawmakers eye pet food fee to fund spay, neuter efforts

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Two New Mexico legislators are proposing a special tax on pet food to raise money for spay and neutering fees for dogs and cats, a measure aimed at reducing the population of unwanted animals in the state.

House Bill 64, sponsored by Reps. Carl Trujillo, D-Santa Fe, and Debbie Rodella, D-Española, would impose an increase on commercial pet food registration fees from $2 per label to $100 per label of food each year.

Chicken-based dog food, for example, amounts to one label, while chicken-based cat food sold by that same company constitutes another label.

With some 8,300 such food labels, the increase from the current $2 per label fee would raise more than $800,000 to help impoverished citizens pay to have their pets spayed and neutered, Trujillo said Tuesday (Jan. 2). He estimated the fund could pay for services for some 8,000-10,000 pets per year.

“This is a needed tool to combat an overpopulation of dogs and cats in the state,” he said. It also will cut down on the number of pet [euthanasias], he said.

But the additional fee could be passed on to consumers and might deter pet food companies from doing business with New Mexico, said Laura Moore, owner of The Critters and Me pet store on Agua Fría Street in Santa Fe.

“This is either going to increase the price of dog and cat food or manufacturers are going to want to stop supplying these foods to New Mexico,” she said. “There has to be a better way to facilitate spay and neuter services than having bureaucrats get involved in it.”

Robert Likins, Vice President of Government Affairs for the Virginia-based nonprofit Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council, an animal welfare advocacy group, agrees. Likins said in an email that the bill “is a tax that may be in search of a justification” and will “disproportionately punish smaller businesses and less wealthy pet owners that are less able to absorb the cost.”

Trujillo said that if pet food manufacturers pass on the increased costs to consumers, it would only add up to about $1.50 a year per pet-owning household, based on a recent estimate by Animal Protection Voters, a political action committee that advocates for animal rights.

The 2012 report said such an action would cost pet owners about $12 a year and called it “affordable.”

Moore said the bill brings to mind Santa Fe’s failed efforts to impose a 2-cents-per-ounce tax on sugary beverages to fund early childhood education programs.

“It’s not the way to go about doing these things,” she said. “It doesn’t make any sense to me.”

Santa Fe voters rejected the soda tax proposal in a May 2017 special election.

If the new bill becomes law, the state’s Animal Sheltering Sub-Committee would oversee the program and create guidelines for nonprofit groups, animal shelters, veterinarians and euthanasia agencies to help needy New Mexicans who cannot afford the cost of spaying and neutering their pets.

And that’s a growing challenge in the state, Trujillo said. A 2012 feasibility study on the issue created in response to a 2011 Senate memorial reported that some 55,500 dogs and cats were euthanized statewide at a cost of about $225 per animal. The report recommended an increase in pet food registration fees.

Several other states, including Maine and Maryland, have passed similar legislation to raise funds for spay and neutering services.

Efforts to reach Rodella by phone were unsuccessful. She did not respond to an email requesting comment for this story.

Contact Robert Nott at 505-986-3021 or rnott@sfnewmexican.c­om.

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