Aug
19
2009

A recent bill brought before the U.S. House of Representatives could pave the way to making veterinary care more affordable to everyone. One legal expert says that the bill is also a step in the right direction toward a proper designation of companion animals in the eyes of the law.

The Humanity and Pets Partnered Through the Years (HAPPY) Act was introduced to the House on July 31 by Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-Mich.)

The bill proposes to amend the Internal Revenue Code to allow up to a $3,500 tax deduction for qualified pet health care expenses for qualified pets. According to the bill, “qualified pet care expenses” means money paid for the care of the pet, not including its purchase, and a “qualified pet” is defined as “a legally owned, domesticated, live animal.”

University of Maryland Law School Professor Susan Hankin, JD, MPH, recently authored a paper in the Stanford Journal of Animal Law and Policy titled “Making decisions about our animals’ health care: Does it matter whether we are owners or guardians?”

In her paper, she argues that the difference in language between “owner” and “guardian” is irrelevant since it has no legal effect. She said that stronger anti-cruelty laws and laws requiring proper veterinary care are the key to improving the lives of animals.

Hankin, who teaches a course on animals and the law, said the HAPPY Act legislation is a good thing for owners and animals.

“The bill not only encourages people to take on reasonable pet care expenses, it also makes such care more financially feasible,” she said. “The bill has the potential of reducing ‘economic euthanasia’ — that is, animals with treatable conditions that are euthanized because their owners cannot afford (or chose not to pay for) needed treatment. To the extent that the bill makes pet care more affordable, or makes money more likely to be spent on pets, then it seems that it has a positive effect on the overall well-being of animals.”

In a previous paper she wrote for the Rutgers Journal of Law & Public Policy, Hankin advocated for a change in the status of animals from mere property to something more. While some might argue that the HAPPY Act would elevate companion animals to the same level as humans in some regards, Hankin doesn’t agree with that view.

“Contrary to what some will argue, it does not put animals on par with people, but rather recognizes that the status of companion animals should be somewhere between that of inanimate property and of persons.”

The bill, HR 3501, was referred to the House Committee on Ways and Means.

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