We all know cash is king. So here’s a new one on that front: Amidst all the congressional wranglings on the subject of human healthcare comes the news that pets might catch a novel break.

No, it’s not about a new program to underwrite Maddie’s Fund or finance some other government-organized spay and neuter initiative. Forget the indirect approach. This time it’s about tax breaks for you and me when we spend at the veterinarian’s office.

Hot on the heels of California’s proposal to tax veterinary services (which, thankfully, did not pass) comes this contrary approach: offer a Federal income tax break for up to $3,500 of “qualified pet care expenditures” (including veterinary care).

Not that I know what an “unqualified” pet expense might look like (nor do I want to contemplate that concept for more than one sarcastic second) but apart from the wording, this deal sounds like it benefits you and me more than it does the next guy. Sweet.

But is it good public policy?

Take your tax breaks wherever you can, says my accountant. And if this one is offered me I promise I won’t fail to stake my claim on its benefits come April 15th. Regardless, I’m not so sure this deal makes any sense for anyone.

Sure, pets are part of the family and, as such, we need to shore up the fabric of American family life any way we can. So if it just so happens that the new version of the American family includes pets, well then, why not offer us a break on our patriotic, pet-raising ways? After all, human children are afforded breaks and credits based on their basic care along with their healthcare expenses. Does it not stand to reason that the “new American child” receive them, too?

To that end, in comes House Resolution 3501, seeking to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 with the Humanity and Pets Partnered Through the Years (yes, the “HAPPY Act”) sponsored by Rep. Thaddeus McCotter.

Predictably, the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council has sent out a Pet Alert so that members to push their representatives to back the initiative. “Proper usage of the tax code can encourage positive pet owner behavior and improve the health and wellbeing of companion animals,” it says.

But here’s where I have to ask: Will such pet-friendly legislation mean more pets will get spayed and neutered? More pets will receive their immunizations, parasite preventatives and other public health-related care? If this initiative can beat the good that’s done by throwing equivalent funds at population control and public health measures then I’m all for it. But does it?

Truth be told, I’m not at all sure it does. Still, why not take a bird in the hand, you ask? If it’s offered, who are we to refuse the extra $800 to $1,000 in the bank at the end of a disease-fraught year’s end?

Seeing as this story is told from a veterinarian’s point of view, you might think it would argue heavily in favor of any plan that serves my industry––not to mention my personal bank account (if it’ll truly means people will be more willing to spend on the basis of tax breaks). And of, course, I see that side of the coin quite vividly (droolingly, even).

But is it the best way to improve both animal and human health we can manage?

If you ask me, the answer is “no”...not by a long shot. That’s because I believe the best way to public health and animal welfare is through low cost veterinary services for the truly poor. That’s how it’s done in the UK, for example (though it’s available to all who choose to seek absolutely bare bones care). And it seems to work somewhat decently. Beats our US options, anyway.

After receiving phone calls over the weekend from long-lost relatives looking for cheap surgical options for their ailing dogs, after arriving this morning to a client crying poverty in the face of a prostate-induced mandatory neuter situation, after perusing multiple emails on the common subject of “what can I do, Doc, if I’ve got no money?” I’ve got to think there’s a better way than by giving ME a break on my dog’s soft palate procedure or my new adoptee’s limb-corrective surgery.

Maybe, you argue, the truly poor should have thought a mite harder before taking on a pet. The ignorance on the cost of animal healthcare is astounding, right? How can you actually BUY a sick puppy then cry foul over the inevitable veterinary costs you’ll accrue? How poor can you really be? How stupid is the act of blowing your wad on an English bulldog puppy only to let it suffer all the allergies and limb deformities and respiratory problems over a lifetime of your inability to pay for them.

These problems will always persist, far as I can tell. We can mitigate them through sound public policy and effective law enforcement but the issue of poverty, ignorance and basic stupidity will never go away. In light of these societal deficits, is it at all reasonable to offer tax breaks when the animals that most need care belong to those who don’t pay any taxes at all? While we’re struggling to fund a system that offers universal human insurability?

Not in the slightest. Instead, pay me a pittance to spay and neuter stray pets in my hospital. Recruit other volunteers to help. Fund our shelters so they can actually perform at a reasonably sustainable level, offer basic healthcare to the animals of the indigent and impoverished and help educate those who would allow their pets to suffer the fate of the subcared-for.

Forget padding my paycheck and our middle-class tax breaks on the subject of pets. If we’re going to spend it, for the love of God, spend it where we need it.

The HAPPY Act? Not so much...not for this veterinarian.