I've been traveling again. This time to California to lecture at Western University's new-ish veterinary school, which kind of left me bereft of a planned Friday post, so distracted was I by the charms of Claremont, California.

Luckily, my hosts and I got to talking on all kinds of veterinary topics that are specific to California. I was reminded of a late Cali issue of a couple of years ago: The Governator's proposal to add a sales tax on veterinary services — as if Californians weren’t already suffering from the highest rates for veterinary care in the nation.

But it's not just California dreaming. Three other states already tax veterinary medical services directly: Hawaii, South Dakota and New Mexico. They make sure that when you pay your veterinarian your veterinarian plays accountant for the state and collects these extra revenues on your behalf.

California's measure turned out to be dead in the water. Still, that hasn't kept other states from getting in on the act. After all, increasing revenues where you might not miss it is every bit as popular these days as cutting Medicare funding.

In case you didn’t know, it’s generally considered a given that healthcare services are not taxed. Whether you’re in for a tummy tuck or an angiogram there’s no sales tax applied. Prescription drugs are similarly exempt.

But even as Governor Schwarzenegger’s late plan died its much-deserved death, momentum for similar taxation emerged from the concept that some medical services are not "essential," and that these, in particular, deserve to be taxed.

Now, I have no problem putting a sales tax on non-prescription products as well as on services such as grooming. If "non-essential" services such as getting your drain unclogged by a plumber or having your muffler replaced are also taxed, I figure these niceties deserve it, too. But veterinary services?

It's my wholehearted belief that these services should be off the tax table, along with all prescription drugs. And that's not only because I believe pets are family — which I do — but because veterinarians are an important part of the entire healthcare system, and need to be acknowledged as such.

After all, threats to human health often start in animal populations — everything from viruses to tainted foods often find their ground zero in veterinary settings. Hence, why we need to keep our veterinarians as part of the public health team, which is largely why we don’t need any more barriers to keeping people from availing themselves of veterinary services.

And there's more that meets the eye on these veterinary tax proposals. Consider that animal agriculture uses veterinary services, too. How will that be received by the animal agriculture industry? I'll bet their lobbyists are already looking in the mirror, Taxi Driver-style, repeating to themselves, "You talkin’ to ME?"

Sure, animal agriculture may get spared in the end. After all, this plan is still in the works. But if legislators anywhere manage to get their way with either branch of the veterinary tree (companion or agriculture animal) I think it's only fair that we start taxing cosmetic surgery services — something our legislators are almost assuredly more likely to consume with wilder abandon than the rest of us.

Dr. Patty Khuly

Pic of the day: Some dogs just aren't cut out for tax law by cdk