Illinois veterinarians outraged over rabies fee collections


Madison County, Ill. - A plan to have veterinarians collect rabies certification fees for the county is drawing ire from area practitioners.

MADISON COUNTY, ILL. — A plan to have veterinarians collect rabies certification fees for the county is drawing ire from area practitioners.

"In the big picture, our government is really getting out of control. As a veterinary community, I think we've been too complacent about it," says Dr. Mike Firsching, 25-year owner of Fort Russell Veterinary Service in Edwardsville, Ill. "We've been involved to some extent in veterinary issues, but the big picture of how business is run we really haven't been involved at all."

Firsching is the unofficial spokesman for a group of veterinarians that is outraged over a change in the way rabies fees will be collected in Madison County.

In the past, veterinarians were only responsible for administering vaccinations and handing pet owners a certificate and tag. Pet owners were ultimately responsible for sending payment for the tags to the county or paying the veterinarian along with the vaccine.

But a new ordinance passed in December by the Madison County Board puts the onus of collecting or paying rabies tags fees on veterinarians.

The ordinance gives veterinarians some options:

  • They can purchase a set amount of tags for the year and pay the county in advance. Veterinarians would be able to return up to 100 unused tags at the end of the year for credit.

  • Veterinarians can estimate the number of tags each month and either: collect the tag fee and send it to the county animal-control department; or set up direct billing with the county for the total cost of the tags issued during the previous month.

The rub, says Firsching, is that since the county would make veterinarians accountable for each tag, they also could be fined for unused or out-of-order tags. According to the ordinance, veterinarians will be fined $5 each for any unused tag not returned to the county, and administrators have the option of withholding additional tags in the future. The $5 fine also would apply to any tags unaccounted for by the veterinarian.

"We're distributing these tags for free for the county. They're just adding levels of bureaucracy on here for no reason," Firsching says.

When Firsching organized a group to protest the new fee collection system, he was told by county leaders that the organizing meetings were open to the public, and veterinarians could have attended at that time but did not. Still, he says board members seemed open to at least reconsider the $5 penalty.

Another problem with the program, Firsching says, is that rabies tag fees are not used for the rabies program in Madison County, but instead put into the county's general fund, which has taken a hit recently.

"If you have a rabies fee, it should be for the rabies program, not for running the county," says Firsching. "The purpose is not to be a revenue stream."

County leaders are losing sight of the purpose of rabies tags—to benefit public health, not make money, he contends. Tag fees were $8 several years ago, and now range from $10 to $30.

"They've changed these two things for vets, but we shouldn't lose sight that the rabies fee has gotten out of hand."

Though there might not be 100 percent compliance, Firsching says virtually all of his clients get their pets vaccinated against rabies. Rising costs, however, just to stay in compliance could derail vaccination rates.

County leaders told Firshing they would reopen discussion on the fees and possibly add a veterinarian to its board. He hopes the board will take it further and truly evaluate the reasons many veterinarians oppose the plan.

"I really want to know that the door is open for solving this problem," he says.

State Veterinarian Dr. Mark Ernst says that other Illinois counties require veterinarians to collect rabies tag fees.

However, the state animal control act only requires that the vaccinations be given and that the county issue tags, he says. There is nothing in the law that dictates who should collect the fees for the tags.

"Quite a few counties will basically charge for the tags upfront and vets collect from owners as they use them," he says.

Firsching says he is hopeful the issue will come up again for the board's consideration in the next month.

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