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Animal shelter reacts to possible pet food sales tax exemption

New legislation would make pet food and commercial feed for livestock exempt from sales and use taxes. A Holland shelter says it's a 'wonderful plan.'

LANSING, Mich. — The Michigan House of Representatives Tax Policy Committee held a hearing on Feb. 16 to discuss legislation that would make pet food exempt from sales tax and use tax.

House Bill 5683 and 5684 would make pet food and commercial feed for livestock exempt from sales tax and use tax.

The bills sponsors are Republican Representatives Tommy Brann of District 77 and Pamela Hornberger of District 32.

"Just like representative brand, [I'm] very passionate about our pets and giving people some more relief. If we're going to be passionate about rescuing animals, then I think people should get a break," Rep. Hornberger said.

Animal rescue shelters in West Michigan say that could mean good things for their organizations and pet owners, too. BestPals Animal Rescue Center in Holland is taking care of about 20 dogs and cats right now.

"Right off the bat, it sounds like a wonderful plan," Director Michelle Kenat says. 

If people could save money on pet food, she says more people would consider adopting one or even two pets.

"When we have bonded pairs, which we do get often, a lot of times people [are] like, 'I don't know — twice the food twice the litter,'" Kenat says. "But if you think about getting it savings on the food, they might really think that a second animal, a second pet isn't a bad thing."

And with extra savings, she thinks even more people would consider the higher-quality brands out there.

"It's a whole circle that can save, you know, the better quality food, maybe the better longevity of animal and the healthier the animal," Kenat says. 

"Cost is definitely a big thing," Tail Waggers Pet Rescue President Michelle Sidor says. 

Sidor believes that the savings could make a difference in people adopting a pet or even keeping their furry family member.

"That does add up to, you know, potentially a couple of bags, two or three bags of free dog year," she says. "That's a big deal."

Both rescue centers are non-profit organizations, so the food they purchase is tax exempt already. But tax-free pet food could mean more donations from the public so the rescue centers could spend their money on other resources.

"If someone's out shopping and they're like, 'You know what, we're making a savings, let's pick up a bag and bring it to our local shelter,'" Kenat says. "It would save a lot of lives.

This proposal is still in committee, so it could take some time before passing the state House and Senate.

The bills have been met with some resistance because of the expected loss in revenue to the state from the sales and use taxes.

"I have issues with stripping from our sales and use tax. It's, you know, in my opinion, the least destructive tax that we have, I'd rather more, you know, approach a reduction in income [tax] for folks to be able to, you know, provide for pets, more affordable than than attacking our sales tax," said Republican Representative Pat Outman.

CEO of the Michigan Pet Alliance, Joe Dobish, testified at the hearing in favor of the bills.

"The cost of owning a pet is one of the leading causes of forfeiture in Michigan, however hard it is to believe. This is what we are seeing on the ground our members as they are out in the field working with the community," said Dobish.

"This is what they are seeing people are coming in to shelters and rescues every single day in Michigan and giving up a beloved family member because they cannot afford the food and veterinary care to care properly for that animal and it is an act of love to give up that animal and I cannot imagine how hard that is."

According to the Michigan Pet Alliance, Michigan has one of the highest costs of pet ownership in the country, but that high cost isn't solely because of food prices.

"We do have factors in this state that lead Michigan pet owners to be faced with an undue burden compared to other in other states," Dobish added.

The bills were introduced to the Michigan House of Representatives in January and are now in committee.

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