As 2014 gets underway, Mexicans are discovering that they have a lot more more taxes to pay.
Soft drinks, chewing gum, intercity bus travel, and stock market transactions are just some of the items now being taxed by Mexico’s federal government as it struggles to collect funds to pay for things like better roads and pensions for the poor.
But there is one particular tax that has angered thousands of people here and could do some serious damage to the country’s dogs and cats:
A 16% sales tax on pet food.
Dog lovers in Mexico City are already feeling the pinch.
Francisco Velasquez, a resident of Mexico City’s trendy Condesa neighborhood, spoke to us about the tax as he walked his English sheepdog, Teodoro, down a leafy street. His dog is ill, he said, and needs special food that in the past cost him 1,600 pesos for a bag of 30 pounds.
“Now it’ll be almost 300 pesos more for each bag, and around 600 pesos [$46] more per month for food,” he said.
Middle class dog owners like Velasquez might be able to absorb the new costs, but animal right groups say that the new tax will have a more serious impact on the millions of dogs living in Mexico’s poor neighborhoods.
Antemio Maya runs a dog shelter in Cuautepec a low income area of Mexico City, whose hills are packed with modest grey brick homes.
Maya rescues dogs that have been abandoned in the streets of this neighborhood, and fears that the tax will cause more people to abandon their pets.
“People with low incomes can easily run out of money to feed their dogs, and what do they do?” Maya said. “They leave them in the street…or bring them to my doorstep.”
Maya is not the only dog rescuer making this claim. Animal rights organizations in Mexico estimate that the new tax could lead to 250,000 dogs being abandoned in the streets.
These are calculations that may not turn out to be true. But there is no doubt that the abandonment of animals is already a big problem in Mexico.
Currently there are 23 million dogs and cats in the country, and 70 percent of them live in the streets, according to information gathered by the Mexican congress.
Juan Carlos Cañete, the manager of a hospital and shelter for street animals in Mexico City, argues that the new tax makes the job of animal rescuers even harder.
“We are doing the work that the government doesn’t do, and this tax just puts another stress on our budget,” said Cañete, who keeps up to 80 dogs and cats in his non-profit shelter.
Cañete says that dozens of privately run animal shelters spread out across Mexico City are doing a crucial job for street animals, who would be quickly euthanized at public dog pounds if no one adopts them or reclaims them.
Cañete’s organization gets donations from dog food companies, which cover most of the food that he must provide for his dogs and cats. These animals can live in the shelter for weeks, and even months, while they await adoption.
But others shelters aren’t so lucky.
Antemio Maya, must scrounge together funds to feed the thirty dogs that reside at his small shelter in Cuautepec.
He spends approximately 5,000 pesos [$400] a month per food on his dogs, and reckons that the new tax will increase his costs by $60 per month.
“It doesn’t sound like much, but this has a strong impact for us. I’m already covering for other expenses with my personal income,” Maya said.
“There are shelters that must feed 100 or 200 or even 2,000 dogs, who will really suffer from this tax.”
The tax is unlikely to be revoked. But Animal rights groups are now lobbying the Mexican government for legislation that would provide greater support for shelters, and encourage donations.
“Legislators did not consider the social implications of this tax,” Cañete said. “We live in a country where 45% of the population lives under the poverty line, and around 50% of those families have animals at home.”
Manuel Rueda is a correspondent for Fusion, covering Mexico and South America. He travels from donkey festivals, to salsa clubs to steamy places with cartel activity.