Attention animal lovers, “parents of fur babies,” dairy and beef cattle farmers, horse owners and more. I am writing to make Eau Claire Leader-Telegram readers aware of the need to provide public taxpayer funds for the expansion of the UW-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine. This expansion is desperately needed for the school to be able to continue to provide veterinarians to work in our state for large animals (think cows, we are the Dairy State after all), equine (that’s horses) and small animals (cats, dogs, etc.)

To date, the vet school has raised $24 million of the required $38 million in gift support it has been asked to raise for the $128 million project. That is 30 percent from private funds, which is a substantial amount from friends of the school who support this needed expansion. The school and its graduates benefit the state of Wisconsin in so many ways — our small animals, our dairy industry, our horses — and, just as importantly, the world with vaccines that help animals and humans globally. Medical researchers at this school discovered the Zika virus in the country of Colombia in South America and helped create the vaccine to protect against acquiring Zika. They are also close to having a vaccine for the Ebola virus and a universal flu vaccine for humans.

As you may be aware, as a result of Act 10 and extremely severe budget cuts imposed upon the UW System under the prior gubernatorial administration, our higher education system has had to rely more and more upon private support rather than the previous public taxpayer support for the “Wisconsin Idea” as it should be. Now that we are moving toward a different era, it’s time for all of our elected state representatives and senators to go across the aisle and come together to vote for public, taxpayer funding.

On May 16, I attended the Founders’ Day Dinner of the Wisconsin Alumni Association Chippewa Valley Chapter. Our 2019 Badger of the Year, Dr. Margaret Meier-Jones, DVM, ’96, who grew up on a dairy farm in Mondovi, spoke. She returned to her hometown area after graduation and set up a practice there for all kinds of animals, including cows, horses, cats and dogs. God bless her.

When she graduated after eight years with student debt, her first job paid $35,000. Just in the last year, she used the equity in her home to help pay off her remaining student debt, 23 years after she graduated from the School of Veterinary Medicine. For over a year now, she has been trying to hire a UW-Madison vet for her practice so she could take a few days to go on a vacation. Nowadays, most vets start out at $70,000-plus. Many carry a high level of student debt, although UW School of Veterinary Medicine’s graduates have the second-least indebtedness growth in the United States, due to the work of administrators and professors at the school. If the school cannot expand, it won’t be able to meet the veterinary demands of even our own state.

We also heard from Mark Markel, dean of the UW School of Veterinary Medicine, who shared how overcrowded the current vet school is. Students are studying on the floor. Supplies are being stacked in the hallways. The MRI needed to scan animals with cancer or bone issues is housed in a trailer outside of the building. In order to scan animals requiring an MRI, they need to be sedated, then transported on a cart outside to this trailer, up an icy track this past winter, and then back again after the MRI has been completed. You can learn more about the critical needs of the school at the Animals Need Heroes Too website: animalsneedheroes too.com.

It’s time for our state legislators to cease party-line voting, practice bipartisanship for the greater good and provide taxpayer funds for our state, our nation and the world to help the UW-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine reach its $128 million goal for its desperately needed expansion.

Arnold, of Eau Claire, is a UW-Madison graduate.