By Dr. Michelle Meckelborg, Shelter Veterinarian, Director of Animal Health, Edmonton Humane Society
Equitable public access to veterinary care is a hot button topic in the shelter and community medicine
circles. A survey recently published by the Program for Pet Health Equity out of the University of
Tennessee approaches the topic from a different perspective – instead of looking at the issue through
the public’s lens, this study focuses on access of care struggles for California-based animal shelters.
The Big 3
The study set out to answer 3 questions:
- Is access to care an issue? – the short answer, Yes.
- Which categories of care are not being provided? – On the spectrum from basic to advanced
care, a walloping 25% of shelters cannot provide basic care (see below for description) with the
percentage sequentially increasing as the complexity of care needs increases, up to a staggering
75% deficit in the category of advanced care
- What are the effects on shelters? – innumerable.
Let’s Dig Deeper
111 California shelter participated in the study – the population was a mix of government, non-for-
profit, and non-profits with an animal control contract.
Of the 111 survey respondents, 50% of shelters with full-time-equivalent veterinary positions reported
vacancies. Shelters with vacant positions, were collectively responsible for nearly 345,000 animals
The main reason for the vacancies was not related to funding, as most would anticipate, but rather an
inability to recruit and retain qualified applicants. This employment gap risks leaving 345,000 animals
without timely veterinary care.
Veterinary Care was divided into 4 categories as below:
- Essential Care:
– Basic intake care (vaccinations, deworming, etc.)
– Care of routine illness (e.g. Feline Upper Respiratory Infection, Canine Infectious Respiratory Disease Complex)
- Intermediate Care
– Spay/neuter surgery
– Care for non-routine illnesses (e.g. parvovirus)
– Intermediate diagnostics (bloodwork, x-rays)
- Complete Care
– Advanced surgery (amputations, enucleations)
– Dental procedures
- Community Care
– Community cat programs
– Intake prevention programs
Respondents reported an inability to provide care in each of the 4 categories, with the main barrier
being a lack of available appointments at nearby veterinary clinics for shelters with veterinary clinic
One stat that bears a second look – 78% of shelters could not support community care initiatives such
as intake diversion and trap-neuter-return (TNR). Anyone who has invested time in learning Capacity
for Care concepts likely has their eyebrows raised, and justifiably so. The trickle-down effect of this gap
is enormous and includes:
– increased length of stay resulting in greater expenditure of resources,
behavioral degeneration and a consistently higher in-care population.
Canadian shelters would be wise to take heed of the findings of this study and its implications for animal
welfare and life-saving capacity.
Access to Veterinary Care in California Animal Shelters
The Program for Pet Health Equity, University of Tennessee
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