How you can help improve access to veterinary care

What’s a barrier to access to veterinary care (AVC)?

“The biggest barrier is people’s financial situation,” said Apryl Steele, DVM, CAWA, a passionate AVC advocate.

Money’s a big one, but it’s not the only one, and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) is betting you can think of a few more, like lack of transportation. That’s why they’re asking for your help completing a special survey on AVC.

But what exactly is AVC?

For the purposes of the survey, the ASPCA’s panel of AVC experts define it as “any work that makes veterinary care more universal and equitable and considers individual pet and family circumstances with compassion and respect, to improve welfare and decrease suffering.”

And how will you completing a survey help improve AVC?

Sharon Pailler, PhD, MS, MPA, the ASPCA’s director of strategy and research, told NEWStat that the ASPCA wants to improve access to veterinary care for underserved populations across the nation, but says there’s a major stumbling block: “There’s a lot we don’t know about how to best accomplish this.”

But she said they do know how to find out: the survey.

“[By] harnessing the expertise of the AVC community, we [can] collectively identify the most important questions, or knowledge gaps, around AVC so that organizations doing AVC research can focus their efforts on the topics that will have the greatest impact,” Pailler said.

The ultimate goal of the survey: to figure out what we need to know to best advance AVC efforts nationwide.

“We aim to collect questions that identify gaps for all facets of AVC including veterinary medicine, human behavior, client communication, outreach, clinic operations, and other mechanisms that reduce barriers to care,” Pailler said.

Including, as Steele mentioned above, the cost of veterinary care.

As president and CEO of the Dumb Friends League (DFL), a Denver-based animal rescue organization and shelter that cares for and adopts-out sick, injured, neglected, and unwanted animals, Steele is intimately acquainted with the issue of AVC, and she helped design the survey.

She said it’s not so much a survey as it is a way of finding out what veterinary professionals like you think are the most critical areas of inquiry:

  • What information do you wish you had about improving access to veterinary care?
  • What do you need to know to be better able to increase access to veterinary care for people and pets in your community?
  • What information would make your work in access to veterinary care easier?
  • What questions do you have about the work others are doing in access to veterinary care?

“I also hope that we hear from human social services folks and community outreach people who can speak to the needs of their human clients,” Steele added. Many of the DFL’s clients are pet owners who are socially isolated or face challenges with mental health and wellness. Many are homeless. And pets play a vital role in their lives.

“We see almost 5,000 people a year here,” Steele said. And most have issues with being able to afford veterinary care.

“We start checking people in at 7:00 am, but some days they start lining up at 4:30 in the morning and by 8:30 or 9, we’re turning people away,” Steele said. But not because they can’t afford to pay for care. It’s a question of logistics—with only a handful of veterinarians on staff, Steele said that by the time most businesses are opening, they’ve often reached their capacity for the day. “We’ve never turned anyone away for a lack of being able to pay.”

Steele said that years ago, there was kind of an unspoken attitude among some people that pet ownership was a privilege and if someone couldn’t afford veterinary care, they shouldn’t have a pet.

That’s changed. Dramatically.

“The more we learn about the human-animal bond and about how pets impact people’s mental health and physical wellness, pet ownership can’t really be considered a privilege anymore,” Steele said.

If that’s the case, Steele said, then access to veterinary care becomes a pretty significant equity issue: “If pet ownership is no longer a privilege, then how do we take care of the animal in that situation? How do we support our community and the people in our society through our work?”

Take the survey. Help us find the answers.

Take the ASPCA Access to Veterinary Care survey here. Do it soon because time’s running out. Survey closes on tomorrow night, Friday, November 12, at 11:59 pm. There’s even an additional incentive: a chance to win one of five Amazon gift cards worth $75.