Animal Care is Health Care

| July 14, 2023

How a two-tiered system provides preventative care for animals in need

Rafael knew that moving his family from Ecuador to Canada wouldn’t be easy. They would have to start from scratch and say goodbye to friends, family and familiar places. It would be overwhelming, but they were in this together – Rafael, his wife, their children, and their two dogs, Joaquine and Murci.

A few weeks after they arrived in Canada, Murci, their 12-year-old Terrier mix dog, fell seriously ill. With his wife and children hugging Murci close, Rafael frantically Googled the nearest vet clinic and rushed his beloved companion to the nearest one.

An examination revealed that Murci had pyometra, a life-threatening uterine infection that most commonly affects female dogs that are not spayed. Murci needed surgery right away, but when clinic staff told Rafael how much the surgery would cost, his legs almost gave out from under him.

He didn’t know what to do. Murci was a part of the family, a source of comfort for his wife and kids as they navigated the emotional and psychological complexities of immigration together. His options seemed limited – surrender his beloved dog or euthanize her.

Rafael could not bear the thought of telling his family they’d have to say goodbye to a family member and asked if there was something else that can be done. The vet clinic contacted Toronto Humane Society’s Public Veterinary Services for help.

A Crisis of Affordable Care

Rafael is not the first pet parent to be faced with the unimaginable choice between surrendering a pet or euthanizing them – and sadly, he will not be the last.

According to Statistica, the annual cost to care for a dog in 2022 in Canada was approximately $4,000 and approximately $2,500 for a cat. This doesn’t include the costs of urgent procedures that can cost upwards of $10,000. When coupling basic pet care costs with inflation and the rising costs of living, the ability to care for a pet starts to feel more like a luxury than a need.

Families are hurting right now. From filling the fridge with groceries to filling the tank for the commute to work, high costs of basic living have pushed many to the breaking point. Meanwhile, there is a growing shortage of veterinarians and veterinary staff. With inflation driving up wage costs, product supplies and other resources, the costs of veterinary care will only increase. For those who can afford it, this has become a painful, but necessary process. For those who can’t, it means their animal will simply go without basic care.

According to a 2022 survey conducted by the Canadian Animal Health Institute, nearly 1 in 5 pet parents wanted or needed preventative care in the past 12 months but were not able to access it due to affordability, or the inability to get an appointment, among other reasons.

When preventative treatment is not provided, more urgent concerns – from dental disease to severe infections like pyometra – can develop down the road. And it’s here, in Canada’s veterinary clinics, where more and more families are faced with the unimaginable: saying goodbye to their animals because they cannot afford their care.

Subsidized Care: A Lifeline for Families in Need

With an understanding that affordability of pet care is the largest barrier that pet parents face when trying to provide for their animal, the Public Veterinary Service clinic offers a two-tiered pricing system that offers subsidized rates for those receiving income supplementation. This way, everyone can have access to affordable preventative care services such as spay and neuter surgeries, dental, core vaccines, and heartworm, flea, and tick preventatives.

“The service operates with a goal of making preventable diseases a thing of the past,” notes Phil Nichols, Toronto Humane Society’s Chief Operating Officer. “In the same way children are provided with basic preventative healthcare from the moment they are born, the Public Veterinary Service aims to provide that for pets. At the end of the day, we are trying to reduce the number of people confronted saying goodbye to their animal from a preventable disease just because of cost.”

This proactive approach keeps more vulnerable families together and their pets out of the shelter system. It stops the cycle of suffering before it starts.

Rafael didn’t know what to expect when he arrived at Toronto Humane Society with Murci. By this point, he and his family had been on a rollercoaster ride of emotions. Exhausted by anxiety and disoriented by grief, Rafael was prepared for the worse. But instead, he was led to a private room and was greeted by a friendly veterinarian. She began asking Rafael about Murci’s symptoms. What were they? How long has she been showing them? Each question was about Murci’s wellbeing and her need for urgent care. The cost of this care never came up.

Murci was then quickly examined, and not long after that, she was brought in for immediate surgery. Rafael couldn’t believe what was happening. Because he qualified for subsidized care, Murci was able to receive the life-saving surgery she needed.

After worrying about the possibility of losing one of his family members, Rafael could not believe this was happening. It wasn’t until a few hours later, when Murci came through the doors and Rafael picked her up and held her tight, did everything sink in for him. The surgery was successful. The costs were covered. Murci would be going back home to her family.

Rafael holding Murci after she received her life-saving surgery

Pet parents should never have to face the impossible choice of parting ways with their family members because of a lack of affordable and accessible veterinary care. When pet care becomes a luxury, so does the human-animal bond.

The story of Rafael and Murci, and the thousands of others, underscores the importance of the Public Veterinary Services and how this program keeps more families where they belong – together.

This article was originally published in Toronto Humane Society’s quarterly magazine, Animal Talk. You can read the entire Summer Animal Talk magazine for free on issuu.