Access to animal care and support is a critical challenge facing animals globally.
What do we mean when we say access to care? We are referring to a family’s ability to seek out, understand, and obtain the services and support necessary for their animal’s health and well-being. In 2018, The University of Tennessee Knoxville, in collaboration with support from Maddie’s Fund, published a report on Access to Veterinary Care, examining and identifying some of the key barriers standing in the way of access.
Unsurprisingly, the number one reported barrier by pet parents in the study was cost, however, looking at cost through a superficial lens would not lead us to long-term change or a positive outcome. We need to look deeper to understand the root causes that are creating barriers and standing in the way of broader access to care and support.
This report focuses on the state of affairs in the United States, and so, to better understand a Canadian context, we have reviewed Canadian data to fully grasp the state of affairs in our country.
What we Found
There are roughly 16.5 million pet cats and dogs in Canada and trends point towards this number continuing its increasing annual trend. For clarity, from 2008 to 2018, 2 million more cats and dogs were welcomed into Canadian families. A growing number of families are recognizing the love and warmth bringing a pet into their family can have. This is wonderful news and aiding us in our battle to overcome pet homelessness. However, if we don’t look toward the new growing challenge of access to care, then we may end up with an even bigger problem on our hands.
As the number of households with pets increases, we are not seeing strong enough growth in our service provision industries, specifically veterinary care, to keep up. In fact, we are seeing a trend that is compounding the issue.
Over the same period of time (2008-2018) that we saw family pets increase by 2 million, we also saw the average number of clients per veterinarian decrease by 30%. A trend and drop that has left approximately 40% of Canada’s 16.5 million pet cats and dogs without a current relationship with a veterinarian.
Specifically, at our organization from 2016-2020 we have seen that 30% of animal surrenders occur because of the medical health of the pets and ability to access and provide care, primarily financial. Much of the time, this occurs after a fair bit of cash has already been invested, however there just wasn’t enough for the required emergency treatment or on-going care costs.
Clearly, as an industry, as a sector, and as a country, we need to do better.
Why is this Happening?
Although cost may be the key contributing factor, understanding what is driving the increase is paramount to overcoming this challenge.
Inflation and a rising cost of living across the country is taxing an already stressed system and putting those experiencing financial hardship further out of reach. As inflation is ever increasing, wage costs for professional staff, product supplies and other resources continue to climb as well. Each year, inching the cost of care provision higher and higher.
Geographic Location of Veterinary clinics and support services are limited and present physical barriers in the way of care, with some of our country’s population living hundreds of kilometers away from the nearest veterinary clinic.
Veterinary Professional Staffing Shortages continue to plague an already strained system. With new Veterinarians and Registered Veterinary Technicians entering the profession at rates too low to keep up with growth, we are seeing more and more clinics needing to turn away clients due to lack of capacity. Further compounding the challenge of profession field entry, we are seeing a growing number of individuals leaving the field due to emotional fatigue and burn-out, with Veterinarians recently topping the list of suicide rates.
The state of the animal welfare industry is nearing a tipping point, demanding a need for new and innovative solutions that do more than provide ‘band-aids’ to the underlying challenges. If we do not address this challenge head-on, we will see growth in animal suffering, animals in pain, and animals suffering from emotional and physical challenges with no system or resources to help relieve them.
What can we do?
Simply bringing “cheaper” services to market is not a viable solution. The surface of this assumes that veterinary clinics, trainers, pet supply stores and more, just charge too much. This simply is not the case.
We are in need of innovative new business models that find ways to provide services for a lower cost without hindering the quality of care received by the animal. Models that allow for attractive compensation packages and stronger balance for staffing, so that we can attract new individuals into the field that can keep up with growth of family pets.
Collaboration with private sector and remote communities to find services that will work for them, when they are in need.
Raising awareness and availability of payment plans, pet insurance and other cost mitigation plans that support an individual’s ability to afford care when care is needed.
Exploration of new treatments that seek not just to improve the welfare of the animal but target ways to achieve improved welfare at a lower cost to the client.
Importantly, ensuring those that are in need of assistance and support know where and how to access it.
Making Care Accessible
At our organization, this is how we are combating the barriers to access of care.
We are engaging in collective work with educational institutions to help encourage and develop professionals, through field and co-op placements.
We are leading and speaking at conferences and ensuring that the right information is reaching the right audience.
We are supporting these efforts through objective data, and encouraging our colleagues to address the underlying issues.
To ensure awareness of services, we operate a Pet Parent Support Network, built and designed to provide guidance and assistance to those individuals seeking care or advice.
Help us keep more families together
The growing gap between pet ownership and accessible care can no longer be ignored. Too many families are being broken up. Too many animals unnecessarily surrendered. Too many animals stuck in the cycle of vulnerability. Things have to change.
We are proudly a part of, and leading this change in the animal welfare industry.