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Letter from the President: Better Chances for Busting Barriers

February 12, 2023, Jim Tedford

The Association’s President & CEO shares some of the cross-industry conversations he’s been having about access to care

Among the many important key issues impacting the animal welfare profession, none is getting more attention than equitable access to veterinary care.  It is a massive, multi-faceted challenge impacting underserved populations, as well as middle-class pet owners. Studies have indicated that there is a tremendous shortage of veterinarians, making it challenging to get appointments. And even when an appointment is scheduled, pet owners struggle with the astronomical and rising costs of caring for their best friends.

Earlier this year The Association for Animal Welfare Advancement was invited to participate in a cross-industry forum hosted by the Veterinary Innovation Council to discuss the access-to-care crisis through the lens of veterinary medicine, and to share ideas around possible solutions. Attendees representing the veterinary profession, animal welfare, academia, research and the pet industry gathered in Orlando and spent the better part of a day together sharing thoughts, concerns and ideas. We were honored to represent our field as we stay true to our mission to champion, advance and unify the animal welfare profession.

Participants came into the conversation understanding the complexity of the challenges we face and the multiple solutions needed to even begin to address them.  We were treated to a presentation from Dr. Michael Greenberg, co-founder of the Veterinary Care Accessibility Project, who provided national perspective on the shortage of veterinarians, as well as veterinary deserts where large segments of the population have little or no access to care for their pets.

I was able to share some of the impacts that access-to-care bottlenecks have had (and continue to have) on the animal welfare profession.  Increased length of stay (sometimes resulting from intakes who have more demanding medical and/or behavioral needs); wait time for spay/neuter surgeries prior to placement; wait times for health certificates delaying transports, and a possible decreased demand due to the cost of care were all discussed. I was also honored to present enlightening data from two recent surveys on this topic conducted by our friends at Petco Love.

In addition to The Association, presentations were shared by the Human Animal Bond Research Institute (HABRI), the ASPCA, and Animal Health Economics.  One of The Association’s key partners, PetSmart Charities, announced its commitment of $100 million over the next five years to “help break down the geographic, cultural, language and financial barriers that prevent pets from receiving the veterinary care they need to thrive.”

Presentations covered many potential solutions, including the ongoing development of a mid-level practitioner (Veterinary “Physician’s Assistant”) degree, like the Masters program already launched at Lincoln Memorial University.

Following brief presentations, all participants were asked to address key components of the access to care challenge at their tables and then to report back to the full group. The biggest takeaway, for me at least, was the fact that we’ll need many more conversations involving many more stakeholders to come to conclusions (and some degree of consensus) around solutions.  We talked veterinary telehealth, a spectrum of care, subsidized veterinary education, and subsidized veterinary care, along with many other great ideas.

The good news is that cross-industry conversations like this one are happening. No single stakeholder group has ownership of the problem at hand or of the potential solutions to it.  By setting aside potential differences of philosophy and putting our collective heads into the conversation and combining our considerable energy, we stand a much better chance of improving access to care for pets and their people.

About Jim Tedford
Jim Tedford, CAWA, is President and CEO of The Association for Animal Welfare Advancement.

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