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By Julie Scheidegger
Survey results from a study conducted by the CATalyst Council and released exclusively to dvm360 have revealed a wide gap between the perspectives of veterinarians and animal shelters. Despite the disparities, the CATalyst Council, a pro-feline initiative made up of animal health and welfare organizations, hopes to identify ways to build greater collaboration between the two camps and determine how that relationship affects the adoption and subsequent care of shelter cats. First step? Getting parties past the “It’s not me; it’s you” attitude, experts say.
Ralph Johnson, president of the American Society of Veterinary Medical Association Executives (ASVMAE), commends the CATalyst Council’s efforts. “It gets people to the table to talk about the details and work on a project together,” he says. “Then trust emerges naturally, suspicions get dispelled, and benefits accrue to all parties—shelter, adopter, veterinarian, industry and, most importantly, the pet.”
There already seems to be less animosity between the groups than at first thought. The study showed less evidence of an adversarial relationship between shelters and veterinarians than expected, according to the CATalyst Council. The problems that do exist seem to be rooted in misperceptions.
“Over the past six years, it’s been interesting for me to learn more about shelters—the challenges they face, the different kinds of facilities and how they’re funded, where rescue groups intersect the welfare community, and even the implications of national organizations compared to your local animal control agency,” says Jane Brunt, DVM, CATalyst’s executive director. “I suspect many veterinarians—certainly most members of the public—think that the SPCA or humane society in their community has direct ties to national organizations with similar names. So the basic first step of understanding what each organization does—the numbers and kinds of animals they handle and so on—is huge.”
The study showed that veterinarians think they give more support to shelters than shelters offer to them (in the study, the term “shelter” was used collectively refer to shelters, rescue organizations and animal welfare groups in a given community), while shelters feel they’re the ones giving more to the relationship. More than half of surveyed veterinarians see shelters as competition for services, and shelters don’t often recognize that veterinarians provide free post-adoption exams. The study also found that shelters report referrals more often than veterinarians report receiving them, though this may be a compliance issue with new cat adopters (see Tables 1-5 on the facing page and page 20).
As it stands, participating shelters reported that an average of 53 percent of their care goes toward cats, whereas the veterinarians say that only 35 percent of their care goes toward feline health. The number of cats receiving veterinary treatment is a statistic both sides agree should go up. The good news, according to CATalyst, is that about two-thirds of veterinarians and shelters are interested in programs to build more successful relationships.
Brunt says taking that first step to meet with area shelter directors goes a long way in beginning to dispel misperceptions. She suggests visiting CATalystcouncil.org, where veterinarians can get more information from the CATalyst’s “Top to Top” program, which offers guidance to both sides—even suggesting friendly vernacular to use—when a local shelter is forging a relationship with a private practice veterinarian or vice versa.
Additional findings from the survey, including a tool used to measure the relationships between veterinarians and shelters, will be released on Jan. 19 during the North American Veterinary Conference in Orlando, Fla.