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A call to protest
Veterinarians converge on Mississippi shelter to address competitive pressures


Speaking up

Frazier says he tried to emphasize the role veterinarians could have at the shelter during the last year that he served on the shelter's board.

"Over a year of trying to show how important veterinarians are to a shelter by getting as many of us involved in providing problem-solving and material and services when asked; it felt like we subtly tried to make our feelings known and didn't feel like that was very effective," Frazier says. "Really, it felt like we weren't heard."

Veterinarians in the area felt like this was their only option, he says.

But the move blindsided the board, Moore says.

"The knee-jerk reaction from the shelter board was that veterinarians are trying to shut down the spay/neuter clinic. The concern is that the spay/neuter clinic is using resources intended for low-income community members that are being overused or abused by capable pet owners..." Frazier says. "When you get a chance to talk with people and explain it, they understand. If you donate $100 to a low-cost spay-and-neuter clinic, don't you want that to go to someone who needs it rather than someone who is able to take care of their pets?"

"On the surface, (it) sounds like a really reasonable request," Moore says of the motion made to restrict shelter clinic cases based on income. "But many of the middle income, low-motivation people would be excluded." While the shelter's ultimate goal is to reduce pet overpopulation, Moore argues that excluding a group of individuals from using its services would not allow the shelter to fulfill its mission. "And you can write that on the back of a T-shirt."

How do you distinguish which middle-class individuals need the clinic's services and which are abusing the system?

Frazier says veterinarians were upset with the resulting criticism in the community that they simply raised the motion to line their own pockets.

"It's not like we're just making money off the animals. There's a lot of help and goodwill that goes out to our patients and clients as well as our community," Frazier says. "We know that it is all well and good to say this is to reduce the pet overpopulation problem, and that's certainly a worthy goal, but veterinarians are in the business of taking care of animals, and they make their living doing that. We don't feel like we're the greedy money-grubbing business that sometimes we're made out to be. Any time the shelter asks us for help, they get it."

Frazier says the 12 veterinary practices around Hattiesburg estimate they have provided at least $400,000 in pro-bono services to the shelter and the community over the last year. And that's a conservative estimate, he adds.

"Our mission is to reduce euthanasia at our shelter," Moore contends. "We know that is done by increasing the spay/neuters in the community. I know the veterinarians' concern is about equity and a level playing field, but that's not our mission. I hope the vets appreciate the 3,000 new clients we create each year through adoptions at the shelter," Moore continues.

"I'd like to think that's worth more than one surgical procedure."

Working on a resolution

In the weeks that followed the mid-December meeting, Frazier says he has talked to some of the board members, and the two sides are forming a working committee between the shelter and area veterinarians to work out these issues.

But it could result in another stalemate.

"We get a lot of funding from various charities, some of which strictly prohibit means testing because the grantee wants us to reach that underserved or less motivated population," Moore says. "If we stop in mid-stream ... and we started not playing by the rules the grant was bestowed to us by, we would be in jeopardy of having to pay that grant back."

Frazier says he doesn't expect the board will go back and accept the veterinarians' motion and says it is not the intent of the veterinary community to force the shelter to go back on any previous agreements.

"I think the goal was to work around their contracts and try to aim more toward low-income targets," Frazier says, adding that a number of other shelters seem to be able to filter out abuse using a sliding income scale and fee system. That would allow the shelter to offer discounted services to middle-class clients, but at a more competitive rate, he adds.

Another concern the veterinarians hope to address is the possibility of the shelter opening a low-cost vaccination clinic. Frazier says the board was looking into a grant program to open such a clinic when he was a member. Moore referred questions about the program to the shelter's grant writer, who did not respond to DVM Newsmagazine.

"We heard this was just for low-income folks once before," Frazier says. "It's not about our business as the main thing. We just don't want to see the system abused at our expense."

"The veterinarian-client-patient relationship is probably the single most effective tool in animal health," Frazier says. "That relationship suffers when low-cost clinics give the impression that an animal has had all the care it will ever need or when a capable owner waits for the next charitable handout. Some health problems could be missed if they are going to low-cost clinics for vaccines or other health maintenance services."


Source: DVM360 MAGAZINE,
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