Most animal shelters and local humane societies enjoy strong working relationships with private veterinarians. Area doctors often volunteer at shelters, veterinary colleges provide externs for learning and shelter assistance, often at intake, and veterinary clinics routinely advise the community that great pets may be found at local shelters. So where are these storm clouds?
At least two states, Alabama and South Carolina, are considering legislation that would place restrictions on the scope of veterinary services being delivered at shelters or humane societies. But this may be just a spring shower before the real storm begins.
The collision is impending because shelters—often at the urging of consultants and advisors—are deciding that their economic future requires them to become full-service veterinary clinics post-adoption, competing directly with local practices. In other words, shelters are offering a full panoply of veterinary services after the adopted pet leaves for its new home.
This goes far beyond spay and neuter clinics for low-income pet owners. Some shelters are competing in all facets with area veterinarians, even encouraging pet owners during the adoption process to view the shelter as their long-term choice for pet healthcare. The issue, of course, is not whether shelters have the right to do this. The issue is whether this is the right thing to do.
Is it in the best interest of pet owners and the quality of pet healthcare for a key source of pet ownership in a community to attempt to corner the market on veterinary services? And what could this mean for the nonprofit legal status of shelters when they become full-service commercial veterinary clinics competing with the private sector?
Don’t be surprised if the heat turns up on this issue, with local, regional and even national attention being brought to bear. If the financial pressure for shelters to compete stems from local veterinarians withdrawing their volunteer presence and services, then there are steps that area practices can take to address this. But if the emerging view of the shelter community is that it makes sense strategically to compete directly with local clinics (general practice and specialty-emergency), we will be talking about this issue for a long time to come.
Mark Cushing, JD, is founding partner of the Animal Policy Group, providing government relations and strategic services for various animal health, veterinary and educational interests. He maintains offices in Portland, Ore., and Washington, D.C., and is a frequent speaker at veterinary conferences.
The Veterinary Policy Notes blog on dvm360.com helps veterinarians and other animal health professionals keep abreast of the growing number of issues, political challenges and regulatory initiatives affecting the veterinary profession, animal health industry and animal welfare movement.