In today’s world with so much uncertainty humans hold close the things that ground us, family, friendship, hobbies, and for so many, our animal companions. In fact, more than half of Americans think of their pets as family. We love our pets, and when they need help or medical attention, we want to be able to help them, just as we would any other family member.
However, as more people value their pets as family, access to affordable pet care is becoming more scarce. According to Shelter Animals Count, there was a 15% increase in adoption numbers from 2020. Even before this increase, there has been a looming veterinarian shortage, Banfield predicted that by 2030 there will be an estimated 75 million pets without access to medical care. Yikes!
So what do we do? As shelter workers, we know this veterinary care shortage is going to have major consequences. Today, large numbers of cats and dogs are needlessly surrendered by families who love them because they cannot afford medical care every day.
Enter the Human Animal Support Services(HASS). HASS aims to find ways to keep pets with the people that care for them by creating safety nets within the community where they live. The HASS project has 32 working groups all working to solve a problem within our field. These groups are made up of industry experts, shelter leaders and staff working together, I have had the honor of observing the amazing members of the External Medical Facing working group which includes 30+ shelter veterinary experts from all over the country. Together we are working to tackle the problem of animal relinquishment to the shelter due to medical care. The goal of the workgroup is to prevent the surrender of any animal that is wanted by its caretaker.
The group identified three solutions that shelters can implement to help the people in their communities keep their pets:
- In-Shelter Support Care: For shelters that can provide short term, immediate care to owned animals to prevent relinquishment.
- Utilizing Existing Veterinary Practices: For any organization that has the ability to create and moderate a community based support network.
- Starting a Facility From Scratch: For communities and organizations that have a gap in accessible vet care and are looking to create a veterinary resource in the community.
Each of the solutions offer different guidance based on the shelter and community resources. We recognize that preventing owner relinquishment due to medical reasons is not a one size fits all and our goal is to be able to provide a solution for every community. We hope to get this information into the hands of as many people as possible.
Together, the group is presenting at this year’s Humane Society of the United States Animal Care Expo, and in partnership with American Pets Alive!, members of the group will present a three-part webinar series this spring. We also plan to host roundtables and develop more educational materials to educate people on the solutions we have identified.
What help does your shelter or community need to bring these programs to the people and pets in your community?