Over the past several decades, we as an animal-loving society have done a tremendous job promoting the welfare of our dogs and cats. Once seen as expendable commodities or tools for work, fed scraps and tethered in the backyard, our transformed vision of an ideal pet’s life today includes socialization, indoor beds, quality food — and veterinary care.
But while many of us in the animal welfare community have been working hard to ensure that all pets have the loving homes they deserve, veterinary care has been quietly slipping out of reach for many pets and their owners. Fifty million pets in the U.S. lack access to even basic veterinary care, and recent studies show that nearly 20% of pet owners would find it impossible to cover a veterinary bill of $300. At today’s prices, that may not cover much when a pet gets sick, and leaves pet owners and veterinarians with few options that aren’t heartbreaking.
What’s more, as we’ve shared before (but I say it again because it is astounding!) it would cost more than $20 billion per year to simply pay for the basic necessary care for all those animals who don’t get it – and that’s before considering logistical challenges of doing so. That’s just the cost of care.
Considering this shocking reality, we at PetSmart Charities realized two things simultaneously: 1. As a funder, our grants alone cannot address this gap in a meaningful way; and 2. The largest segment of families who aren’t currently accessing vet care are those who love their pets and desperately want the care, but just need a little help to bring it within reach. We’re talking about families earning up to the U.S. median household income (now about $70,000/year) who are finding it difficult to get care for their pets. This includes many teachers, grocers, public employees – and even veterinary technicians.
PetSmart Charities has committed $100 million over the next five years toward improving access to veterinary care, and one of the biggest components of this is our “Accelerator” grant program. The goal is to assist clinics that bring the cost of vet care within reach of many of the families in their communities who desperately want it. Accelerator is a highly competitive 4-year grant that provides the funding, consulting, mentoring, community of practice and support tools. The grant category is designed to help any nonprofit veterinary clinic envision and create an operating model that provides the highest level and quantity of care it possibly can while sustaining itself primarily through revenue of paying clients.
Is it possible? Yes! We already knew that some of our partners like CAMP-LA in Los Angeles, California, First Coast No More Homeless Pets in Jacksonville, Florida, and Arizona Humane Society in Phoenix, Arizona, had already walked this path and shown that it is possible to operate accessible-cost veterinary clinics while keeping themselves afloat. It requires ingenuity, energy, dedication and willingness to adapt and try new things. It requires partners like PETS Clinic in Wichita Falls, Texas, Philly PAWS, Kalamazoo Humane Society in Michigan, and EVAH in Canada who see their clients as partners in the veterinary care team, willing to make the best choices for everyone in the family to thrive. We have also learned from our partners such as Nova Scotia SPCA and Low-Cost Animal Medical Center of New Orleans, over the last year, that it requires listening to and supporting staff as a matter of priority.
In partnership with these and the rest of our first 18 incredible Accelerator grantees in the US and Canada: Toledo Humane Society, Second Chance Animal Services in Massachusetts, Humane Society of South Mississippi, Virginia Beach SPCA, Animal Humane Society, Toronto Humane Society, Regional Animal Protection Society (RAPS) BC, The Bridge Clinic in PA, and Canadian Animal Task Force we have already learned so much about what is already going well in these clinics and where more support is needed. With a business consultant on our team, we are helping them analyze their costs, volume and strategies to stretch every dollar as far as it can go toward getting animals in our communities the care they need.
In the coming five years, PetSmart Charities anticipates not only helping more than 60 accessible veterinary clinics provide expanded low-cost veterinary care, but we also look forward to consolidating and sharing the hard-won lessons of our partners so that many, many more have the confidence to move in this direction. Our goal is that together, as a culture, we will start to narrow that $20 billion veterinary gap by believing in our communities and our pet-owning families.
Connect with Kate Atema on LinkedIn.