Champion animal welfare in your community

Veterinarians save lives when they partner with shelters and other animal organizations.
Oct 01, 2007

Advice from the Veterinary Medicine Practitioner Advisory Board
On a hot Sunday morning in July, J.C. Burcham, DVM, and a colleague neuter 79 cats at a local animal welfare organization. Dr. Burcham, who practices in a large veterinary hospital in Olathe, Kan., knows firsthand about relinquishment and euthanasia. Her class in shelter medicine at Iowa State University and the time she spent in two preceptorships at animal shelters opened her eyes, she says, so she graduated in 2004 with a desire to be a community activist. Besides providing neutering services through the No More Homeless Pets Kansas City organization one day a month, she visits elementary schools with her dog Scamper to teach children how to handle pets and what to do if challenged by an angry dog.

"Society places a lot of trust in veterinarians," says Kate Hurley, DVM, MPVM, director of the Koret Shelter Medicine Program at the University of California, Davis. "They are highly trained, and the public regards them as animal professionals. When we join with shelters, it elevates the status of both the problem and the profession in the public eye."

Advice from the Veterinary Medicine Practitioner Advisory Board
Richard Avanzino, president of Maddie's Fund, a charity founded in 1999 to help save homeless pets in shelters, sees a strong relationship between veterinary medicine and saving the three million or so healthy animals put to death in shelters. Successful programs bankrolled by Maddie's Fund use the local veterinary community in concert with shelter and community groups. One project in Lodi, Calif., brought together 10 of the area's 12 veterinary hospitals to stanch an explosion in the animal population there. Some of those veterinarians, he says, had never met before. "Over five years they reached an adoption guarantee for all healthy pets," he says.


Advice from the Veterinary Medicine Practitioner Advisory Board
Peter Marsh, a New Hampshire attorney, has helped bring shelter euthanasia numbers down in his stateā€”from 11,494 in 1993 to 3,441 in 1999.1 From 1994 to 2002, shelter euthanasia in New Hampshire declined 77% to the lowest euthanasia rate in America.2 Marsh doesn't think veterinarians should shoulder complete responsibility for ending healthy animal euthanasia, but he has seen how instrumental they can be as key members of a community effort. "We could not have gotten public financing for our efforts without the veterinarians' support," Marsh says. "They paved the way for us."

Veterinarians do shoulder the burden for much of a New Hampshire spay and neuter program targeted at low-income pet owners. More than 70% of veterinary practices in New Hampshire participate by providing low-cost surgeries for pets whose owners qualify for the program, which began in 1994. To qualify, pet owners must be eligible for Medicaid or food stamps or one of five public-assistance programs. The veterinarians agree to lower their customary fees for neutering by 20%; the cost of the surgeries is subsidized through proceeds from a $2 surcharge on dog licenses and a $25 owner co-payment. More than 34,000 surgeries were performed in the first eight years of the program.2 Marsh reports that 80% of the decline in shelter euthanasia in New Hampshire is attributable to decreased shelter admissions subsequent to this program.