Top myths about veterinary shelters

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Top myths about veterinary shelters

Let's debunk these misconceptions about care at veterinary practices and shelters.
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Nov 28, 2014

Top myths shelters have about private veterinary practitioners:

Shelters are taking away business from private practice.
Most clients who come to a shelter for surgeries or vaccinations would not go to a general practice because of their financial limitations. By providing these services, shelters decrease the numbers of litters entering their facility—thus decreasing the euthanasia rate—and the vaccinations help to protect the community from disease outbreak (public health).


Medical protocols that occur at shelters are usually “second rate.”
If you think of the sheer volume of surgeries done at the shelter by a licensed veterinarian, you might accept the notion that a shelter veterinarian might become even more proficient at these procedures. Additionally, as more veterinarians train to become shelter veterinarians, those training them make the point that “best medicine” should be practiced in all facilities—both private practice and shelters alike.

Shelter veterinarians are at shelters because they could not handle private practice or were not particularly good veterinarians.
Many shelter veterinarians started out in private practice or still participate part time in private practice. Some might say that working at a shelter is a calling, if you will, or vocation. I am now seeing young graduates who are associates in a private practice taking part-time positions at shelters because they want to make a difference.

Shelter and herd health protocols don’t apply to private practice.
How often have we seen a kennel cough outbreak at a private practice that does “medically supervised boarding”? Any time we have groups of animals congregated in a limited space, we can be faced with herd health issues. I personally have learned so much more about proper cleaning and disinfection protocols because of my continuing education in shelter medicine. I think back to my private practice days and now realize I could have done a better job in this regard and that much of this information would also benefit the animals entering a private practice facility.

Shelter medicine only involves spays, neuters, and vaccinations.
It involves so much more—population management, shelter facility design and operation, sanitation, preventive healthcare, diagnosis and management of infectious disease, animal behavior and welfare, issues and policies regarding euthanasia, public relations, adoption strategies, fundraising, abuse investigation, veterinary forensics, public health—and the list goes on.

A shelter veterinarian has to euthanize a lot of animals.
From my own experiences and from the dozen or so shelters I work with in my area, shelter veterinarians are busy with so many other tasks that the technical staff and animal control officers perform the majority of euthanasia. Certainly there are times, as in general practice, where the veterinarian is performing these procedures. Personally I euthanized more animals out in private practice than I have as a shelter veterinarian. This being said, I realize I have been fortunate to work with many shelters that have lower than national average euthanasia rates.

Top myths private veterinary practitioners have about shelters: 

Most of the time better medicine and surgery occurs out in private practice.
Just because the building is a shelter does not mean that the veterinarian practicing there needs to change how they approach a surgical or medical workup. A well-funded facility can refer cases as well when appropriate.

Private practitioners are only in it for the money.
In order for a shelter or a private practice to remain in business, services need to generate fees so that expenses can be covered. Even shelters charge the cities they serve fees for animal control services. Low-cost vaccine and surgery services have fee schedules as supplies need to be purchased and medical staff paid. The whole veterinary community—private and nonprofit—must show financial sustainability to remain in business.

Private practitioners resent the local shelters as they are financial competition.
Many private practices, especially those providing emergency coverage, often have partnerships with local shelters. Some private practitioners provide overflow coverage for shelters when necessary. Some specialists donate their skills or lower the cost of services for special cases. 

myths about shelters

To call something a myth with no statistical evidence goes against our scientific training! Maybe in some warm fuzzy world shelters do not take business from private clinics. I will be happy to send dozens of records (significant in a solo clinic) of clients with multiple pets who came here for annual wellness visits until a "community clinic" opened at a shelter. Now when I see them for a non-routine appointment, they have had annual vaccinations by driving an extra 30 minutes each way to get "cheap shots at the shelter." And when I see a sick pet for the first time after it has been neutered and had annual vaccinations at the shelter for 2-3 years, the owner is surprised to learn of a heart murmur because "it's the first time anyone has ever listened to the heart." And when a pet owner calls me at 10PM because their pet can't stand up after surgery at the shelter and the shelter has no emergency service, volunteering more of my time is not the first thing that comes to mind!
If AAA Auto club (or some other non-profit) opened a gas station on the corner that sold gas that was 10% ethanol and 10% water for $1 a gallon, it would work fine in MOST cars (MOST neuters go fine with no gas anesthesia or anesthetic monitoring) and the public would love it. But you can bet local gas stations would put up more of a stink about low-cost low-quality competition than private veterinary practice owners.