The Access to Veterinary Care Coalition has announced a $391,420 Maddie’s Fund grant to the University of Tennessee’s College of Social Work. The grant will fund a nationwide study identifying barriers to veterinary care experienced by pet owners and veterinary services providers and document existing strategies to deliver veterinary care to underserved pet owners.
This will be the largest and most comprehensive study of barriers, existing practices, and public policy about access to veterinary care in the United States to date. At least 23 million pets live with families at or below the poverty line, and millions more live in financially struggling middle-class households that cannot afford veterinary care.
Maddie’s Fund is a national family foundation established by Dave and Cheryl Duffield to revolutionize the status and well-being of companion animals.
“We’re really excited about this grant because there are so many pet parents out there who dearly love their pets, but don’t have access to a veterinarian due to their location, finances, or other factors,” said Shelia D’Arpino, veterinarian and director of research at Maddie’s Fund. “This project is going to develop strategies for improving access to veterinary care, which will lead to improving the health and welfare of millions of dogs and cats all over the United States.”
Michael Blackwell, AVCC chairperson, veterinarian, and former dean of UT’s College of Veterinary Medicine, said this report will be the first definitive examination of this critical issue—one that has stimulated much debate and discord.
“Thanks to Maddie, this seminal work will be published and widely disseminated to help guide public policy,” he said. “Our hope is that veterinarians, animal welfare organizations, social services professionals, legislators, and community leaders will use this report as a tool to help improve access to veterinary care for pets currently without it.”
The coalition comprises a diverse group of for-profit and nonprofit veterinary services providers, animal welfare and social services professionals, and educators, who planned the study to define the scope and complexity of this challenge.
“Pet owners struggling with financial scarcity, geographic isolation—known as service deserts—and other barriers such as language may have few or no preventive or sick care options available for their animal companions,” said Blackwell. “Limited options for treatment of serious injuries or illnesses often result in prolonged pain and suffering, a pet’s surrender to the animal sheltering system, or economic euthanasia, breaking the human-animal bond.”
It has been reported that pet owners frequently prioritize limited resources to aid their animals, leaving human members of the family vulnerable to other challenges with financial security. Relatively little is known in the veterinary profession about the details or the scope or complexity of this issue.
“We have a national problem affecting a huge percentage of pets regarded as family members,” said Blackwell. “Animals are suffering and dying unnecessarily. They need a safety net that is based on a national collective effort, and that’s what this coalition is trying to make happen.”
This report is expected to be published in late 2018.