Wouldn’t we all love to see the day when shelters and rescues are not needed anymore, or at the very least, not overflowing? The opposite would be very alarming. In order to succeed though, we all need to work together to improve the situation which, at the moment, is unacceptable at many levels. Right now, at the shelter and rescue level the atmosphere is dominated by emotions, and at the veterinary level the focus is on rational health issues. The common ground is that we all love the animals and this is what we absolutely need to keep in mind at all times. I would like to address some of the individual concerns expressed in the comments that were made to my blogs, as well as give a brief overview of some potential solutions and their complexities.
For those of you who think I am misinformed, I have actually been branching out and attending seminars and conferences on this very subject, and I’m already registered for more in the near future. I have made a personal choice to invest my extra time and money in that direction. I attended a three-day conference in North Carolina last spring where I had plenty of opportunity to chat with numerous shelter veterinarians from across theU.S. It was very interesting to find out that they’ve had very similar experiences to my own. Obviously, the problems I am talking about are not that marginal, as they also occur outside this province.
As I previously mentioned, I used Marla’s article merely as an example because it appeared in the newspaper. I took a harsh stance from a medical point of view, but in no way was it ever meant to insinuate that people’s hearts are not in the right place. On the other hand, I do want to elaborate on the comments I did make thus far. As a vet, reading what most of us would consider a touching story, I was thinking more in terms of disease prevention and management and looked beyond the emotions. I knew some people wouldn’t like what I had to say, but I wanted to make people realize that there are problems in how certain things are being done that they might not be aware of. This does not take anything away from the people that are performing great feats and acts of kindness for animals. I love a happy ending just like everybody else. In Marla’s case, as in many others, it unfortunately became a difficult experience. I am very pleased that Marla took additional time to respond to me and I love her comment about finding solutions. That’s been my goal from the start. My response was not personal because I actually think highly of Marla and I never questioned her intentions for a minute. I was only aiming to start an open dialogue on the issues we must all face in our day to day dilemmas.
I do disagree though with the idea that veterinarians should have to help people who pick up strays by always doing things at no or low-cost. I think Franck explained very well the economics of the situation in one of the comments when he said:
“The other point that I absolutely do not understand is this notion (…) that veterinarians constantly overcharge for their services. Where does this come from? At a time when human medical costs are skyrocketting through the roof and health care systems all over the world are in disarray, where do people get this idea? Veterinary fees in Quebec are amongst the lowest, if not the lowest in North America! Also, what do people mean exactly by “reasonnable” and “decent” rates? Reasonnable and decent compared to what? Is $200 too much to spay a cat? Or a dog? Changing brakes or a muffler on a car costs more than that and it’s not surgery! How much does it cost the veterinarians themselves to do these procedures? Isn’t this what we should be looking at before accusing a whole profession? It sounds like people just want veterinarians to be available 24/7, obeying their every request, free of charge! This isn’t realistic! Why should veterinarians financially bear the lion’s share of the cost of rescuing animals in Quebec by doing hundreds if not thousands of free or “low-cost” spayings and neuterings, dewormings, vaccinations, etc, representing hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars? Is it their fault that so many animals are bred and then abandoned in this Province?”
I applaud those who choose to pay out of their own pockets, but you yourselves are experiencing the financial strain of that and it is undoubtedly one of the main reasons that makes you angry and frustrated with the situation. However, don’t forget that veterinarians are not at all subsidized by the government, nor do we receive donations. It is extremely costly to operate a veterinary clinic: facilities, equipment, medications, salaries, taxes and other running costs must be paid. There’s no way around it. Unfortunately, another problem that myself and other colleagues have experienced and that I haven’t mentioned yet is having ended up with outstanding balances (in the thousands of dollars) from shelters (more than one) that keep delaying payment but not treatment, even at low-cost, and sometimes in several clinics at the same time. As with everything else, there are also costs associated with such situations. Shelters can run bills in the thousands of dollars every month, and we are charged taxes on what we bill, not what we are paid. The net result is that not only do we not get paid, but we end up paying additional money to the government for the rescue work that we did. It’s sheer nonsense.
Another problem is that often we are not directly contacted by the shelters themselves, but rather by people that we have never met or heard from before purporting to be volunteers or fosters. Are we supposed to drop everything and start lowering our prices when we don’t even know who we’re really dealing with? Would you just start lending hundreds of dollars to people on the street that you have never even met before? These situations are extremely unfortunate, and they may very well be one reason why people sometimes get turned away when in fact we should all be on the same team, working together. Instead of clashing, we absolutely have to find a way to reconcile our two realities.
There are too many needy animals for individuals, including us veterinarians, to assume all the expenses. Basically, we need more resources in the form of government funding, we need to slow down the birth rate which is completely out of control, and we need to regulate who can breed and sell animals and under what conditions. As heroic as shelters and rescues can be in their efforts, it’s really a drop in the bucket if the number of homeless pets continues to soar at the present rate. At the moment, if no changes are made, this will be a losing battle because for every pet that finds a home, there are countless more without one. I doubt anyone will argue this point.
When I said we could write a book on solutions, I wasn’t being sarcastic at all. This is a complex problem and there are so many individual issues to address like management, standards for facilities, disinfection, medical treatments, disease prevention, sterilization and population control, just to name a few. Vets have written textbooks on shelter medicine and it is an actual specialization in veterinary medicine. As an example, a Board Certified shelter veterinarian came to St-Hyacinthe this last April to give a conference which was opened to vets, veterinary technicians and shelters, where she spoke about disease control and vaccination protocols in shelter situations, which are different than those for pets that live in private homes.
No single group will ever be able to accomplish any of the potential solutions single-handedly. We need to have open discussions and forums. Everyone has their own personal experiences and opinions to bring to the table. We also need the involvement of more professionals to handle the health and welfare concerns. Laws and regulations need to be amended further and we need to set standards that will be followed by everyone and enforced by regular inspections. Individual groups need to become more unified and databases compiled and shared by everyone. As it stands, shelters don’t all have microchip readers, and having to go to the site of a specific shelter to locate a lost pet is very inefficient and not common knowledge to all. We need to educate both the public and ourselves because knowledge is power, and informed people make informed decisions.
But all the other solutions that I have suggested will be futile if we don’t clamp down on the people who reproduce the animals. Never mind the pet stores, they’re just reselling them. We need to regulate the puppy mills and breeders and we absolutely need to do something about the stray population. I have recently heard that since the recession, there has even been an increase in the number of families breeding their pets to earn some extra income. Limits in the number of breeding animals need to be imposed. Vets, shelters and even Bob Barker have been promoting sterilization for decades and it should become mandatory.
As you can see, we have a long road ahead of us. I have put forward a few ideas, which are not necessarily easy to carry out. We do need to look at our long term goals to help guide us in the decision-making process, and we have to stay away from short-term fixes that will not have the desired long-term benefits.