Toward a New Framework for Companion Animal Healthcare Services at the Community Level
An estimated 2 million or more companion animals every year are surrendered to shelters in the United States by their “pet parents” for a variety of reasons. The literature on companion animal surrender indicates that such relinquishments occur for owner-related and/or animal-related reasons. Research suggests that human housing issues are closely related to pet relinquishment, that animal behavioral issues are a frequent reason for surrender, and that pet healthcare needs and expenses are often associated with animal surrender. Many of the reasons for surrendering a pet, and especially those related to human housing, animal behavior, and pet healthcare expenses, are potentially connected with financial constraints. If assistance and support were available to “pet parents”, through the public and/or the private sector, it is likely that the incidence of pet surrender could be reduced. Existing programs at both the animal shelter level and the broader community level do offer assistance and, especially with respect to pet healthcare needs, certain veterinary services are brought into some underserved communities. This paper explores barriers to receiving companion animal healthcare services and options to structuring in-community veterinary care services, proposing that animal health services be actually embedded within the community instead of brought into the community. The proposed community-embedded animal health model is based upon a “pyramid” structure for animal health services, moving upward from neighborhood pet healthcare “hubs” through local clinics and community hospitals. Similarly, a “pyramid” structure for staffing, designed to address care accessibility barriers including communication challenges and diversity within the allied veterinary professions, would be built upon a foundational level of a cadre of local community animal health workers. Also contemplated is enhanced utilization of veterinary technicians/nurses, as well as creation of a new midlevel veterinary professional role, under the direction and supervision of a licensed veterinarian. I predict that the incidence of pet surrender due to financial-related challenges would decrease as a result of community-embedded multi-level support for pet healthcare.