A volunteer caretaker interacts with cats at the Nebraska
Humane Society in Omaha. The humane society refers pet
adopters to local veterinarians who offer free examinations of
newly adopted pets.
Courtesy of the Nebraska Humane Society
By Katie Burns
The CATalyst Council, a coalition of cat advocates, is launching a pilot program to help improve relations between private practitioners and animal shelters.
The recent Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study documented that many veterinarians in private practice have concerns about shelters providing veterinary services. CATalyst is seeking to allay these concerns by building partnerships between private practitioners and animal care and control agencies to achieve common goals in feline and canine health and welfare.
Council leaders discussed the initiative Feb. 20 during a press conference at the Western Veterinary Conference in Las Vegas. The council also released results from a pilot program to make over practices to be more cat-friendly, revealing that makeover participants saw an increase in feline veterinary visits.
The initiative to improve relations between shelters and private practitioners, Top to Top, began with CATalyst facilitating an alliance between the Society of Animal Welfare Administrators and the American Society of Veterinary Medical Association Executives.
CATalyst is conducting a Top to Top pilot program during the second and third quarters of 2012 to build partnerships at the local level between animal care and control agencies and private practitioners. The council has developed supportive resources available to anyone.
"We have provided tools for communities to use where shelters and veterinarians can work together to increase homing, decrease relinquishment, increase a lifetime of health care," said Dr. Jane Brunt, CATalyst executive director, in an interview after the WVC.
"We have provided tools for communities to use where shelters and veterinarians can work together to increase homing, decrease relinquishment, increase a lifetime of health care."
The Bayer study's 2011 survey of companion animal practice owners found that 20 percent of respondents were very concerned about competition from "low cost" or "limited service" clinics, and 13 percent were very concerned about competition from shelter veterinarians.
Practice owners in the Bayer study's 2010 focus groups expressed concerns about losing starter services that establish a relationship with clients, including vaccinations and spay and neuter operations.
Resources for the Top to Top pilot program include examples of communities where shelters and private practitioners have worked together to achieve common goals.
One example is Omaha, Neb., where the Nebraska Humane Society and local veterinarians have collaborated in a variety of ways.
Kiley Maddux, NHS vice president of operations, said the humane society refers pet adopters to the many local veterinarians who offer free examinations of newly adopted pets. The Bayer study found that 45 percent of companion animal practices offer a free first examination for pets adopted from shelters.
"We know that we can't provide the ongoing care that the adopters need, and we stress it to the adopters how important it is that they do see their veterinarian," Maddux said.
In a past cooperative program that ran out of funding, the humane society gave vouchers to low-income pet owners for spay and neuter operations by local veterinarians, said Pam Wiese, NHS vice president of public relations and marketing. She said participating veterinarians submitted the vouchers to the NHS for reimbursement at a reduced rate.
For communities where shelters and private practitioners want to improve relations, CATalyst's Top to Top resources include materials to help initiate a partnership.
The resources and an application form to participate in the pilot program are available at www.catalystcouncil.org/resources/top_to_top.
CATalyst collaborated with ThinkPets Inc., a provider of client communications and practice analytics, on the cat-friendly practice makeovers. Dr. Brunt said the pilot program demonstrated that practices can increase feline veterinary visits and revenues from those visits.
The pilot cat-friendly makeover program ran from April through September 2011. Makeover participants reported a median increase in number of feline veterinary visits of 9.6 percent, comparing May through September 2010 with May through September 2011. A control group of practices reported a median decrease of 1.1 percent in number of feline veterinary visits during the same time frame.
"We are extremely pleased with these results; the increase exceeded our expectations, and we look forward to expanding the program and offering it to more practices," said Dr. Alexis Nahama, chair of the CATalyst board of directors.
He continued, "With a larger group, we could gain insights on the weight each individual tactic had on the final results and provide veterinarians with a more modular tool set of tactics they could select for their individual hospital's challenges. Our goal is to make it easier to bring more clients into their practices, but also consistently delivering better care to cats."
The pilot cat-friendly makeover program focused on staff training and support, education of existing clients, and implementation of consistent standards of feline care.