May 01, 2016


 CATalyst connects pet adopters with private practitioners

Posted April 13, 2016

Before adopters take home a new pet from the Delaware Humane Association in Wilmington, an adoption counselor asks them to choose from a list of private practitioners to visit for a free examination.

Some adopters already have a veterinarian, of course. “And then we have people who are so excited about adoption they’re not really paying attention to the veterinary part,” said Patrick Carroll, Delaware Humane executive director.

Asking adopters to choose a veterinarian puts the idea on the table as part of the conversation, he said. Many adopters do choose a private practitioner on the spot, and many go on to make a visit.

The effort in Delaware is part of Catalyst Connection, a program to connect adopters of cats, dogs, and other pets with private practitioners. The program is from the CATalyst Council, which champions cats. The council has piloted the program in Portland, Oregon, and Columbus, Ohio, as well as Wilmington and is bringing aspects of the program to Douglas County in Colorado. 

Casey Abbatiello, community outreach coordinator at Delaware Humane Association, spends time with Hailey, a cat up for adoption. (Photo by Steph Gomez)

Pilot projects

Animal shelters participating in Catalyst Connection send the pet’s records and adopter’s contact information to the participating private practitioner chosen by the pet adopter for the free examination. Now the CATalyst Council is working with Sikka Software Systems to develop a software platform to help automate the process. 

Dr. Jane Brunt, executive director of the council, said the aim of Catalyst Connection is to be “a real community booster for working together to get adopted cats into homes and then get them veterinary care and encourage lifelong care through a post-adoption veterinary visit.”

In Portland, the Oregon Humane Society and Portland VMA are participating in the program. In 12 months, almost 11,000 cats and dogs were adopted, and 180 practices were visited. According to certificates that veterinarians returned to the CATalyst Council, nearly 20 percent of adopters completed the free examination, with 60 percent of those forward-booking the pet’s next appointment.

In Columbus, the program participants are Capital Area Humane and members of the Columbus Academy of Veterinary Medicine. In 11 months, 2,835 pets were adopted, and eight practices were visited. Twenty-seven percent of pet adopters selected a veterinarian at the time of adoption.

In Colorado, the Dumb Friends League Buddy Center in Douglas County and the Colorado VMA are piloting a similar program. Ten participating veterinary clinics offer a free examination and up to $500 toward the cost of a shelter-related illness such as an upper respiratory tract infection. In the first eight months of 2015, 58 percent of pet adopters completed the examination, with 21 percent of those pets having costs for a shelter-related illness—at a mean retail cost of $62.

CATalyst Council is piloting its software platform in Colorado, Ohio, and Delaware. The first phase is a communication portal, and the second and third phases add connectivity to shelter and practice software.

Delaware Humane is starting to use the communication portal by entering data manually. The portal then will send email messages to the adopter and veterinarian. CATalyst Council plans to pilot connectivity to shelter and practice software in Colorado and then in Ohio and Delaware. 

Dr. Brunt said, “Our eventual goal is to be able to help the adopter make the appointment at the point of adoption.” 

Delaware experience 

Carroll said Delaware Humane has made a strategic choice to build a relationship with private practitioners. Three other shelters in the community have clinics open to the public. 

For just over a year, Delaware Humane has been asking adopters to choose a private practitioner to visit for a free examination. The shelter has been faxing information to veterinarians but is switching to the new communication portal.

Regarding Catalyst Connection overall, Carroll said, “I do get a sense that it is building the relationship between us as Delaware Humane and the veterinary practices. I think it’s strengthening that. And, to me, it just has a lot of payoff ultimately because it gets them clients, obviously, and it gets the animals taken care of medically.” Plus, veterinarians may refer people to Delaware Humane to adopt pets. 

Dr. Morgan Dawkins is a partner with a hospital group in the Wilmington area that has for decades provided free examinations for newly adopted pets from Delaware Humane and the Delaware Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Quite a few clients have come from Delaware Humane, and quite a few have stayed as long-term clients. With Catalyst Connection, if adopters who choose the hospital group do not schedule an appointment, the hospital group follows up with the adopters.

“If we can even get them in the door for that first visit, it gives us the opportunity to hopefully educate them on why they should be coming back for routine care,” Dr. Dawkins said.

He said it is amazing how many cats he does not see until many years after adoption, even eight to 10 years later, that had not seen a veterinarian since leaving the shelter.

Regarding Catalyst Connection, Dr. Dawkins said, “I think it’s a great program. The idea of shelters working with veterinarians and trying to make sure that clients get to a veterinarian is in the best interest of the pet and the client.”

Related JAVMA content:

Finding a way forward with nonprofit service providers (Nov. 1, 2014)  

CATalyst program to connect pet adopters, veterinarians (Sept. 1, 2013)  

Relations rarely adversarial between practices, shelters (March 15, 2013)