Relations rarely adversarial between practices, shelters

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A new study has found that private practices and animal shelters rarely perceive their relationship to be adversarial, despite a concern among some private practitioners that certain shelters are competing to provide veterinary services.


Each group perceives itself as being more supportive of the other, however.

The CATalyst Council partnered with AllPoints Research Inc. to develop the study on relations between practices and shelters. Study findings are aiding the council’s efforts to promote adoption and lifetime veterinary care of shelter cats.

“In the veterinary community and in the sheltering community, there is a lot we can do and already do in some locales together,” said Dr. Jane Brunt, CATalyst executive director.

AllPoints conducted the study in October 2012 via online interviews with 455 private practitioners and 772 shelter representatives.

Study findings

According to the study, 12 percent of private practitioners and 2 percent of shelter representatives perceive most relationships between practices and shelters to be adversarial. Within their own community, only 5 percent of private practitioners and 1 percent of shelter representatives perceive their relationship to be adversarial.

“What we found is, I would describe it not as animosity, but I would describe it as maybe some hesitancy,” said Tara Olson, co-CEO of AllPoints.

“I think there is certainly room to increase the amount of mutual benefit and respect that is perceived between the organizations.”

Within the community, 53 percent of private practitioners and 71 percent of shelter representatives perceive their relationship to be one of mutual support and respect. Some 36 percent of private practitioners said practices support shelters, but shelters don’t always support practices. Conversely, 24 percent of shelter representatives said shelters support practices, but practices don’t always support shelters.

Bar chart: How private practitioners and shelter representatives perceive the relationship in their community

The study confirmed that private practitioners frequently see shelters as competition. Shelter representatives report that they do not provide veterinary services to the general public as much as private practitioners believe they do. Thirty-six percent of shelter representatives say a successful relationship with practices includes practices providing services to shelters at discounted rates.

“They themselves don’t view themselves as competing with veterinarians,” Olson said. “They are certainly looking for that extra medical support where they can get it.”

Private practitioners report offering free post-adoption examinations more than shelter representatives believe they do. Shelter representatives report referring more cats for post-adoption examinations than private practitioners believe they do.

Among current needs and recommendations, shelters would like private practitioners to encourage clients to adopt animals from shelters, while private practitioners would like shelters to educate adopters about the importance of veterinary care.

Two-thirds of each group expressed interest in a program to work together to connect cat adopters with private practitioners.

Council programs

In 2011 and 2012, CATalyst completed a program of cat-friendly practice makeovers and launched an initiative to strengthen relations between practices and shelters for the benefit of cats. The council is focusing on the latter for 2013.

“Nationwide, shelters euthanize cats by the millions,” Dr. Brunt said. “And so there is, poof, gone an opportunity for a family to have a cat; two, an adoption to happen with a happy ending; three, a veterinarian to have a cat to care for.”

CATalyst’s Partnering to Make a Difference initiative, formerly the Top to Top initiative, seeks to help practices and shelters build partnerships within communities to improve animal health and welfare.

Dr. Brunt said CATalyst is enhancing its resource tool kit for practices and shelters that want to work together on common goals. Among other plans, the council hopes to identify certain communities in which it can facilitate partnership building.

On the basis of the recent study, CATalyst created a cooperation scoring system for practices and shelters to assess the relationship within a community. The cooperation score for each group is the difference between the percentage of the group’s representatives who perceive a relationship of mutual support and respect and the percentage with a less positive perception.

“There is a big opportunity there to sort of level that perception playing field,” Dr. Brunt said.

CATalyst also has begun advocating the concept of the handoff, or the transfer of veterinary care from a shelter to a private practice during adoption of an animal. Dr. Brunt said the goal is, at the point of adoption, to schedule a veterinary appointment with a private practice convenient for the adopter.

“Now you’ve adopted your pet,” she said. “Now it needs a lifetime of veterinary care.”