Future of animal welfare intertwined with veterinary profession

Published on August 29, 2018

Increasing costs. An inconsistent supply chain. Hard-to-access customers. Increasing competition. Confused customer messaging. Increased public scrutiny. Increasing regulatory pressure.

Roger Haston, PhD, chief of analytics for PetSmart Charities, argues that the traditional humane nonprofit world and for-profit veterinary world have almost become indistinguishable and the issues they now face are similar, as listed above.

"There's tremendous angst going on in the animal welfare industry because it's changing so quickly and the constructs we looked to in the past are going away," Dr. Haston said July 13 in his talk "The Future of Animal Welfare" at the Veterinary Medical Association Executives meeting during AVMA Convention 2018 in Denver.

Some current trends in animal welfare he outlined are as follows:

  • Animal supply and demand: There's a growing inventory problem as shelters in some places are running out of dogs, especially dogs that people want. By one estimate, 40 to 45 percent of kennel space in the U.S. is taken up by pit bull–type dogs.
  • Shelter intake declines: Almost every shelter, even in the South, is reporting declines, partly because there are not as many stray animals as there used to be.
  • Transportation: During 2016, over 778,385 dogs were moved to different locations. In a trend that started after Hurricane Katrina, more and more dogs are being moved from the South to the Northeast and elsewhere for adoption. Dr. Haston said the amount of money made by transporters can attract some bad actors and create problems in both the source and destination communities if not managed holistically.
  • Small rescue organizations: There are an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 small rescue groups in the U.S., and many operate with little knowledge and regulation.
  • How people adopt: More nonprofits are offering adoption events at retail spaces. In 2016 alone, there were 1 million retail adoptions, which represents a third of all adoptions that year. Dr. Haston questioned whether adoption is or still should be the main purpose of shelters.
  • Shelter economics: The cost of sheltering has increased 150 percent since 2000, Dr. Haston estimates. This is because of additional services offered, varying municipal funding, and other factors.
  • Consolidation: Some larger metropolitan areas, including San Diego, Minneapolis, and Milwaukee, have seen local shelters join together to save costs. Similar things are happening in Australia and British Columbia.

Dr. Haston advocated for veterinary and animal welfare leaders to come together around the common objectives of community, access, and health. In doing so, they could help preserve and build the relationship between all pets and people; eliminate animal cruelty, suffering, and abuse; and maintain public trust and safety.

"The scope of these problems is bigger than what a nonprofit can do. We need the help of for-profit vets, too, working hand in hand and finding mutuality together in a way that we have never imagined before," Dr. Haston said.