AVMF fund bridges gap between owners in need, veterinary costs

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Providing greater access to veterinary care for low-income pet owners remains an ongoing concern in the profession.

Researchers with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals published a study in 2015 on the re-homing of cats and dogs in the U.S. Among the 46 percent of survey respondents who said they gave up a pet because of a pet-related issue, 26 percent said they could not afford medical care for their pet's health problems (Open J Anim Sci 2015;5:435-456). When pet owners with incomes lower than $50,000 were asked which service might have helped them the most, the majority indicated free or low-cost veterinary care (40 percent).

Paint Your Pet event
Acorn Animal Hospital in Franklin, Massachusetts, is enrolled in the American Veterinary Medical Foundation's Veterinary Care Charitable Fund. The practice frequently holds fundraisers, including a Paint Your Pet event, to put toward the program. (Courtesy of Lisa Miracle)

Three years ago, the American Veterinary Medical Foundation launched its Veterinary Care Charitable Fund, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit program for AVMA members that helps practicing veterinarians provide charitable care in cases of financial need, neglect, or abuse.

Dr. Karen L. Davis, AVMF chair, said, "More than 1,000 hospitals (have) enrolled in this valuable program, resulting in increased access to medical care for animals who would otherwise be ineligible for treatment. Administration of the program is provided through the American Veterinary Medical Foundation, which simplifies the process for the practitioner. Truly, the VCCF 'helps veterinarians help animals.'"

She also pointed out that clinics often have angel funds to cover charity cases that come through the door, but because the fund is a nonprofit organization, contributions are tax-deductible. Donations received by the AVMF fund for a particular clinic can be used at the veterinarian's discretion. The AVMF does not charge an annual fee. Instead, the Foundation withholds a small portion of donated funds to cover the program's administrative costs.

The VCCF has enrolled 1,171 practices in all 50 states and Puerto Rico since its inception, and $378,837 has been reimbursed in total. The mean reimbursement amount is $382, and 1,234 animals have been helped overall, according to AVMF data.

Lisa Miracle, hospital administrator for Acorn Animal Hospital in Franklin, Massachusetts, said her nine-doctor practice enrolled in the VCCF because staff members wanted to avoid having to tell clients they could help the patient only if the owner could afford to pay; otherwise, they would have to euthanize the animal.

"We're lucky. We're in an affluent area, so we're not having that conversation all the time, but we're in a position now where we have the opportunity to help people afford care that they otherwise could not," Miracle said, noting that the hospital hasn't had an economic euthanasia case since enrolling in the program.

She says the AVMF's site is user-friendly and makes it easy to keep track of the account. It has been used sporadically, sometimes not for months at a time. About $1,500 was paid out last year. Often the money contributes to paying a part rather than all of a client's costs. Typical scenarios for using the VCCF include situations such as a septic focus in a dog that needs a dental procedure or when a number of expensive diagnostic tests have been run and the veterinarian wants to order one more test before making a diagnosis.

"The conversation changes from 'I can't afford it' to 'I can help cover' like 99 percent of time. It's amazing. It's like you're giving them a life preserver. They feel less overwhelmed when someone is willing to help," Miracle said.

She adds that most clients receiving help are elderly people who have strong attachments to their pets but also live on fixed incomes.

The hospital keeps a few thousand dollars in the account. Staff members actively raise money throughout the year for the program, which Miracle says has been a team-building experience.

"They are proud of the fact that we have this and we have put ourselves in a position to do the right thing every single time because we have it."

American Veterinary Medical Foundation's Veterinary Care Charitable Fund stats

Veterinary practices enrolled: 1,171

Mean reimbursement amount: $382

Total reimbursements since the program began in 2015: $378,837

Animals helped: 1,234

AVMF Veterinary Care Charitable Fund logo

Visit the American Veterinary Medical Foundation's Veterinary Care Charitable Fund for more information.

Related JAVMA content:

Back to Basics (Dec. 1, 2016)

AVMF narrows its focus on supporting veterinary profession (Sept. 15, 2016)

AVMF debuts charitable fund, announces $185K in scholarships (Sept. 15, 2015)

AVMF adds to its charitable programs (Oct. 1, 2014)