Jan
30
2013

Veterinarians who are dealing with declining feline patient numbers might have one untapped source of feline patients right in their own neighborhoods.

According to the CATalyst Council and AllPoints Research, veterinarians should consider cultivating a mutually beneficial partnership with local animal shelters to encourage more people to adopt cats, which in turn can garner more referrals from the shelters.

The veterinarian-shelter relationship was the subject of an NAVC session by the two organizations titled “Finding Feline Clients in an Unlikely Place.”

A potential win-win situation

The CATalyst Council and AllPoints Research conducted a study in 2012 where they interviewed 195 cat owners, 53 percent of whom had adopted cats from a shelter. According to Tara Olson, AllPoints Research co-owner, 12 percent said they had selected a veterinarian based on a recommendation from a shelter or animal rescue.

That 12 percent represents a wide-open opportunity for veterinarians to gain more feline patients from owners who adopt cats from shelters, Olson said - especially considering that there are an estimated 50 million stray cats in the United States.

In an ideal situation, Olson said veterinarians would encourage their clients to adopt from shelters, while shelters steer more cat adopters into veterinarians' practices.

One of the biggest obstacles standing in the way of that win-win scenario is a relationship between shelters and veterinarians that has often been strained partially due to a lack of trust between the two groups.

That relationship is one which the CATalyst Council wants to see repaired and thriving so both parties benefit.

Perceived lack of mutual respect and support

The CATalyst Council also surveyed veterinarians and shelter employees to gain deeper insights into the opportunities and difficulties surrounding their relationship. 

They found that many veterinarians and shelters are wary of each other for several reasons including a perceived lack of mutual respect and support. During the NAVC presentation, Olson discussed some compelling data from the study illustrating ways that veterinarians and shelters sometimes view each other, including:

  • 54 percent of veterinarians said they view shelters as competition, compared to 4 percent of shelters who said the same about veterinarians.
  • 41 percent of veterinarians and 35 percent of shelters said they show support for the other group while not always receiving support in return.
  • Private practice veterinarians tend to believe that cats adopted from shelters are less healthy than those acquired from other sources.

Despite those unfavorable perceptions and others mentioned during the presentation, Olson explained that there is still hope for the two sides to work together toward a common goal.

Steps to build a healthier relationship   

According to study, two-thirds of veterinarians and shelters surveyed said they were interested in working together to connect veterinarians with people who have adopted cats. To make that happen, Olson said shelters and veterinarians first need to open the lines of communication within their communities.

Olson recommended several steps that veterinarians and shelters can take to begin building a mutually beneficial relationship:

  • Meet to identify stakeholders
  • List and define concerns
  • Share existing data
  • Organize awareness campaigns

The study also asked each group to contribute suggestions about what they would like to see from the veterinarian-shelter relationships. Veterinarians said they'd like shelters to:

  • Educate pet owners about the importance of veterinary care and pet wellness
  • Limit the services they provide in order to send more cats to veterinarians for care
  • Verify that potential pet adopters are financially capable of caring for a pet

Shelters indicated that they would like also like to see certain things from veterinarians, including:

  • Offer free or low-cost spay/neuter services to shelter pets
  • Recommend shelter adoption to clients
  • Provide discounted rates for treating shelter animals 

To learn more about the CATalyst Council's ongoing efforts to strengthen the shelter-veterinarian relationship, visit the CATalyst Council website.

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