Picture this: Your local soup kitchen being challenged for feeding hungry families by a nearby restaurateur who is claiming disloyal competition.
Or this: Motel 6 trying to shut down the neighborhood homeless shelter for undercutting prices and devaluing their services.Absurd right?
Right. Absolutely crazy.
But, this type of harassment and judgement from the private sector is something that non-profits who offer free and low-cost veterinary services face all too often. It is something I myself have faced a great deal. Both in the U.S. and in Mexico.
Now, don’t get me wrong – not everyone in the veterinary profession is against free and low-cost care for low-income families, but a great many are. And they are vocal. Very vocal.
Try as I might to understand the logic and emotions behind this defensive posturing, I simply don’t. Trust me, I’ve spent many a long night brewing this over, trying to put myself in their shoes, and then circling back to where I stand and staring out at the huge void that seems to divide us.
But, I just can’t.
In my heart, I know that providing care to these animals and the families who love them is the right thing to do. These are people who otherwise cannot afford to care for their pets. These are animals who would otherwise have no other recourse.
Services exist to provide food for the hungry. Shelters for the homeless. Health care for children in low-income communities. Why shouldn’t they also exist to help animals who live in poverty and why should private veterinarians find this such a threat?
Non-profits who focus on providing access to veterinary care and spay/neuter for low-income families are providing a public service, not causing unfair competition. Point blank.
We are improving public health by decreasing disease and parasitism. We are decreasing overpopulation. We are filling a void that is no way a threat to the private veterinarian’s bottom line or financial health.
And, we are helping the animals and the families who love them.
I have heard the line “If you can’t afford to have an animal, then you shouldn’t have one” more often than I care to remember. This central belief seems to be the moral tenant underlining the criticism against access to free and low-cost care.
I disagree. I think animals provide great benefit to low-income families and the children and adults who love them. Emotional support. Unconditional love. A reason to get out of bed each morning. The benefits of companion animals to emotional and physical health are well studied and documented. They are not an exclusive luxury that should only be made available to the well-off, they are a core part of our lives that make our existence better and provide unbelievable meaning and love.
We all need that, regardless of how much money we make.
But, you know what? Even if you don’t agree with me about that, it really doesn’t matter. Whether or not you think they should, people who can’t afford to have animals do. Lots of them do. And those animals deserve care just like any others.
There are an estimated 23 million pets living in poverty in the U.S. and probably at least double that number south of the border. Those animals need care. Plain and simple.
It can be discouraging to see veterinarians band together to try to impede the care the non-profit sector provides under the guise of an unfair market advantage. Here in the U.S. there have been legislative and regulatory efforts to limit the scope of the care being provided and discourage veterinarians from working in this field. South of the border we have faced intense opposition from private veterinarians who fiercely oppose access to care in even the most impoverished regions.
It is downright frustrating.
I have to hope that the tide will change amongst my colleagues and profession and that ultimately the belief that all animals deserve access to care will dominate. I wonder if other social movements or causes have faced similar adversity in the past within their respective professions.
There is certainly still a long way to go.
Until that time, I’m not asking members of the veterinary profession to quit their day jobs, slash their prices, devote their life to the poor and offer free care to every low-income family that enters their door.
How about this? You keep doing what you are doing and we will keep doing what we are doing and please, please stop making an already difficult field of work that much harder by getting in our way.