Should we stop feeding the poor?

soupkitchenPicture 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.

homelessshelterBut, 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.

DSC_6184We 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.

DSC_1887It 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.

14 thoughts on “Should we stop feeding the poor?

  1. Brilliant. Well thought out and concisely written. Experienced this for years living in Mexico. There is plenty of room for free, subsidized and full price services. You’ve made a valid plea and I do hope it is respected.

  2. I think you’re 100% correct. This is a beautiful letter. If we didn’t have people like you then we would have a much larger number of pregnant, sick and dying animals. Other veterinarians shouldn’t be upset because these low income families wouldn’t be able to go to the vet anyways. All you are doing is providing an amazing service the otherwise wouldn’t exist. You are awesome and you need to keep going as if nothing is standing in your way.

  3. I had no idea! I am shocked. Why is it always about profit??? Compassion Without Borders provides such a needed service. Thank you! Please never give up…

    1. This is describing, to the very precise definition of……speciesism. And, news flash, humans are MAJOR speciesists. We are currently the sixth extinction event of this planet’s 5 billion year history, and the fastest occuring of all the past five. Humans are also not considered a “natural event”, ie: “natural extinction event”. Your “problem” is absolutely no surprise to me. It’s so insidious and widespread, people don’t even understand it’s happening and go years, decades, their whole lives wondering why this, or why that, or I just don’t get that person or how can anyone say, think, believe such a thing!? Speciesism. That’s the thing. And that’s what you’re coming right up against trying to help animals (we ALL do in the animal activist communities)…..but POOR animals! Please! How people view and treat animals, they view and treat humans. It is inescapable. They see you are helping poor PEOPLE first, which they have “issues” with, but then you are helping these poor peoples’ ANIMALS!? How DARE you Ma’am, I say, How! DARE! You! Ma’am! Seriously, if it weren’t so horrible and unconscionable, with potential deadly results for innocent life, it might be a little rediculous. But’s its not funny at all. All the horrible and dispicable “isms” humans are infamous for weilding against one another, all begins on a lovely foundation of speciesism. If you were discussing this exact topic, and wrote this article the exact way you did, but put in only human terms where species-specific terms are used (vet-physician, animal-human, dog,cat,etc-human, vet services-human services, poor-elite, affordable-luxury, but my absolute FAVORITE example: Compassion Without Borders-Doctors Without Borders. Go back and try it, you’ll see) you’d have everyone jumping on board wanting to be a part your great organization. But, helping poor ANIMALS!? Get away from us you “problem maker”. Yep. Speciesism. Once you see it you can never NOT see it again. Ever. Anywhere. Everywhere. Don’t despair. It’s definitely not you! it IS them. I’ve been taking human’s speciesist attitudes my whole life, and I’m a genuine vintage model now, and let me share my little guilty pleasure I use on such people that display SUCH wonderfully precise outward descriptions of a speciesist: I look em square in the eye, and with a glint in my own of cheekiness, I simply proclaim, yes, proclaim with feigned shock of course, “YOU’RE a speciesist!” Then just enjoy the silent shock and confusion and wait for the joy of explaining it to them. Seriously. Humans need a SERIOUS education in humility and empathy for others. Speciesism is my primary reason for only supporting organizations such as yours which are focused on animal welfare. I believe in keeping covenants, and they were here first. You are fighting the good fight. These “bumps in the road” are just that. Annoyances. Carry on.

  4. Compassion is loving kindness for all sentient beings. It doesn’t discriminate between rich and poor, home owner or homeless, north of the border or south of the border, or human or animal. CWOB is the definition of compassion. I will support you and the work of CWOB forever. Continue my dear friends.

  5. All of your justifications for providing veterinary care for low income or poverty families are valid, besides the fact it is humane, an act of humanity for the animals. Services for animals in the U.S. have, for the most part, become a business. That includes health, food, training, and all animal-related products. Stay to your course, it is never wrong to take the higher road providing compassion in whatever form that is to our animal companions. Those who complain about losing dollars because of your fine work or those who say some should not have a pet due to financial status, are missing the whole point of having a pet, giving love and receiving love. You are compassionate and sensitive which is why the complaints concerned you, cancel out those complaints and let the love of your supporters light your life.

  6. I really had no idea either and totally agree with all the above comments. I’m curious what these vets see as the alternative. Is there preference that the animals never receive any care? What happened to the oath they took as vets? As Dawn stated, your services are in no way taking money out of their pockets as very few of the people would be able to afford a regular vet. I’m currently researching an article on just what people will do to pay for healthcare for their vets. Having sat in many specialty vet waiting rooms over the past 2 years my husband and I have spoken to many people. They are taking out second mortgages and going without food themselves to care for their pets. What we paid for one of our dog’s care for 9 days plus surgery at Cornell was unbelievable and most people in no way could have afforded. If there’s anything we can do to help, please reach out to your many fans!

  7. Compassion for the ”voiceless” is a responsibility, I feel deeply. Our country, with its freedom, for each person, to pursue their goals, has created the ability to give financially, and otherwise, to the charities of choice. I do not want the government to get so big, that it makes those choices FOR US.
    If Americans, are regulated and taxed to the extreme, there would be little help for the animals, I fear.

  8. Every animal deserves veterinary care. Every animal deserves the best care their person can afford. In my small way I am privileged to be able to help an organization which is run by caring, compassionate, skilled professionals and volunteers. If veterinarians complain, they are in their profession for the wrong reasons. What kind of person would deny any animal the chance for a better life? Please keep doing what you do best. People and animals benefit and your supporters feel blessed I am sure that your organization exists. Push the views of the self-centered and misguided aside. These people will always exist. The rest of us live in the real world and try to address the problems the real world has which takes strength, compassion, perseverance, and the will to do as much as possible with resources that are often too little. CWB is a great organization which gives hope and help where it’s needed.

  9. Every animal deserves vet care regardless of the owners financial situation. Because of angels like you, this is being done on such a grand scale. I am honored to know you and help out.

  10. Well put Doc. You just keep on doing what you do so well. Maybe the heartless I, Me, Mine’s out there should try doing what you do. Not for too long. Maybe just one day. They would buckle because it takes a big giant heart like yours to get thru just one day of doing what you do in Mexico and CA. You are a Hero for these animals and you are my Hero too. Keep on Truckin!

  11. Thank you for putting this into words so eloquently. I am going to share this with everyone and every vet student I teach. I think there are a lot of us in the vet community who feel your sentiments exactly, and I thank you for posting this. 🙂

  12. I am a vet at a regular clinic and I also do some volunteer vet work for a non-profit.
    What is going on is that the veterinary model is a mess. If you work full time for a non profit, you can get federal loans forgiven after several years (which I think is wonderful.) As a non-profit you are also allowed to use volunteers for non medical roles. You are essentially a charity and can get (some) free advertising, donations, grants, etc.

    At a regular clinic, we have to pay our student loans (generally a $800-$1000 per month,) pay our staff a living wage, aren’t allowed to have volunteers (due to liability and tax reasons I am told, plus not many people offer to work for free,) we are not allowed to fundraise (or at least it is not tax deductable,) and if we do pro bono work because people cannot afford it OR for a non-profit, we are not even allowed to claim that as a donation on taxes.

    For years vets have established a client base via exams and wellness care and then there was a base of trust when those clients had an ill pet. Now more and more clients go to non-profit vaccine clinics and we don’t have any chance to discuss wellness care. When they come with a sick pet, they don’t trust us and are upset that high end diagnositcs cost more and we cannot do it cheaper, they do not understand that the care at the non-profit was being subsidised by others.

    I would love to treat everyone for free, but *I cannot afford to!* Combine that with the excessive number of veterinarians graduating (as they are also a big profit to universities) and we are left with only the cases that the HS or non-profit cannot or doesn’t want to treat.

    Veterinary care for those who cannot afford it is important, and I don’t know any vets who don’t want to see them get care. But it is not a level playing field to compare them to non-profits and frustrating to be accused of being heartless or money grubbing if we need to charge for our services.

    As opposed to a soup kitchen, it is more like two fully stocked grocery stores, one with most of the food donated and one that is not. Who is going to have better prices? Is it because the regular store is money-grubing or wants you to starve? Or just because they have to pay for the food they sell?

    1. This is the perpetual and apparently unanswerable question. Your approach, doing both for-profit and non-profit work is a solution to be recognized. I thank you and hope we can generate more giving.

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