Kumbaya, my DVM: 5 ways veterinary practices and nonprofits can really collaborate


The needy get served. The private practices do top-notch medicine. Everyone wins!

Recently, I've been readin' about my friends on the editorial staff of DVM sittin' around the campfire with some private practitioners and shelter doctors, eating S'mores and singin' Kumbaya. (Editor's note: We think he means our dvm360 Leadership Challenge at dvm360.com/workingwithshelters.)

At first, I thought they've been inhaling too much smoke. But now I also think they're maybe on to something. There may be some common ground between practices and nonprofits after all.

Conflict between the two groups divides our profession. Rather than considering it a war, I see it as two arms of the same body, each smacking itself on different sides of the face. The end result is a swollen and sore head, regardless of who is right.

Our differences boil down to one thing-economics. Our industry faces a core question: Who deserves cheap medical care? Many nonprofits say "everyone," while many private practice owners contend that cheap care should only extend to truly needy animals.

Here are some of my solutions to solve the problem nonprofits see without hurting private practices.

Across-the-board means testing

Every one, every place and for every procedure. Every surgery. Every vaccine. Every box of heartworm preventive. Grocery stores do it, so why can't we? Fill out a form online. Tap on a smartphone. If you qualify, we'll help.

Nonprofit help for private practices

Nonprofits have shown they're good at raising funds, so use the money to help poor clients get top-notch care at private practices. “Need a fracture repaired? Here's a voucher for the surgery at full price. Take this to the participating clinic of your choice.”

A humane alliance

OK, call me crazy (and get in line). The humane folks should do what they're good at-raising money, public awareness, adoption and TV commercials. We should do what we're good at-being doctors. That's actually a synergistic relationship with benefits for all. “Adopt a dog, and we'll help you find her a doctor.”

Limited shelter services

Shelters could provide enough care for indigent shelter animals to make them adoptable. No owned pets would be treated without means testing, and then pet owners would get a voucher for a service at a private practice. Keep costs down at shelters with (gasp) highly qualified nondoctors. Teach certified veterinary technicians to spay a dog. Let them give rabies vaccines. I don't think basic services for indigent dogs need to be delivered by a doctor.

All-inclusive public education

Shelters, humane societies and rescue groups should educate potential pet owners on where and how to adopt, how to find a veterinarian and how to receive those veterinary vouchers for those truly in need. Private practices don't always do this stuff well, but big nonprofit groups do a great job.

These steps should make everyone happy. Private practices retain the owners who can and should be paying for services, and shelters are able to care for the truly needy animals. It's what each side is saying they really want, right? Pass the S'mores, please.

Dr. Craig Woloshyn is a novelist and a distant practice owner and remains a Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board member until he's drummed out at the head of a pitchfork-wielding mob. Which could be any day now...

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