Study reveals presence of "veterinary deserts" in low-income areas
While focused in Atlanta, the study also displayed a similar trend in Chicago, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles
Atlanta Rescue Dog Cafe (ARDC)—a nonprofit organization aimed at keeping animals in homes, off the streets, and out of shelters—released research displaying low-income areas in Atlanta, Georgia have fewer veterinary clinics than those in more affluent neighborhoods, forming veterinary deserts. This can negatively impact pets, their families, and the community at large.
“We hear a lot about food and healthcare deserts, but there hasn’t been a lot of attention placed on these veterinary deserts,” expressed Aaron Fisher, founder and CEO of ARDC, in an organizational release.1 “People in lower income areas care as much about their pets as those in higher income areas, but lack of accessible care often means they must travel farther to get to the vet, which makes routine care more costly and less convenient.”
Along with promoting pet health and preventing unwanted litters, local veterinarians are trusted sources of general pet ownership information and responsibility. “A veterinarian can explain the importance of having pets vaccinated, as well as offer tips on pet safety and provide resources to help keep pets in homes,” added Fisher.
Veterinarians provide pointers including always walking a dog on a leash and ensuring all pets wear a collar with tags showcasing owner contact information to keep them safe and return to their families if they do get lost. This information helps owners make responsible choices that can possibly lessen the number of pets entering animal shelters.
According to the release,1 ARDC’s independent, original study discovered that fewer than one-third of the Atlanta area veterinary clinics are in ZIP codes with a median household income less than $60,000. The US Census Bureau cited that the median household income in Atlanta in 2020 was just over $64,000.2 The organization has also revealed similar disparities in other major metropolitan areas including Chicago, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles, with more veterinary practices positioned in higher income areas in those cities.
“Students go into veterinary medicine because they love animals and want to serve them and their owners. However, most come out of school with a lot of debt, so it’s understandable that they make the decision to work for a corporate-run practice, or an established practice in a higher income area, to help them meet their own obligations,” Fisher explained.1
He suggested that lowering tuition for students who will commit to clinic in an underserved area could benefit all parties. This would provide new veterinarians a practical financial option for themselves while helping to decrease the number of veterinary deserts. Fisher said municipalities could also do more to support veterinarians in low-income areas by offering facilities and recruiting recent veterinary school graduates with competitive pay coupled with loan forgiveness programs.
“There is an overall shortage of veterinarians in general,“ he said, in the release. “With veterinary school acceptance rates between 10 and 15 percent, this is not a problem that will be solved overnight, but ARDC is committed to collaborating with aspiring vets, veterinary schools, and other organizations to raise awareness of these issues and ensure that pet owners in underserved areas have equal access to veterinary services.”
- Pet owners in low-income areas have limited access to veterinary care in Atlanta. Atlanta Rescue Dog Cafe. August 3, 2022. Accessed August 3, 2022.
- United States Census Bureau. Quickfacts Atlanta city, Georgia. Accessed August 3, 2022. https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/atlantacitygeorgia