Doolittler had an interesting post earlier this week on how much money we spend on our tests. Her post focuses on a study published in the Journal of Veterinary Medical Association regarding a growing number of people who do not take their pet a vet annually, if ever.
It's an interesting topic --and the stats quoted in her article certainly resemble numbers from the AVMA Census. In 2006 (from the census data), Americans made 119 milion visits to the vet's office and spent $16.1 billion doing it.? This is up from $7 billion spent in 1996.
While part of the huge increase is due to a larger percentage of households being pet owners, the costs of veterinary care have risen. In 1996 the average pet-owning household spent $187 on vet care. In 2006, the average was nearly double that at $356. 22% of households spent $500 or more last year on vet care (vs 8.3% in 1996).
The amazing difference is that 22% of people didn't spend a dime on vet care last year (27.6% of African Americans didn't spend money on vet care last year), up from 17% 10 years earlier. While certainly there are some other factors that could be at play here, (with 3 year vaccinations now being the norm people don't necessarily have to go in every year), it appears that the rising costs of vet care is certainly having a negative affect on lower economic classes.
But I want to tie this back into how we think about legislation, and particularly mandatory spay/neuter ordinances, high licensing rates, etc. It seems to be common thinking, when you look at what is going on in Chicago and in California, that if we make it mandatory for people to spay and neuter their pets, it will automatically happen and we will decrease the pet population and thus our euthanasia rates.
What we're ignoring in this process is that there is a large (22%), and growing, segment of the population are not getting any vet care services right now - and a large percentage of these people aren't getting vet service because they can't afford it. Mandating it does not solve this problem. This is why case studies like in New Hampshire, Calgary, Berkeley and other places have shown that providing free and low cost services are much better ways to solve the spay/neuter program than making it mandatory.
This is why organizations like Bad Rap have had wild success targeting neighborhoods with free/low cost vaccination programs.
These programs serve an additional purpose also. Many times vets are the ones that are the first to notice animals that are improperly cared for -- dogs that are not treated well, left on chains 24/7, have behavioral issues that may become dangerous, etc -- and can provide tips for owners to fix problems in the early stages, before they become major problems. Without this contact with an animal expert, many of these problems persist until the dog develops major problems due to improper training/care. This is one reason (but not the only one) that many neighborhoods that have a high number of low-income families (with likely unvetted dogs) have more instances of aggressive dogs than other neighborhoods. If you've ever had a dog with an ear infection you know first hand...
Creating these points of contact -- and opportunities to educate -- are critical if we're going to solve some of the problems in many of our nation's cities. Most of this can be done through low-cost voluntary programs vs mandatory ones, which haven't solved one of the major reasons people don't take care of their vetting needs...money.
It's time we reconize the truly effective solutions and start helping, instead of trying to rule the "problem" with an iron fist. More sugar. Less vinegar.