Veterinarians Can Help
Ease the Transition for Animals Moving from a Rescue into an
by Dr. Mary
Zink, Veterinary Medical Director, Baltimore Humane Society
In the last issue of the The
Maryland Veterinarian, I talked about the shelter data that
every veterinarian needs to know. Today, I’d like to discuss how
a veterinarian can help keep adopted animals in their new home.
Veterinarians can play an important role in reinforcing the
choice to adopt. In doing so, they are establishing a new bonded
client for the practice, and saving the life of an animal.
When animals are obtained through
adoption, veterinarians will need to take a few things into
consideration as they deal with the initial client visits.
Recognize that every shelter is
different in the amount of behavior assessment and medical
evaluation that each rescued animal receives prior to
adoption. There is a wide range of experience, knowledge,
and resources that individual rescues have at their
disposal. Some have access to trainers, behaviorists, and
veterinarians but many do not. Some have access to wormers,
vaccines, spay/neuter services, etc. but x-rays, dental
services, and extensive blood work are either not available
or cost prohibitive for most rescue organizations. If you or
the client is looking for a perfect dog with a behavior and
health guarantee, than adoption won’t be able to meet that
Animals come to the shelter with
little or no behavior and medical histories. The shelter
behavioral and medical evaluations are performed at a moment
in time (often on a very active/exuberant adolescent animal
or a very confused/fearful middle aged pet). Sometimes a
complete physical exam can be performed but sometimes they
are unable to examine things such as hips, knees, mouths,
deeper in the ear canals, retinas, etc. The animals just
move too much, are too tense to palpate effectively, or too
afraid and too unfamiliar to the shelter for their
veterinary staff to safely push through a good face to face
retinal exam etc.
A shelter’s goal is to evaluate
the pet’s current physical state and determine if any health
concerns exist that might require immediate medical care.
Then they determine if treatment is possible (physically and
financially) in the shelter setting. The rescue wants to get
the animal in an adoptable condition, without immediate
medical needs, so that a bond can grow between animal and
owner so they will be willing to proceed with reasonable
routine veterinary care in the months and years ahead.
Animals coming from a rescue
have potentially been under a lot of stress in a kennel
setting, especially after recently being abandoned. Their
immune status may be compromised, their new vaccines might
not yet be protective against infectious disease, and the
kennel can easily house a high volume of animals, in close
proximity, with subclinical incubating disease. As a
veterinarian, you are going to see URI’s, parasitism, GI
disease, etc. in newly adopted animals. Even the best run
shelters occasionally send out animals with these
conditions. Many animals don’t break with the infectious
disease until they are in their new adoptive home.
Keep in mind that many of your
middle aged patients have some pre-existing chronic skin/ear
issues, dental needs, GI symptoms, and/or possible
musculoskeletal issues. Relinquished, middle aged shelter
animals also have some of these same medical issues. They
are very treatable, so they will be adopted out with some of
Good rescue organizations
attempt to disclose everything that they know about the
animals that they send out because they want the adopter to
know what they are getting. They want the adoption to be a
success! But sometimes there are issues that had not yet
been identified, or in a very busy (high volume) shelter,
issues that were inadvertently missed during their short
stay in the busy facility. The fact remains that all of
these animals are adoptable and the best thing that can
happen to them is adoption and a good relationship with a
full service veterinarian. Behavior and health guarantees
from a rescue are not possible because they are extremely
expensive to maintain and they set the organization up for
far too much liability.
Adoption prices vary from free
to several hundred dollars. Often the price is dictated by
the financial status of the rescue and the amount of medical
care that the pet received prior to adoption. Often, your
new client has just spent several hundred dollars to adopt
and out rig their new pet with collar/leash, crate, food,
bedding, treats, toys, etc.
Shelters desperately need
adopters, otherwise animals die unnecessarily. If a client
doesn’t go to a shelter to adopt, they go to backyard
breeders, pet stores, etc. to get their pets. Those options
can also be risky and they actually perpetuate the unwanted
pet problem that your community is facing. Each pet
purchased from another source, takes up a home that could
have been filled by adoption of a homeless animal.
Here’s a common new adoption
scenario. A client brings a newly adopted animal to your clinic
because the shelter recommended that they see a full service
veterinarian within the first two weeks of adopting. They are
excited, proud of the fact that they helped “Save” an animal,
and a little confused about how they should proceed with any
behavior or medical issue that they have noticed in their
initial days together.
This situation can be handled in several ways. Some ways will
promote adoption and save more animals lives while others will
discourage adoption and cost more lives.
As veterinarians, if we want to
really help animals, we can’t ignore the shelter data and we
need to influence more of our clients to consider adoption.
Using the right approach in clients with newly adopted pets is
critical to the success of that adoption. We need to praise and
reward those clients that do adopt, so they continue to adopt
and convince others they know, to adopt. Veterinarians will save
more lives in their lifetime (and get more clients) if they work
with their area rescue organizations and increase
adoptions in their community. Everyone wins if we put the
animal’s wellbeing above all else!
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Baltimore Humane Society