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Pet Wellness

Access to Care Emerges as a Defining Issue in 21st-Century Pet Care

pet care-dogs-cats-humane society-hsus
pet care-dogs-cats-humane society-hsus
Photos courtesy of The Humane Society of the United States

In a relatively short time frame, access to animal care has become a defining issue of the 21st-century animal protection movement. It involves a commitment to higher animal welfare, inclusion, and stronger community engagement.

What would it feel like to be told that because of your lack of resources, you shouldn’t be able to have a pet — or keep the beloved animal who’s already part of your family? What if you and your pet lived in a neighborhood with no veterinarians or pet groomers? What if you wanted to train your pet but didn’t have a car to drive to a trainer? What if the pet food, cat litter, and pet toys at the only grocery store near you were seriously overpriced with no real selection offered? 

These are very real experiences for millions of Americans who love animals, and they help to explain why access to care is a defining animal welfare issue of the 21st century. Just as there are food deserts, there are veterinary and pet-service deserts: communities in which residents care deeply for their pets but cannot rely on or easily secure the same information, services, and support available to pets and their families elsewhere.  

This is not a new issue but rather a long-neglected one that animal organizations are now addressing with targeted programs to help pets and people in underserved communities. Such programs offer veterinary care, spay/neuter services, grooming, behavioral training, and critical pet supplies — at no cost to citizens — based on the conviction that the joys of animal companionship, like the human-animal bond itself, should transcend demographics and socioeconomic circumstances. 

Different starting points

The principle of pet equity that propels access-to-care initiatives involves the recognition that people and pets do not all start from the same place in life. Achieving greater balance and securing better outcomes for all will require substantial investments from organized animal protection and society as a whole. It will also demand a concerted effort to identify and address both intentional and unintentional barriers, including pervasive structural poverty that may limit what is possible for at least some pets and the people who love and want to help them. 

National and local groups around the country, including the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), are tackling this crisis with critical research, resources, and expertise to support the needs of millions of animals whose owners, whatever their circumstances, want to keep their pets healthy, happy, and safe. 

Our data at the HSUS indicates that an estimated 20 million pets live with their owners in poverty across the country. For context, this is three times greater than the number of pets entering animal shelters every year. 

A recent Harris Poll survey suggests that some 43% of those with pets have at some point found themselves unable to pay for their pets’ needs, and that most Americans (89%) agree that owners who care for and love their pets deserve to keep them and should not have to relinquish them should they suffer hard financial times. 

Laying the foundation

Access-to-care initiatives are designed to keep animals together with the families who love them. At the same time, they create larger social benefits, helping to reinforce compassionate values and advancing the development of a more diverse and vital animal protection movement in a nation of changing demographics. 

Organized animal protection stands to gain from diversity and what it brings to our cause — new people, new ideas, new energy, new competencies, new partnerships, and new solutions. In that sense, access-to-care initiatives are helping to lay the foundation for changes that will be good for both animals and people for generations to come. 

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