Vets talk about low-cost neutering: PART TWO OF A NEW NATIONAL STUDY

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 1994:

PORT WASHINGTON, New York––The issue is money. Most veterinarians
want to be paid more for neutering cats and dogs, most pet keepers think they already pay too
much, and most animal control and rescue workers feel caught in the squeeze, trying to talk
veterinarians into neutering for less in order to convince the public to neuter as many animals
as is necessary to stop population control killing.
That’s no news to anyone who reads ANIMAL PEOPLE. The real news, emerg-
ing from a national survey done by ANIMAL PEOPLE for the Spay USA program of the
North Shore Animal League, is that much of the friction could be reduced or ended.

Many remediable sources of misun-
derstanding emerged in the answers to a six-
page questionaire completed by 87 veterinary
participants in national low-cost neutering
programs, plus 140 small animal practitioners
who belong to the American Veterinary
Medical Association, who were picked at ran-
dom from demographically representative zip
codes. Their responses were compared and
contrasted with those obtained on similar
questionaires completed by 37 humane society
directors, 127 low-cost neutering clients, and
89 pet owners picked at random from demo-
graphically representative zip codes, for a
total of 690 survey participants in all.
Perhaps the most striking finding
was that 76% of the AVMA respondents––
three out of four––said they had participated
in at least one low-cost neutering program.
This figure stood up even after ANIMAL
PEOPLE examined the possibility that veteri-
narians who were involved in low-cost neuter-
ing might have been more likely to return the
survey form. Only a minority of veterinarians
seem to object to low-cost neutering on princi-
ple. Yet most do object to how low-cost neu-
tering programs typically work.
At the same time, while most veteri-
narians have some low-cost neutering back-
ground, those who belong to national pro-
grams tend to have been in practice roughly
twice as long. In fact, only 25% of the low-
cost list respondents had less experience than the average
reported by AVMA list respondents. Just 18% had less than
the somewhat lower AVMA median. Of the AVMA respon-
dents, only 25% had as much experience as the low-cost list
average and median, which were substantially the same.
Three times as many AVMA respondents (31%) had been in
practice for four years or less.
The high level of experience among low-cost neuter-
ing practitioners runs directly contrary to conventional wis-
dom, as virtually every humane organization that has ever
tried to start a low-cost neutering program has tried to recruit
young practitioners, while referring to veterinary opponents
as “the old guard,” or similar.
However, the ANIMAL PEOPLE findings won’t
surprise Dr. Marvin Mackie, DVM, of San Pedro,
California, who at the 1993 Spay USA conference in Boston
advised that people who want to start a low-cost neutering
program should seek “Veterinarians who have been in practice
15-years-plus, who for various reasons are not happy with
full-service work but are too young to retire and want a prac-
tice or lifestyle change. Note,” he cautioned, “that younger
veterinarians have often spent eight years or more in college
preparing for general veterinary practice, and understandably
want to test their skills in the full-service arena. They are
unlikely candidates for a neutering clinic.”
Young veterinarians also have to worry much more
about money. They typically have a huge debt load to pay
off––the cost of their education and of setting up a
practice––and are also likely to have young families plus
unpaid home mortgages. Even if they endorse the idea of
low-cost neutering, they may be financially unable to do
much of it. Older practicioners by contrast may have earned
financial security, including provisions for retirement. They
can work for less, if they choose to do so.
We asked low-cost neutering practicioners to quanti-
fy their reasons for participating in low-cost neutering, on a
scale of five with one being the most important reason and
five being the least important. “Want to help animals” aver-
aged 1.20. “Sense of professional duty” was right behind at
1.79. “Want to help poor people” was a minor consideration
at 2.68. “Prefer neutering over other types of practice” and
“Hope to find new clients” were of only marginal importance
at 3.11 and 3.17.
Noteworthy contrasts between the profiles of the
practices of AVMA members at large and low-cost neutering
practioners are highlighted in boldface:
                AVG. MEDIAN   AVG.MEDIAN
Years in veterinary practice:10.9 8.33 17.0 17.5
Staff time on neutering: 19%10%22.8%20%
%t of income from neutering:14.8%1022.4%10%
Male dogs neutered/month:121017 9
Female dogs neutered / month:15.312210
Male cats neutered/month: 18.7 14 215
Female cats neutered / month:19.9 15 320
% of dogs already pregnant:4.5% 7.3%
% of dogs had a litter: 16% 28%
% of cats already pregnant:8.2% 22%
% of cats had a litter: 22% 25%
Many such differences occur because the low-cost
respondents include more full-time neutering specialists. For
instance, only one AVMA list respondent said his/her work-
load and income both come 90% from neutering, but three
low-cost list respondents did. No great disparities in dog neu-
tering workload were evident among the AVMA respondents.
Among the low-cost list respondents, however, 9% of the
veterinarians neuter 30% of the female dogs and 35% of the
males. Some disparities in the feline workload appeared
among the AVMA respondents, possibly reflecting the partic-
ipation of many in low-cost programs, albeit generally at a
less active level: 10% reported doing 29% of the surgery on
male cats, while 14% reported doing 34% of the surgery on
female cats. Curiously, disparites in the male cat workload
were less pronounced among the low-cost list respondents, as
14% did 31% of the surgeries, but the disparities in the
female cat workload were the most pronounced of all, with
12% doing 47% of the surgeries.
Beyond the most active strata of low-cost neutering
practicioners, the neutering workload evens out, as does the
average and median percentage of income derived from neu-
tering. Veterinarians on both lists agreed that neutering is not
generally profitable. High-volume low-cost neutering practi-
cioners earn more of their income from neutering simply
because they do more neutering, especially of male dogs and
female cats. ANIMAL PEOPLE did not find evidence to
either support or refute the possibility that low-cost neutering
practicioners have lower incomes overall, nor did we gather
any evidence that suggests more than a handful of the most
active low-cost neutering practicioners realize any economies
of scale by doing more neutering.
Pregnant spays
At every level of activity, low-cost neutering practi-
tioners reported neutering more pregnant animals––especially
cats. Three factors could account for this.
First, low-cost neutering practitioners may have
fewer inhibitions against doing the abortions that are a neces-
sary part of a pregnant spay. One low-cost neutering special-
ist, Jeff Young, DVM, of Planned Pethood Plus in Denver,
shocked the 1993 Spay USA conference audience by assert-
ing, “I’ll spay a dog or cat if she’s a week pregnant, I’ll spay
her if she’s four weeks pregnant, I’ll spay her if the puppies or
kittens are just coming out, because I’d rather abort the fetus-
es right then and fix the mother when I have the chance, than
see them all living under a dumpster until they’re rounded up
and killed by animal control.” Another low-cost neutering
specialist, Peggy Larson, DVM, of Green Mountain Animal
Defenders, in Burlington, Vermont, is an outspoken advo-
cate of abortion access for humans.
Second, low-cost veterinarians probably receive
more animals from people who, mainly for financial reasons,
postpone neutering until it’s almost too late. As A N I M A L
PEOPLE reported in June, only 66% of low-cost neutering
clients get their cats neutered by six months of age, com-
pared with 85% of pet owners at large.
Third, low-cost veterinarians are more likely to be
working with cat rescuers. Rescuers often claim the pregnan-
cy rate among adult female feral cats and strays runs close to
100% among those who are not nursing. This assertion has
not been documented. However, of 326 feral cats ANIMAL
PEOPLE caught and had neutered between November 1991
and June 1992, 83 were adult females; 23, or 28%, were
pregnant at capture, with the rate of pregnancy increasing as
winter became spring. Supporting the hypothesis that
involvement with cat rescuers may increase the rate of neuter-
ing pregnant cats, ANIMAL PEOPLEfound that 55% of the
low-cost neutering practitioners we surveyed are neutering
ferals in connection with a monitored neuter/release project.
On the other hand, only three respondents reported that ferals
made up more than 10% of their neutering workload, and
overall, just 6% of the cats neutered by low-cost neutering
practitioners were identified as ferals.
We asked only the low-cost practitioners for their
views on neuter/release, but if their responses are indicative,
attitudes toward this approach to the homeless cat problem are
much less divided among veterinarians than in the humane
community, where the mere mention of neuter/release is
often enough to start a fight. A majority, 54%, agreed that
“supervised neuter/vaccination/release is an ethical approach
to dealing with feral cats.” Twenty-two percent said “maybe,”
while only 24% said “no.”
Perhaps a more critical view of neuter/release would
have emerged if the same question had been put to the AVMA
list. However, much of the most ardent opposition to
neuter/release comes from shelter directors who subscribe to
the position of the Humane Society of the United States.
Since low-cost neutering practicioners are presumably the vet-
erinarians who are most likely to work with humane societies
(as 30% reported they do), it seems reasonable that carry-over
attitudes would be most evident among them.
Because some low-cost neutering programs are
closed to feral cats, we also asked if respondents agreed that
“low-cost neutering programs should be restricted to assisting
owned pets.” Only 32% agreed; 66% disagreed.
There was more division of opinion over whether or
not a separate national low-cost neutering program should be
set up to assist monitored neuter/release projects: 41% said
yes, 47% said no, and 12% had no opinion. If such a pro-
gram is formed, however, 53% said they would like to par-
ticipate. Just 35% said they would not participate.
Pet owners’ complaints about low-cost neutering
combined concerns about cost and access:
Couldn’t find a vet with the program. 15% 31%
Cost was still too high. 15% 22%
Had to pay for unexpected services. 15% 14%
Had to pay a surcharge. 4% 7%
Complications with the neutering. 4% 4%
Was treated with disrespect. 2% 6%
Veterinarians’ complaints were rather different:
PROBLEM                                       AVMA    LOW-COST
L/c clients appear able to pay full price. 72% 45%
L/c clients aren’t repeat customers. 58% 41%
L/c paperwork is tedious. 46% 17%
L/c clients expect other discount care. 44% 40%
L/c clients take poor care of their animals. 38% 30%
L/c clients don’t keep appointments. 26% 20%
L/c clients don’t pay promptly. 15% 15%
L/c clients take up too much time. 15% 13%

L/c clients are too demanding. 12% 15%
L/c clients drive away other customers. 3% 0
The complaints of animal shelter directors combined
the concerns of pet owners and veterinarians:
PROBLEM                                                  SHELTERS
Local veterinarians are reluctant to cooperate. 49%
Administrative requirements are tedious. 24%
Low-cost neutering clients don’t keep appointments. 14%
Lack of funds. 13%*
Lack of volunteers. 5% *
Lack of transportation for clients who need it. 3% *
* These complaints were all volunteered, and are proba
bly significantly under-reported.
Beyond question, money is the main issue for all
concerned. Low-cost neutering practicioners are less critical
of their low-cost clients than other veterinarians, yet are still
annoyed by the frequency with which people who seek dis-
counts apparently don’t need them, and by people who take
advantage of discount neutering but don’t return for follow-up
care. Of low-cost neutering practicioners, 75% agreed that
low-cost neutering clients should be screened for financial
need, a problematic position because from the humane per-
spective, the object is not to enforce economic justice, but
rather to prevent the birth of unwanted animals.
Some veterinary complaints may result from misun-
derstanding financial distress, especially in areas undergoing
rapid socio-economic transition, where people with new cars
and homes in good neighborhoods may also have just lost jobs
that appeared to be secure, and are left with crushing debt. In
addition, it is likely that the vets never see many neutering
clients again because the clients never seek veterinary care
again. This would be particularly true of poor clients, who
have trouble paying for any care and––as our June issue dis-
cussed––may have trouble just getting to a clinic.
Better preparation of veterinarians by program spon-
sors might help. In particular, telling veterinarians that doing
low-cost neutering will expand their regular-price business
seems to be a mistake of major magnitude.
Even more important, low-cost neutering programs
in poor areas should be coupled with transportation help wher-
ever possible, perhaps provided by volunteers. Physical
obstacles to obtaining routine health care for animals must be
eliminated before allowing veterinarians to conclude either
that low-cost neutering clients neglect their animals or take
routine business elsewhere. If low-cost neutering clients did
not have at least some interest in the health of their animals,
many of them wouldn’t seek neutering in the first place.
Among low-cost neutering practicioners, 12% said
their relationships with low-cost neutering clients were “very
satisfactory,” 67% chose “satisfactory,” 21% picked “some-
what unsatisfactory,” and none said “very unsatisfactory.”
Despite the financial aggravations, only 56% of the
low-cost neutering practicioners limit their low-cost surgery
to clients who show need––and the only proof 25% require is
a simple declaration. Ten percent extend low-cost neutering
only to the pets of senior citizens; 9% require that clients be
receiving public income assistance; 6% require that clients
have incomes of less than the official poverty level; and 4%
limit low-cost neutering to pets of the homeless.
Forty-four percent of the low-cost neutering practi-
tioners limit the amount of time they spend on low-cost neu-
tering by other means. For instance, 14% accept low-cost
neutering clients only to fill gaps in their work schedule, 8%
limit the number of animals they neuter at a discount per
week (with the range varying between one and 45), and 8%
limit the number of animals they neuter at a discount per
owner (with the number per owner ranging from one to 10).
Losing money
Sound reasons for veterinary concern with the
effect of low-cost neutering on income appeared when ANI-
MAL PEOPLE offered low-cost list respondents a choice
among five statements about neutering and profitability.
I profit at both my regular price and my discount
price: 20%
I profit at my regular price; break even at my dis-
count price: 21%
I profit at my regular price but lose at my discount
price: 25%
I break even at my regular price but lose at my dis-
count price: 20%
I lose at both my regular price and my discount
price: 16%
On average, low-cost neutering practicioners per-
formed 48% of their neutering surgeries at a discount. The
median was 33%.
Few businesses can afford to lose money on from a
third to nearly half of their transactions. As veterinarians
often commented, they subsidize low-cost neutering by for-
going income. Paradoxically, however, veterinary associa-
tions continue to oppose neutering clinics run by humane
societies and activist groups, whose subsidies come from
elsewhere; oppose low-overhead mobile clinics; and oppose
high-volume neutering clinics––all of which make neutering
profitable for particpating veterinarians. The prevailing and
colossally mistaken belief among veterinary association lead-
ers is that if only low-cost neutering were restricted to the
truly needy, more pet owners would pay full price and neu-
tering would thus become profitable for the majority of vet-
erinarians. The evidence obtained by both ANIMAL PEO-
P L E and many previous studies shows that this is not the
case: most people who obtain low-cost neutering probably
wouldn’t have their animals neutered otherwise.
Among low-cost neutering practicioners, 47% say
their view of low-cost neutering is still as favorable as it was
when they started; 20% take a more favorable view now than
they did then; and an alarming 34% now have a less favor-
able view. Even more worrisome is that only 55% say they
recommend low-cost neutering to their colleages, meaning
nearly half do not. This implied pending attrition neatly
coincides with the percentages of low-cost neutering practi-
cioners who report they are losing money.
Adverse reaction from peers would seem unimpor-
tant. Only 14% of low-cost neutering practitioners report get-
ting any adverse reaction; 33% say they get adverse reaction
sometimes; and 53% say they get none at all.
Veterinary recruitment
Contact with program volunteer: 31%
Direct mailing by sponsor: 28%
Read about program in news media: 12%
Heard of program from fellow vet: 12%
Saw advertisement for program: 9%
Heard of program from friend: 9%
Heard of program from a client: 7%
Read about program in vet literature: 6%
Heard of program at a conference: 1%
Heard about program at vet school: 0%
Note that zero. Virtually every major national and
regional low-cost neutering program has tried to recruit vet-
erinarians through veterinary schools. Yet not one veterinari-
an among the 87 who answered this question joined out of
veterinary school. Once again, the evidence is overwhelming
that recruitment will be most successful among longtime prac-
ticioners who have already established financial security.
To zero in on the information a veterinary recruit-
ment drive should stress, we asked the AVMA respondents
what they would want to know before joining a low-cost neu-
tering program, and asked veterinarians who already do low-
cost neutering what they most wanted to know before they
joined whatever programs they now belong to. Then we
asked the latter group what they found most daunting, and
what they wish they had known but didn’t ask about. The
scores are on a scale ranging from one to seven, with one
having the greatest importance and seven having the least.
                  Wanted     Wanted   Found most  Wish had
                   to know     to know     daunting      known
The workload 3.66 2.50 3.00 2.47
Paperwork required 3.61 2.45 2.88 2.36
Income vs. costs 2.16 2.16 1.74 1.75
Sponsor’s reputation 2.73 2.03 2.93 1.14
Peer response 4.79 5.12 2.44 4.50
Client profile 2.71 3.25 2.72 2.47
Chance of attracting loyal clients 3.35 3.44 2.50 3.17
Number & location of other vets 5.31 3.59 (didn’t ask) 6.00
Client need (Didn’t ask, but was often written in at a high value.)
Only three of the above issues seem especially
important to most veterinarians: income vs. costs, reputation
of the sponsor, and assurance of client need. The latter issue
might best be handled by encouraging veterinarians to think of
neutering as a service to the animal, not as a service to the
human, and by pointing out the deceptive nature of external
indications of need, together with the tendency of many truly
needy people to disguise their poverty. It is a fact of life that
effective low-cost neutering programs not only will but must
give some undeserving people a free ride. The less veterinari-
ans dwell on that fact and the more they recognize their
accomplishments toward ending pet overpopulation, the hap-
pier they will be.
A factor of overlooked importance in recruiting
low-cost veterinarians is the identity of the recruiter. Listing
nine occupations from which the heads of low-cost neutering
programs might come, we asked veterinarians to order them
according to which they thought would run the best program,
and also asked veterinarians from the AVMA list which pro-
grams they would be most likely to join.
Yes No Maybe
Veterinarian 1.42 84% 7% 9% 1.32
Humane advocate 2.89 41% 37% 22% 1.97
Public health official 2.18 42% 39% 19% 3.04
Insurance executive 3.44 27% 51% 22% 3.13
Community leader 4.41 29% 44% 27% 3.60
Dog or cat club leader 3.90 16% 58% 26% 3.67
Religious figure 7.36 5% 71% 24% 7.50
Doesn’t matter 5.00 2.40
Veterinarians expectedly topped both lists. Humane
advocates would seem to have markedly more credibility with
veterinarians who are already in low-cost programs than with
veterinarians at large. Veterinarians at large are equally more
favorably inclined toward public health officials. Civic and
business leaders drew a neutral ranking, as did the heads of
dog and cat clubs. Religious figures seemed to be so univer-
sally reviled as to suggest the category should have been sub-
divided. Whether the negativity is directed at raucous evan-
gelists or quiet nuns, however, low-cost neutering programs
directed by religious figures appear foredoomed to failure.
We asked low-cost neutering practitioners to rank
the sort of thanks they would like to receive from the sponsor
on a scale of five. Advertisements for the low-cost neutering
programs that cite veterinarians’ names scored 1.69, just
ahead of awards and honors publicized in general circulation
media (1.96), and grants in support of innovative veterinary
projects (2.00). Plaques and certificates that can be displayed
in the veterinarian’s office drew a mediocre 2.40, while
awards and honors publicized in professional media were last
at 3.86. Both of the top two choices amount to increasing the
veterinarian’s visibility and stature in his or her own commu-
nity, which might eventually translate into more money––but
grants scored lower, indicating that while veterinarians
would like to get more money, getting more appreciation
may be even more important to many.
Expanded services
While veterinary associations tend to hate the idea
of expanding low-cost neutering programs to cover other
essential health care, such expansion might resolve many of
the major complaints of both veterinarians and low-cost neu-
tering clients. Considerations:
Many of the animals neutered by low-cost pro-
grams are never again seen by a veterinarian. From both the
humane and economic point of view, it makes sense to help
the animal as much on that single visit as possible.
Various studies indicate that the more a pet owner
invests in the care of an animal, no matter how or when the
animal was acquired, the longer the pet owner will keep the
animal and the more likely he or she is to integrate the animal
into family life. Therefore, it is desirable from a humane
point of view to involve low-cost neutering clients in addi-
tional care to whatever extent it is medically necessary.
Depending upon what the services are, perform-
ing additional services under a discount program could para-
doxically be a way to increase the income of veterinary partic-
ipants. For instance, the additional time required to vaccinate
and/or ID microchip an animal at the same time the animal is
neutered is practically nil. The cost of the vaccination is usu-
ally very low, as is the cost of microchipping once the equip-
ment to do it is paid for. Thus offering vaccinations and
microchipping as a package deal available only at the time of
neutering could both give clients a bargain and earn veterinar-
ians enough more per surgery to turn break-even or marginal-
ly unprofitable operations into modest money-makers.
At least a third of all neutering clients do require
some additional service.
Vaccination for specific dog/cat diseases 40% 58%
Distemper vaccination 39% 54%
Rabies vaccination 34% 59%
Worming 19% 34%
Grooming/bathing 19% 22%
Treatment for serious medical conditions 9% 11%
The pets of low-cost neutering clients are from half
again to nearly twice as likely to need worming and vaccina-
tion. Whether from poverty or from ignorance, low-cost neu-
tering clients do not take as good care of their animals as reg-
ular-price clients. Yet this does not translate into deliberate
neglect. Note that the percentage of animals in need of
grooming and bathing is almost identical from one group to
the other. Grooming and bathing an animal takes no special
facilities or training. Because low-income clients can do this
for themselves, at little cost, they do it as often as anyone
else. Note too that the percentage of animals needing treat-
ment for serious medical conditions is virtually the same
among both groups. If and when an animal needs treatment
for an obvious problem, low-income people are as quick to
get the treatment, at whatever the sacrifice. Low-income
people skip routine clinical maintenance, which costs money
for no obvious result. They do not stint on love and concern.
When the veterinarians who perform neutering
surgery suggest additional necessary treatments to the clients,
the ANIMAL PEOPLE survey discovered, 60% of AVMA
list neutering clients get the treatment from that veterinarian.
Interestingly enough, 75% of the regular price neutering
clients of low-cost neutering practitioners get the additional
treatment from those vets––but only 39% of low-cost program
clients do. Split the difference, however, and one gets 58%
overall. Since 76% of the vets on the AVMA list do some
low-cost neutering, the averages for the two groups are prob-
ably just about the same for each category of client.
We didn’t ask why from 40% to 60% of all neutering
clients either go elsewhere for other necessary treatments or
simply don’t obtain them. Other responses from our pet
owner surveys suggest that price is probably the main factor.
We did ask each group we surveyed whether there is
a need for a national low-cost vaccination plan and/or a
national pet identification plan, and also asked how many of
each group would join such a plan if it existed.
Yes No Yes No Yes No Yes No
Vaccination plan 20% 74% 26% 67% 67% 19% 92% 4%
Pet ID plan 56% 37% 58% 32% 65% 14% 70% 19%
Wd. join vac. plan 23% 66% 27% 73% 62% 24% 77% 11%
Wd. join ID plan 56% 37% 59% 26% 57% 24% 58% 26%
Already in ID plan 23% 22% 14% 51%
In national ID plan 11%
Money again popped up as an issue when we asked
what vaccinations a low-cost plan should include––even
though we didn’t mention money in any way.
Should the program offer vaccinations for:
72% 74% 70% 92%
53% 61% 81% 92%
Feline leukemia 47% 48% 70% 79%
Feline AIDS 11% 13% 60% 60%
Parvovirus 54% 60% 81% 78%
In every case the low-cost neutering practicioners
more strongly favored including particular vaccinations than
veterinarians from the AVMA list; shelter directors favored
including them more strongly still; and pet owners, under-
standably, were most in favor of including most vaccinations.
The only vaccination we asked about that a majority of veteri-
narians did not favor including, however, was the stll experi-
mental vaccination against feline AIDS. Several noted that
this vaccination is not yet approved for general use, while
others informed us that it doesn’t exist.
While apparently open enough to the idea of a
national low-cost vaccination plan to discuss what it should do
and how it should work, veterinarians from both samples sur-
veyed overwhelmingly think the present vaccination system
works just fine, even if from a third to more than half of the
animals they see for neutering haven’t yet been vaccinated.
Equally obviously, animal shelter staff disagree, and pet
owners disagree most strongly of all.
Money is the hidden issue. Vaccination is the pro-
cedure that brings the most animals into clinics, being for
most animals an annual requirement, and is the most lucrative
part of veterinary practice. Many veterinarians charge a
markup per vacination of 1,000% or more––which is not sur-
prising, since most vaccines are cheap but veterinary time and
overhead can run quite high. Further, most veterinarians
require that each animal be given a medical examination at the
time of the vaccination, which often leads to diagnosing other
conditions requiring treatment. Vaccination is thus the veteri-
narian’s ticket to further business. This is why many major
veterinary associations have for at least a generation battled
the establishment of discount neutering clinics run by humane
societies and/or out of mobile clinics. For most veterinarians,
no vaccinations mean effectively no business.
Pet owners, however, routinely feel gouged when

they visit a vet expecting to pay a nominal price for a vaccina-
tion and instead are charged for a physical examination––plus,
many times, costly care for a newly diagnosed condition.
Veterinarians argue that pet owners should be prepared to pay
for extra treatment, that allowances for pet care should be
built into family budgets. As a matter of acculturation, how-
ever, this is not often done. High veterinary expenses
inevitably come as a nasty shock. If veterinarians could be
persuaded to take measures to lessen the shock, perhaps pet
owners could be persuaded to visit veterinary clinics more
often and pursue more routine preventative care rather than
responding only to emergencies.
The package deal alternative
Low-cost neutering programs could narrow the gulf
between veterinary and pet owner perceptions of current vac-
cination practice, and get more animals vaccinated, by
bundling a package of rates and procedures that will satisfy
both veterinary needs and pet owners’ budgets. This is not
such a tall order as it seems. A physical examination is usual-
ly already part of neutering. As explained above, vaccinating
and/or doing other simple procedures at the time of neutering
requires little extra time on the part of the veterinarian, so that
charging a modest additional fee could much improve the
profitability of the procedure. The animal and client are
already in the door. The trick at this point is to convert the
client into a regular paying customer.
Suppose that instead of charging each individual
client for each procedure performed, low-cost neutering vet-
erinarians and/or programs charged a single multi-purpose
fee, varied on a sliding scale adjusted for family income. The
fee would cover the neutering, any necessary vaccinations
from a basic list, and any additional medical treatment diag-
nosed at the time of the neutering.
This would be a significant departure from conven-
tional pet health care plans, all of which to date have been
modeled upon human health care, with monthly or quarterly
premiums and payments adjusted to the age and health status
of the animal.
Engineered into the low-cost neutering health insur-
ance plan would be two critical considerations:
Many animals treated under low-cost neutering
plans are never again going to be seen by a veterinarian. The
sooner this is accepted as a fact by the veterinary and humane
communities, and dealt with in context, the sooner it will
cease to be a problem.
Virtually all of the animals treated under low-cost
neutering plans are young and essentially healthy.
Most of the truly costly and time-consuming veteri-
nary procedures, as in human health care, are associated with
chronic conditions––basically conditions of age. Since a pet
health insurance plan set up to cover animals who are under-
going neutering would not often be covering conditions of
age, the premium charged as part of the neutering/vaccina-
tion/insurance package could be quite low and still permit
substantial reimbursement of veterinarians. If properly pro-
moted and administered, such a plan could resolve virtually
all of the complaints of both veterinarians and low-cost neu-
tering clients about issues pertaining to general animal health
care and additional charges. It could even increase the rate of
low-cost neutering customers obtaining follow-up care from
the veterinarians who do the surgery.
Pet identification
Each group we polled agreed in comparable propor-
tion that a national pet identification program is needed, yet
even though at least eight such programs already exist, three
of them more than 25 years old, no more than 23% of any
group actually belonged to one. Just over half of all pet own-
ers (51%) did belong to a pet ID program of some kind, but
conventional dog licensing accounted for just over half of
those (26%); veterinary tagging systems accounted for 12%;
and local humane society ID programs accounted for 8%. The
most popular national ID program was that of the American
Kennel Club: 7% of pet owners had dogs with pedigrees.
The National Dog Registry was next, at 1.4%. Three other
national programs rated one mention apiece.
If there is indeed a real need for a national pet iden-
tification network, there should be enough impetus in that
direction to encourage the various separate programs to har-
monize their identification and tracking systems. That this
hasn’t happened may indicate that there is no real market
demand––not enough, anyway, for any one provider to pro-
mote successfully enough to make one system the standard.
The diversity of systems and the distance between the status
quo and coordination were illustrated when we asked respon-
dents what means of identifying animals they most favored:
For dogs:
EARTAGGING                             1% 5% 4%
Collar tags                           4% 6% 22% 38%
Tattoo                                29% 24% 32% 23%
For cats:
Microchip injection              70% 60% 4 6 15%
Ear-tagging                                        1% 5% 7%
Collar tags                               4% 5% 22% 35%
Tattoo                                    29% 22% 32% 24%
Microchipping is clearly the system of choice
among veterinarians, but has barely made an impression on
pet owners. Ear-tagging gets little support from anyone.
Collar tags have the strongest constituency among pet owners,
but are much disfavored by veterinarians, who are apparently
more aware that collars are easily lost or removed. Since
shelter directors should also be aware of the deficiencies of
collar-tagging, the support they give collar tags is inexplica-
ble. Tattooing draws about 25% support from all quarters.
Microchipping would appear to have a chance of becoming
the standard––but there are also three competing and essen-
tially incompatible microchip ID systems.
Despite the lack of a national identification standard,
or perhaps because of it, momentum toward local pet identi-
fication has grown for half a century. Dog licensing is now
near universal; with the advent of microchipping, cat licens-
ing is taking hold as well. Licensing generally serves a dual
purpose, both identifying animals and raising funds to sup-
port animal control and rescue programs, and/or neutering
programs (such as the New Jersey Pet Population Control
Fund). Identifying pets on a local rather than national basis
makes sense because only a tiny percentage of missing pets
are ever likely to be found more than a few miles from home.
Pet health insurance
As with pet identification, many pet health pro-
grams already exist, at least two of them national in scope.
Yet despite the number of programs, none have ever caught
on, and few people actually have any experience with them.
Only eight (3%) of the 216 pet owners in our sur-
vey had ever bought pet health insurance. Only one remained
in a pet health insurance plan longer than three years. The
average duration of membership was 20 months. All eventu-
ally quit, half of them after being refused further coverage for
animals with chronic conditions. All agreed that having pet
health insurance had not made keeping animals any easier.
Only one of the 37 shelter directors had ever pro-
moted a pet health insurance plan through his/her shelter.
31% of veterinarians on the AVMA list had some
experience with pet health care plans, but only 17% had
experience with a national plan. Half of those said the plan
was unprofitable for them; half said it involved too much
paperwork; nearly a third complained of slow reimburse-
ments; almost as many said clients expected too much ser-
vice; 75% said older pets and those with chronic problems
were inadequately covered; 75% also said the plan inade-
quately covered routine care; and just under a third thought
the plan inadequately covered emergency care.
Impressions of the extant pet health care plans from
nonparticipants are no more favorable:
Only one of six shelter directors who offered an
opinion thought the current availability of pet health insurance
encourages adoptions.
Roughly half of the veterinarians we surveyed
think a pet health insurance plan might help their income by
increasing demand for veterinary procedures. However,
more than a third fear that pet health insurance might depress
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