Providing support for veterinary professionals working in underserved communities is another integral component of our efforts. Our Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association and RAVS program offer opportunities for learning and networking, as well as scholarship opportunities to help remove barriers for those interested in pursuing veterinary medicine.
RAVS’ veterinary field teaching clinics provided intensive, mentored hands-on experience for more than 270 veterinary and veterinary technician students and professionals this year. This service-learning opportunity is one that volunteers frequently describe as life-changing, not only increasing their clinical skillset, but deepening their understanding of the human-animal bond and tools available to increase access to veterinary care. While there are no participation fees for RAVS volunteers, student and professional volunteers pay their own personal travel expenses to reach our remote clinic locations, which can be a barrier for some. To encourage broader engagement of students and professionals with underrepresented perspectives and reduce barriers to participation, we initiated the RAVS Field Clinic Scholarship program in 2023 with a $50,000 grant from the Banfield Foundation. We awarded scholarships to 64 volunteers, with awardees from 28 states and Puerto Rico including students representing 17 veterinary schools. This scholarship program directly supports the goal of greater diversity in the veterinary profession.
Many veterinary students graduate with sizeable student loan debt that can make working at shelters, community clinics and other nonprofits challenging. In 2023, we expanded HSVMA’s Compassionate Care Scholarships for Veterinary Students to five $10,000 awards. These scholarships recognize veterinary students who not only demonstrate an interest in animal welfare but also represent a commitment to equitable access and inclusion in the field.
Additionally, HSVMA provides continuing education on topics related to access to care that are not often covered in other training venues, ensuring that the veterinary profession has the information, resources and support it needs to expand care to underserved communities. Topics addressed in 2023 trainings included promoting diversity in the profession and medical protocols in caring for pets of the unhoused.
This year we saw policy victories that will directly improve access to animal health services for pet owners by allowing non-profit clinics to provide veterinary care for low-income households.
- In Washington state, we worked with the veterinary medical board to update regulations that allow non-profit organizations across the state to offer medical services to the public.
- In Baton Rouge, Louisiana, we worked closely with our Pets for Life partner, Companion Animal Alliance, to secure a unanimous vote from the East Baton Rouge Metropolitan Council that allows CAA’s non-profit clinic to provide veterinary services to the full community they represent and serve.
- Recognizing the importance that veterinary telemedicine can play in improving access to care, we lobbied in California to remove barriers to allowing veterinary client-patient relationships to be established through electronic means under certain conditions and for registered veterinary technicians under the supervision of a licensed veterinarian to administer preventative vaccines.
Overall, we supported a variety of legislation in 17 states and ultimately helped to passe eight measures. In addition to wins mentioned above, the new laws will:
- Improve access to care by investing in emergency sheltering services that accommodate people and pets experiencing homelessness and/or domestic violence.
- Increase access to subsidized housing that welcomes pets without restrictions on breed or weight and without exorbitant nonrefundable pet fees.
- Provide eviction protections for people with pets.
- Prohibit breed discrimination in homeowners’ and renters’ insurance policies.
- Limit pet-related fees in rental units.
- Provide debt relief to veterinarians working in underserved areas.
- Provide license reciprocity for veterinarians to travel to other states to work with spay/neuter and other nonprofit clinics.
- Repeal breed-specific legislation in municipalities throughout the country.
Raising funds and awareness
In May 2023, we launched the More Than a Pet campaign to invite businesses to support our access to care work. Through corporate partners, including Smalls, Motel 6, Ollie and TQL, we raised more than $1.5 million. A photo-sharing campaign highlighted the unique bond between people and pets, demonstrating how animals can unite us. The campaign earned more than 400 million impressions and helped to raise awareness and advance the conversation around pet equity.
How you can help
Creating a more equitable world for people and animals means rethinking ways to support the human-animal bond in our homes and communities. Here's what you can do:
- Advocate: Support policies that support both pets and people in your community. Stand against breed-specific legislation that restricts pet ownership. Speak up for programs and policies that support neighbors who care for community cats and expand access to veterinary care for those animals. Let your lawmakers know you want affordable housing and equity-boosting measures including those that provide support for veterinary professionals.
- Get Informed: Learn more about diversity, equity and inclusion as it relates to the animal welfare movement.
- Offer support: Get to know your neighbors and your community. Listen to what challenges people are facing and ask how you can help.
- Support shelters: Ask your local shelters or rescues how you can get involved, donating funds or time.
- Volunteer: If you’re a veterinary professional or student, please visit our RAVS resource page for information about how to volunteer or join HSVMA to engage in our training and advocacy efforts.
- Celebrate with us: Join our More Than a Pet activities to celebrate the human-animal bond.
Follow Kitty Block @HSUSKittyBlock.