My late husband donated veterinary services to our county animal shelter on a part-time basis. My sister is a shelter vet. I know shelter vets. But the other day, I was speaking to a shelter vet I’ve known for almost ten years. And I was enlightened.

You would think that I would be familiar with what shelter vets need and think. Did you know that every time those of us who work in homeless animal care say we “rescued” an animal, we often forget that we didn’t do it alone? We are the heroes in the eyes of the public—and that’s a small consolation for the late nights, driving all over creation, and the astronomical phone bills. There is no way we can save our charges without veterinarians. While many of us do pay retail for every pill, needle, and exam our rescue pets receive, many, many of us get serious discounts. Enlightening, isn’t it?

My first reaction was, okay, but if we pay vets’ costs and do all the animal restraint and administration of meds, then the vet breaks even. Isn’t it right to help us save animals? Of course it is. And they love doing it or they wouldn’t be doing it. But those of us in rescue often do not run a business. We never consider “rent” or “utilities” or “labor” in the costs of animal care. Because we work out of our homes and share our heat and light with our companions it’s not obvious to us that spending $500 at the vet and $100 on food and a crate is not the real cost of saving an animal. The time we spend doing this work is time we are not earning $15.00 an hour doing some other thing.

In defense of the vets who help us out, it is not about the money (something we often are heard saying). It’s about keeping the building and staff operational so that more animals can be saved. While a doctor is helping us save an animal, she is not covering the cost of her staff and electricity. This is fine on a case by case basis. Pro bono work can be factored in to a long term business plan. But when we say we “saved” an animal, that is a little bit short of the truth. We move animals from bad situations to better ones with the hopes of finding even better. But we don’t do it alone. Any truly rescued pet needs medicine, and where do we get that? Shelter vets, and nowhere else.

Let’s not forget how animals actually get rescued. It’s a team: the citizen who alerts us, the doctor who guides us and ministers to our patient, and then the rescue group who takes the risk and looks for the best solution for all. Yes, we rescue animals, but don’t you hate it when the adopter says, “I saved him from a shelter”? Right. Let’s not do this to our veterinary partners.

Didi Culp
Director, Humane Society for Shelter Pets