Accessible, affordable veterinary care aim of $11M fund

The Ontario Veterinary College is aiming to make pet care more accessible and affordable to marginalized communities thanks to a $11 million fund.

Funding will create academic program for basic vet services to northern and lower-income communities

Shane Bateman is an associate professor with the Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph. He says providing accessible vet services to underserved communities can be challenging work, but can also be the most rewarding. (Carmen Groleau/CBC)

The Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) is working toward making veterinary services more affordable and accessible to underserved communities, thanks to a $11 million fund. 

The funding will create the Kim and Stu Lang Community Healthcare Partnership Program (CHPP), an academic program the college says will help expand community outreach, spay-neuter programs and deliver basic vet services to marginalized and remote communities.

"We know that the cycle of poverty and housing vulnerability is tied up with a lot of very complicated social issues," said Shane Bateman, an associate professor at the OVC. 

"Pets in those families occupy such a vital and important position for them to maintain some stability."

Bateman said providing this kind of service brings dignity and support to people living in vulnerable situations. In many cases, he said, veterinarians may be the only link they have to other health care providers.

Though the creation of CHPP is still in its infancy, Bateman said there will be a strong academic component for students through experience based learning, as the OVC aims to partner with shelters and northern Indigenous communities.

Part of the funding will also go toward creating a subsidized program called "Remy's Fund" for animals in need, named after the Lang's rescue dog, which received treatment at the OVC.

This cat, from Toronto Cat Rescue, is one of dozens that will be spayed and neutered at the East Village Animal Hospital, a not-for-profit veterinary clinic, and the only in Waterloo Region. (Clare Bonnyman/CBC)

Making a difference

Bateman has done similar volunteer work in the past and says being able to provide basic veterinary services for people in vulnerable situations can be challenging at times. But it's a very rewarding kind of work.

"Everyone just leaves with such a positive, warm feeling about why we joined this profession, and that was to make a difference in animals lives and in the lives of people who love their animals," he said.

That's echoed by fourth year OVC student Nicole Lewis, who has volunteered with Community Veterinary Outreach program for the past five years.

"It's probably the most rewarding thing I do," she said.

"It's really inspiring because a lot of our clients actually have a deeper bond with their pets than other clients we see at other practices."

Laurie Ristmae, CEO of the East Village Animal Hospital has also seen first hand the benefits of offering accessible and affordable pet care to a community.

"The importance is really off the charts," she said.

They have clinics in Kitchener and in London specifically for low-income individuals and families. They also have a mobile vet clinic in Sudbury that services Indigenous and northern communities.

"We need to ensure we are accessible to our local First Nations communities as well as going north and into remote areas and that's been a mission of ours for quite a few years now," she said.