CATalyst gets shelter pets into veterinary clinics
Tuesday, December 9, 2014
Posted by: Cristina Keef
One year in, an innovative program sees some success at connecting new pet adopters with local veterinarians.
Nov 01, 2014
Dr. Tanya ten Broeke estimates that 75 percent of shelter pet adopters for whom she receives records make and keep an appointment. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Tanya Ten Broeke)When a new client adopts a pet from a shelter or rescue organization, your practice probably scrambles to figure out which end is up with the pet at that first visit. And that’s if the new owner even makes an appointment in a timely manner. But a new program aims to cure those missed appointment opportunities as well as the first-visit fumbles.
The CATalyst Connection program started in August 2013 in Portland, Oregon, as an effort of the CATalyst Council, a feline advocacy organization. Tasked with building a better connection between veterinary practices and shelters and rescues, the program encourages pet parents to choose a veterinarian at the time of adoption. The shelters then send that pet’s records to the veterinarian of choice, allowing the clinic a chance to call and set up an appointment.
Here's how it works: Participating shelters and the Oregon Humane Society keep a list of area veterinarians. All veterinarians are automatically included on the list and must opt out if they don’t want to accept new clients. At the time of a cat or dog adoption, shelter employees ask the pet owner to choose a veterinarian. If the owner doesn’t already have a relationship with a doctor, he or she can choose one based on location and other factors to fit his or her needs. Then, the chosen doctor’s office receives an e-mail with the client’s contact information and the pet’s medical records.
Tanya ten Broeke, DVM, owner of Gladstone Veterinary Clinic and president of the Portland Veterinary Medical Association, has been actively involved in the program since its inception. She estimates that 75 percent of the shelter pet adopters who choose her practice from the list and for whom she receives record make and keep an appointment.
“It’s an easy call for my staff members to make, setting up appointments,” ten Broeke says. “They much prefer calling to congratulate someone on a new pet and asking to schedule an appointment over calling a client who hasn’t visited us in two years to say the pet is way overdue on everything.”
Ten Broeke has a three-call rule: After attempting to contact a new-pet adopter three times, she calls it a day. “I don’t want our practice to come off as a stalker,” she says.
She praises the program’s emphasis on getting the medical records into the hands of a veterinarian. “Getting ahold of the pet’s records from the shelter allows us to be more prepared when the pet and owner walk through the door,” she says. “We already know what vaccinations they need, any previous illness that the shelter treated, and so on. We make every effort to look like we knew they were coming before they arrive, and clients are pleasantly surprised by that.”
The program doesn’t seem to put undue stress on practice team members either. A checklist in the Gladstone Veterinary Clinic practice management software helps the office staff to keep tabs on the process. In fact, many area veterinarians use the same checklist (download it at dvm360.com/workingwithshelters). For ten Broeke, a bit of early organization made the process run more smoothly down the line. For example, she figured out how to classify existing clients in her practice management software to make sure they could receive reminders, while not counting them as existing clients.
Other issues took a little more time: training staff members on what to do when receiving e-mailed records, how to make new-pet phone calls, and what paperwork to fill out and return to CATalyst. “It’s been a bit of a learning curve, but overall the program has been a success,” she says.
Jane Brunt, DVM, is executive director of the CATalyst Council, and past president of the American Association of Feline Practitioners. She says the CATalyst Connection mission is twofold: “One, it’s an opportunity to get a baseline on how many cats as well as dogs adopted from shelters take advantage of complimentary exams from local veterinarians,” says Brunt, who owns the Cat Hospital at Towson in Baltimore, Maryland. “And two, it places responsibility for follow-up appointments in the hands of both the pet owner and the veterinarian. This kind of push-pull helps establish a relationship for a lifetime of care for adopted pets.”
The program is just 15 months old, but Brunt’s records show some success: 20 percent of dogs and cats adopted from the Oregon Humane Society visit their selected veterinarian (and that veterinarian fills out and returns the records sheet to CATalyst). “The question is, where’s the fallout in between?” she asks. “Our next iteration of the program is to identify and correct that gap.”
The CATalyst Council is developing an online portal to simplify the process and provide a place to digitally store those records. The program also is set to expand to the Columbus, Ohio, community in the next few months.
“Like anything, we’re starting small and focused,” Brunt says. “We’re identifying wins and building on those. We know it’s not a home run with every free exam we give, but we are trying to make a footprint in our communities with every step we take.”