Why It Matters
How Care Cares for BIPOC Marginalized Communities and Their Pets typographic title with a digital illustration of a veterinarian holding a cat and a dog in her arms with chat bubble symbols around them
Illustration of veterinarian with cat and dog

By Dr. Azalia Boyd


ola, a 30-pound American Stafford Terrier, limps into the veterinary emergency room. Her owner, Ms. Gibbs, is a middle-aged African-American woman wrapped in ragged clothes. She requested to see a doctor for Lola’s lameness. It was a busy day in the ER, so she patiently waited for four hours before she was able to see the veterinarian. Upon the physical examination of Lola, the veterinarian expressed his concern about Lola’s current condition. Lola has fleas, a few areas of hair loss and a weight-bearing lameness on her right hind limb.

Feeling helpless, Ms. Gibbs explained that Lola was hit by a car two months ago, and because she did not have the funds, she elected to treat the leg on her own. She proudly explained how she rested Lola, would occasionally give her massages and iced the limb. She went on to share that Lola wasn’t walking on that leg before, but she started using it last week and is doing so much better. But, she wanted to know what else could be done.

The veterinarian recommended Lola have x-rays done, which would cost $400, and proceeded to explain that Lola would likely need surgery, estimated at $3,000. The doctor walked out to give Ms. Gibbs time to think about what she wanted to do…

She saved $300 for this visit today, but could not fathom the time it would take her to save the rest. So, she elected to take Lola home. Once the veterinary team realized Ms. Gibbs’ intention to take Lola home, they came up with another option: Ms. Gibbs could sign paperwork surrendering Lola to the hospital and the hospital would find an organization to pay for her surgery if needed.

Ms. Gibbs thought about the day she rescued Lola from the streets four years ago, and how much Lola has helped her autistic son overcome his obstacles at home. They never owned a pet before, but they were a family. She just couldn’t surrender her. So, Ms. Gibbs took Lola home and sought out the opinion of another veterinary facility. Fortunately, her limb was not broken and she did not need surgery, so information was given to Ms. Gibbs for proper preventative care for her companion.

Unfortunately, cases like these are common in Black and Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) communities. And it’s not uncommon for people to lose their pets simply because they can’t afford veterinary care, many times with very few options available to them.

A New Veterinary Board
Companions and Animals for Reform and Equity (CARE) is trying to change the outcomes of these heartbreaking stories. CARE is a national, nonprofit organization whose mission is to amplify and prioritize BIPOC and other marginalized voices within the human-animal wellbeing framework. This is accomplished through storytelling, research and investing in the communities served. The organization recently launched a new CARE Veterinary Advisory Committee to highlight the importance of the role veterinarians play in improving situations like the one with Ms. Gibbs.

The veterinary advisory board aims to bridge community leaders and veterinary professionals, including veterinary students, staff members, and faculty to prioritize animal wellbeing and animal health. This is achieved by community-centered events, providing education on animal care to pet owners and community leaders, as well as providing non-biased, judgment-free care to clients and their pets.

With roughly 2,200 pets per single veterinarian, many are burdened with having to offer humane euthanasia due to preventable diseases, suggesting the surrender of animals, removing pets from their owners due to lack of finances, and dealing with double-booked appointments due to a high demand for both wellness and illness care. This burden is causing burnout and lack of satisfaction in the profession. CARE’s solution of community involvement will help lessen that burden nationwide while saving the lives of many pets and humans alike.

The board also aims to increase the recruitment and support of BIPOC veterinarians in our nation’s veterinary schools. As less than two percent of the veterinary population is of the black and brown diaspora, there is a strong need to address the reasons for, as well as improve, this deficit. To help with this, the board will manage a scholarship fund for BIPOC veterinary students to offset veterinary school debt.

Digital illustration of a dog and a chat bubble floating above dog's head stating "Unfortunately, in the veterinary industry, the reasoning goes, If you can't pay for veterinary care, you probably shouldn't have a pet."
Digital illustration of a cat and two chat bubbles floating above cat's head stating "But who are we to determine and dictate these relationships?" plus "Do they not deserve to benefit from these relationships"
Inflation and Disparities
Due to the rising cost of pet care and lack of investment into BIPOC communities and their pets, many people and their animals are being left out. And there is a direct link between human health and animal health disparities.

Pets are extensions of our families, and if we suffer in degrees of health and access to care, the likelihood is, our pets do too. When our animals suffer, we suffer. Yet for many, veterinary care is simply out of reach. Only about three percent of U.S. pet owners have pet insurance and one in four pet owners experience barriers to veterinary care, often due to financial constraints.

Unfortunately, in the veterinary industry, the reasoning goes, If you can’t pay for veterinary care, you probably shouldn’t have a pet. But who are we to determine and dictate these relationships? Will there soon be legislation preventing pet ownership based on income levels? Who are the individuals and the communities that are most impacted by this? Do they not deserve to benefit from these relationships?

Inclusion and One Health

To combat the systems in place that create inequalities in health care, CARE has endeavored to help solve them. However, unlike other animal welfare organizations, to create a positive voice and sustainable change, their focus is human and animal wellbeing, as well as amplifying voices and developing partnerships in the communities affected. CARE is deeply committed to “removing barriers to human and animal wellness using an equitable public health centered model.” One health cannot be one voice; including the voice of the communities involved matters greatly. CARE believes when including marginalized voices, there will be greater change.

There is a lot of work to do, and we may not be able to rectify every human and animal dilemma, but we believe in community. We believe that partnership within the community is the greatest way to affect long-term change. It begins with conversation, respect, deep listening and an open, non-judgmental heart. Every person deserves the health benefits pets provide, and animal wellbeing is crucial to assuring that.

For more information on CARE, visit careawo.org.

Portrait headshot picture of Dr. Azalia Boyd smiling with a dog in her arms outside

Dr. Azalia Boyd, DVM is a double graduate of the Historically Black College and University (HBCU), Tuskegee University. She received a Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine and a Bachelor of Science in Animal and Poultry Science. She has served as a valued associate at multiple clinics and hospitals within metro Atlanta and Washington D.C. area and held leadership positions as medical director and mentor to other veterinarians. She is also proud to lead CARE’s new veterinary advisory board.