Best Friends Vet App Helps Shelters Support Foster Homes
When shelters closed their doors and needed placement for as many animals as possible, people stepped up in a big way. We heard from many of you out there who were absolutely flooded with new foster homes, which is phenomenal!
But fosters, particularly new fosters, often have medical or behavioral questions about the animals they are caring for and with shelters and clinics laying off staff or offering only emergency services, that left a serious gap in terms of offering support.
We saw something similar during Hurricane Harvey, when a ton of animals went into foster care. However, there wasn’t a huge infrastructure to answer the myriad questions popping up day and night. Enter the world of telehealth.
Fosters received three months of free access to the Best Friends Vet Access (BVFA) app, which gave them around-the-clock phone or video access to a veterinarian. The vets provided guidance (in 104 languages) on medical, behavioral or nutritional issues for their pets, and were able to advise if the issue required in-person veterinary assistance or could be handled at home.
And the app was wildly popular, with an average of 2,000 video chat calls made every month.
In the face of this latest, exponentially larger emergency, the BFVA is an essential tool to work around the barriers of social distancing, reduced staff and limited hours at clinics and shelters around the country.
Where we think this can play the biggest role is with the unprecedented number of new fosters, and we started offering this to shelters. #ThanksToMaddie, we have expanded the Best Friends Vet Access app to thousands of foster families across the country. Through the generous support of Maddie's Fund®, 5,000 subscriptions are available to foster volunteers working with any animal shelter or rescue group in the country while spots last.
Best Friends is also offering 5,000 free 30-day subscriptions to the app specifically to residents of New York, the current epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak.
You can register your shelter or rescue group here; a series of FAQs for partners or fosters are also available on the site. So far, 1,887 have signed up for the site with more signing up every day. We have also started hearing from grateful fosters who’ve used the service.
One foster mom for LifeLine Animal Project/DeKalb County Animal Services in Georgia said, "It was good—very helpful. Gin started throwing up one night and by the morning, she was hacking up bloody fluid. We called the vet on the app and she really made us stop panicking. She was very responsive to all our questions and great. We were able to remain calm until we could go into the shelter to have her looked at in person."
Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health is also offering free telemedicine to shelters to use for their fosters through its PetPro Connect telemedicine platform. This allows the shelter to connect their foster volunteers directly with the shelter vet using free video consults and messaging. This should only be offered if telemedicine is allowed in your state, and if there are no requirements regarding the form of communication. Make sure to follow all VCPR (veterinarian-client-patient relationship) guidelines for the state where you live.
If your shelter vet has seen all your foster animals, they can then prescribe medications if needed and fill through an online pharmacy that ships directly to the foster home. Like BFVA, the platform not only enables fosters to talk directly to shelter veterinarians about health issues, but in states where it is legal to do so, vets may prescribe medication. Prescriptions can be filled through an online pharmacy and shipped directly to the client.
Telehealth services for both pets and people are emerging as essential tools to help us cope with the restrictions brought on by the pandemic. When the emergency subsides and clinics and shelters are open again, nothing says we must return to business as usual.
Virtual vet access can bolster a foster program because they alleviate the burden on shelter staff to answer questions about pets in foster—and dramatically reduce those 2 a.m. calls you KNOW your staff are getting. As your shelter or rescue navigates through the current changing landscape, consider letting technology give you a helping hand. Chances are it will be end up playing a key role in your services today and into the future.
Aimee St. Arnaud
Director of National Veterinary Outreach
Best Friends Animal Society