Posted on October 23, 2020

Pet Owners Are Diverse, but Veterinarians Are Overwhelmingly White

Melissa Chan, Time, October 21, 2020

As a child, Tierra Price was mesmerized by Dr. Dolittle, portrayed by Eddie Murphy in the 1998 film—not only because he could talk to dogs and sad circus tigers, but because he was a person of color who treated animals. {snip}

There were no Black doctors at vet clinics near her Louisville, Ky. home or at the local animal shelter where she volunteered. Price didn’t see her first real Black veterinarian until she was 19 and participating in a veterinary program for minority undergraduates. By the time she started veterinary school, she felt like an outcast. In 2018, Price created an online networking group for Black vets just to connect and commiserate with people who looked like her. {snip}

Years later, not much has changed. Veterinarians are projected to be among the most in-demand workers in the next decade. As more people of all races own pets, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts jobs for vets and vet technicians will grow 16% by 2029. Nearly 65% of white households have pets, 61% of Hispanic households have pets, and almost 37% of Black households have pets, according to the most recent industry data. Yet pet lovers are faced with a predominantly white world once it’s time to see a vet. Of the more than 104,000 veterinarians in the nation, nearly 90% are white, less than 2% are Hispanic and almost none are Black, according to 2019 BLS figures.

This spring, Kimberley Glover spent nearly two months searching for a Black veterinarian in Birmingham, Ala., to care for her 2-year-old puppy Stokely—named after civil rights activist Stokely Carmichael—and to serve as a role model for her two children, who attend predominantly white schools. After scouring the internet and Facebook groups for Black pet owners, she finally received a suggestion from a college classmate, but the clinic was too far away.

“I have given up the search, honestly,” says Glover, 46. “It just tells me there’s more work to do.” Price, who graduated from the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine in May and is now a veterinarian in Los Angeles, agrees“We have so much catching up to do,” she says.

Stark disparities have permeated the vet world for decades, advocates say, long before George Floyd’s death in May sparked a national movement for racial justice. In 2013, the profession was dubbed the whitest in America. “It has always been a problem,” says Annie J. Daniel, who founded the nonprofit National Association for Black Veterinarians (NABV). “This was just the wake-up call.”

Despite youth outreach efforts at schools and community partnerships to grow the number of Black veterinarians, the group has barely moved the needle since it was formed in 2016. In fact, the number of Black vets dropped from 2.1% of the total vet population in 2016 to below 1% in 2019, which Daniel says is largely due to systemic racism. “In this day and time, you don’t stay that way unless you’re ignorant to the fact that diversity is good,” Daniel says. “Or,” she adds, “you just don’t care that you’re purposefully omitting a group of people.”


For Black veterinarians and pet owners, systemic racism in the industry is the norm. That’s why Cheryl Kearney, 65, has no problem driving more than 50 miles to and from Detroit each time her 6-month-old kitten, Roger, needs to see a doctor. Kearney says she’s had negative experiences with her own white doctors speaking to her condescendingly, assuming that because she’s a Black woman, she wouldn’t understand their explanations unless they dumbed them down. Kearney says she couldn’t bear enduring that discomfort when it came to caring for her “baby” Roger, so she made it a point to find a Black vet. “It was a much more personal experience,” she says.

Dion Hobbs, a 46-year-old Houston financial advisor, also noticed that difference when he switched to a Black vet. Hobbs had been taking his 11-year-old dog Sadie to the same vet, who’s white, for more than a decade when Sadie cut open her back leg in June—her first major injury. Hobbs says he was disappointed with the clinic’s bedside manner during a vulnerable and frightening time.

“Competency wasn’t the issue,” he says. “I thought there would at least be a little bit more warmth in the conversion.” Hobbs says he doesn’t think race played a major role in what he considered Sadie’s chilly treatment, but he saw the experience as an opportunity to give his business instead to a Black veterinarian, who he says has shown more compassion. “If I’m going to spend my dollars,” he says, “why not have it go to someone who looks like me?”


{snip} Since July, nearly 6,000 people have signed an online petition, written by nearly a dozen multicultural advocacy groups, calling for the AVMA to take concrete steps to assess where it stands with inclusion issues and to ensure an equitable process for all. “Our profession could really benefit from more diversity because it brings creativity,” Price says. “It brings innovation and it brings new ideas.”


There’s no better moment for industry leaders to commit, advocates say. The demographics of the U.S. are changing, and so are those of pet owners. A record high number of Americans own pets, according to the American Pet Products Association trade group, with estimates ranging from 56.8% to more than 65% of U.S. households. Minority groups are fueling that growth, a 2019 study found. Between 2008 and 2018, the number of Hispanic pet owners increased 44%, the number of Black pet owners grew 24% but the white pet owner population went up only 2%, according to the study. At this rate, Daniel says, the industry could suffer financially if it doesn’t keep up with the needs of the changing pet-owning population.