4 Questions with Dr. Michael J. Blackwell

The animal welfare field is lucky to have forward thinkers, those who are ahead of the curve on recognizing challenges and identifying innovative solutions. One such forward thinker is Dr. Michael J. Blackwell. 

As we look more holistically about what communities need, keeping pets and people together has come to the forefront of our work over the last 4-5 years. It was in 2008, however, that Dr. Blackwell first became increasingly aware of the impact of the recession on families in underserved communities—both two-legged and four-legged family members. In the spirit of the research and work that followed surrounding that issue, Dr. Blackwell is at the helm of the newly launched program, AlignCare. He’ll be sharing more about this program in his RACE-approved October 7 webinar, Supporting Families Through Access to Veterinary Care. We recently checked in with him for a preview of the session.

The Association: You have been thinking about this work, and the importance of getting access to veterinary care for families who need it since 2008. It seems like this was new for the industry at the time. What was the level of awareness of this issue? How have things changed since then?

Dr. Michael J. Blackwell:  You are correct that at the time I started to focus on access to veterinary care, not many were discussing it. The shelter industry was quite aware of the need, seeing it every day, however were (and largely still are) operating in the historic paradigm of trying to address the needs of pets not adequately served by the private veterinary medicine industry. To me, this siloed approach to serving communities leaves much to be desired. 

Fortunately, the shelter industry, thru the Human Animal Support Services (HASS) initiative, and other activities, is adjusting their focus on access to veterinary care by factoring in the human realities associated with barriers, and expanding medical services to serve homed pets.

The Association: What’s the mission of AlignCare?

Dr. Blackwell
: AlignCare was designed to “align” existing community resources and activities to improve access to veterinary care. Shelters are critical in these alignments. AlignCare can reduce the number of relinquishments due to a medically treatable condition. 

The Association: We understand you have ramped up the demo phase of AlignCare due to COVID-19. How has it been going?

Dr. Blackwell
:  Due to COVID-19, we decided to prioritize communities with the largest job losses, which meant changing our planned rollout. For example, we implemented in Long Island, NY, and are soon to be in Las Vegas and Reno, NV. These cities were not on our original list for the pilot. Acquisition of funds has not progressed as expected, largely because funders are making decisions to address the impacts of COVID-19 by funding more traditional shelter programs.

The Association: We are looking forward to your October 7 webinar. Is there any “homework” or preparation that attendees can do ahead of time?  

Dr. Blackwell: We encourage those interested in learning more about our work and AlignCare to visit our website at pphe.utk.edu.

The Access to Veterinary Care Coalition report, Access to Veterinary Care: Barriers, Current Practices, and Public Policy, has important background information, including the results from the national study of the problem. 

The AlignCare Community Manual explains the AlignCare system in detail, and was developed to assist communities interested in implementing the AlignCare model.

Please join us in congratulating Dr. Michael J. Blackwell on being named the recipient of the 2020 Avanzino Leadership Award by Maddie’s Fund! 


Learn More

Vet Advantage feature: AlignCare
Website: AlignCare


The Association

The Association is the only international society of leaders actively leading and managing community animal shelters/animal control agencies.


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