How a small group of grassroots animal advocates made a big impression on California’s Veterinary Medical Board


If there’s one thing I wish more people knew when it comes to changing the world for the better, it’s this: You have more power than you think.

From protecting our most vulnerable citizens and essential workers during the pandemic to standing up for racial equality and social justice, 2020 has become the year in which compassionate individuals of all ages are finding their voice. And while we’ve got a long road ahead of us to achieve many of the things we’re fighting for, our forward momentum and commitment to change are unstoppable.

This past March, expanding telemedicine and telehealth services during the outbreak of COVID-19 was a key factor in protecting healthcare workers and patients from unnecessary exposure to the virus. Parallel efforts for veterinary medicine were made to ensure that veterinarians, their staff and pet owners were protected, while still making sure that our pets had access to expert medical care. Several states — such as Michigan, Colorado and Arizona — swiftly relaxed telemedicine requirements and expanded access in response. But California didn’t follow suit, maintaining its requirement that pets can only be seen via telemedicine for pre-existing conditions for which they’ve already been seen once.

A big reason that California’s Veterinary Medical Board members didn’t adjust the requirements and expand access was that the public hadn’t expressed interest in them doing so. This is often why lobbyists are hired. In the absence of public outcry, you need someone who understands the issue, knows the decision-makers, and will actively speak up and pursue policy changes. And while lobbyists are often helpful, it can be challenging for them to make any headway without the public behind them. That’s why voices from communities are so powerful.

So, as the Veterinary Medical Board prepared for their routine meeting in May, Best Friends, along with fellow lifesaving organizations like the San Francisco SPCA, San Diego Humane Society, the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, and the ASPCA, joined with members of the veterinary telemedicine community to rally veterinarians and ordinary citizens to call in to the public comment period during that meeting.

Best Friends’ advocacy team reached out to our 2025 Action Team in California, gave the 10-15 people who expressed interest the lowdown on the issue and explained why these services are so critical for stopping the spread of COVID-19. We provided them with key messaging points and encouraged them to send emails and call in to the meeting. Combined with similar efforts from collaborating organizations, the comments from community members voicing their thoughts about telemedicine went on for nearly two hours.

Thanks to that public response and pressure, the board decided to hold a special meeting to discuss the issue. Long story short, within two weeks a critical telemedicine expansion was authorized that would stay in effect for the duration of the COVID-19 statewide emergency.

Sure, calling in to a veterinary board meeting and speaking up for telemedicine services might not sound all that sexy. But it will help save lives. Taking a few minutes to stand up for expanding access to essential services keeps pets safe, pet owners safe and veterinary staff safer.

We often hear people expressing hesitation about showing up at city council meetings or speaking during public comment periods because they think they don’t belong there. Some think they won’t be dressed correctly or they need special credentials to express their views. Some think they won’t say the right thing. But the fact is that they do belong there. You belong there. Your voice belongs there.

Creating big change and a better world isn’t about being perfect. It’s about fundamentally understanding that your voice has power and being willing to use it in big and small ways alike. Standing up for the pets in your community and the people who love them can be a simple place to start.

Julie Castle


Best Friends Animal Society