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Bottom Line: Pay the Vet

A man entered an emergency animal clinic carrying a dog wrapped in a blanket. The dog's glazed eyes and the  crimson blotches on the man's shirt testified to the dog's immediate peril -- she was bleeding to death. The man began babbling about how the dog had jumped through a plate glass window. He was guided to a large  examination and operating room in the back. Two technicians and a veterinarian carefully laid the dog on a table and started examining and treating the dog.

 Ten minutes later, two important facts emerged. First, the dog would require extensive surgery and second, the owner did not have enough money to pay for the work the vet had already done. The doctor braced herself and  explained the situation to the owner. The best she could do would be to keep the dog alive until morning and then contact a specialist to finish the job. There was a good chance, she said, that they could save the dog's life. She  told him that her best estimate was that the work would cost several hundred dollars. The only alternative would be to put the animal to sleep.

 The man told her that he had no money and no job. He asked her to fix his dog even though he could not pay. He told her that he loved the dog very much. When she told him that the complete surgery was beyond her expertise,  he told her that he was sure that she could do it. When she declined, he asked her how she could be so cold hearted? How could she let his dog die just because of a few measely bucks? Wasn't she an animal lover? Where was her compassion?

 The veterinarian held her temper, realizing that there was no way that this man would understand her position. His concern for his dog prevented him from understanding that it was exclusively his responsibility to provide for his  dog. Could he comprehend that every employee at the clinic had already saved more than their share of animals? Could he possibly understand why her veterinary technicians were in the back, crying over his dog? Instead of  lashing out at the man, the doctor explained that the process of putting the animal to sleep would be painless. The man left the clinic in sorrow over the loss of his pet and angry at the unfeeling people who killed his dog.

 While our first inclination is to feel sympathy for the man's loss, our sentiments may be better placed elsewhere. It is easy to believe that the man's poverty placed him in this position, and that it is unfair that his dog should die  merely because the man could not afford the fees. This line of reasoning leads to the dangerous conclusion that the veterinary staff was responsible for the pet's death.

 Before accepting this harsh judgement about the hospital staff, you should know that this situation happens frequently. Each year, veterinarians lose many thousands of dollars from clients who fail to pay. Each loss is  subtracted from the clinic's income. As the losses pile up, there is less money left over to cover employee salaries, medical supplies, new equipment or phone bills. The power company will not ask if they have compassion, but will  ask if they have cash to pay the electricity bill. Ultimately, these mundane considerations will force the clinic to stop giving free services at the risk of going out of business.

 It is ironic that those people who most care for animals must place limits on their concern. It is also ironic that they are often perceived as uncaring because they must require payment for their services.

 If you wish to be a responsible pet owner and have little money, there are several things you can do to plan for the inevitable costs.

  Seek assistance from a friend, relative, or humane organization to help you provide care in case of a serious problem.

Several pet health care plans are now available. Consult your veterinarian about health insurance for your pet.

  If your animal needs emergency care and you cannot possibly pay for it, talk to the veterinarian honestly before you authorize treatment. If he or she is willing to give you credit, it should be decided before treatment is started.

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Copyright 1997 by Gary Wilkes -- No portion of this web page may be reproduced without permission.