It happens about once a week. I get a phone call from someone – sometimes an established client, sometimes not – that is at their wit’s end and needs help. Their pet is sick – a lot of times it’s a puppy that sounds like it has parvo – and they don’t get paid until next week (next month, next year, whenever they can get another job). This area’s economy is rough, there are a lot of people out of work, and so these sorts of calls are to be expected.
It breaks my heart that people have pets that they can’t afford. Animals are great therapy. They raise low spirits, comfort the lonely, and never laugh at what you look like first thing in the morning. But they are a responsibility, and, as my coworker puts it, a luxury. While a puppy brings joy and completion to a family, one can – and many do – live without.
Taking care of pets is a business, like any other. While I would love for our clinic to take in and care for any animal regardless of the owner’s ability to pay, we can’t. So when I get these phone calls, I have to tell the frantic, almost crying people on the other end, that I’m sorry but we can’t do any billing. We require payment up front, in full. Just like at the grocery store. Human medicine has laws that maintain that they must do no harm and help a patient first, bill later. There are no such laws in veterinary medicine, so I don’t think people realize that we don’t run just like the doctor’s office.
And then the people say, in different ways, the thing that used to break my heart but now I can ward off like an annoying gnat: “You want my pet to die.” And I say, “I want to help you, but our policy is that we can’t take any billing.” I give them credit card options. I even give them the option to apply for a special, veterinary credit card. But of course none of them have credit, so my offers are rejected. “My puppy’s going to die and you don’t care,” they say. “By the time I get paid my cat will already be dead.”
I don’t want your pets to die. I really don’t. I want you to become responsible and be able to tell when your finances might not support a pet. I want you to get your pets vaccinated yearly (or at least examined yearly) so that some of these problems might be avoided (A $26 yearly parvo vaccine or a $400 treatment? A $50 yearly heartworm prevention plan or a $500 heartworm treatment?) I know that unexpected sicknesses arise. They do to responsible pet owners all the time. But if you don’t think that you are going to be able to afford an unexpected sickness, maybe you shouldn’t have the pet in the first place. I’m not talking about accidents that occur and $3000 surgery bills – I’m talking about ear infections, heartworm, eye infections, upper respiratory infections, urinary tract infections, the list goes on. Things that pets can get easily. Things that I’ve seen pets euthanized for because of finances. Or worse, things that people let go until the pet dies from it in a slow, painful way.
If it were up to me I would take your appointment, bill you, and then try and educate you on proper prevention, proper feeding, proper saving of funds for pets. I understand that sometimes that doesn’t cut it, sometimes we just really can’t afford what comes up. But I get your phone calls too often for this to just happen “sometimes.” I feel bad for you, but moreover, I feel bad for your pet.
I don’t want it to die. I really don’t.