Friday, March 4, 2011

Don't you love animals?

Perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of my job is angry clients.  Clients arrive and are already defensive - for some reason they have it in their minds that we're only here for the money.  It's so far from the truth that it's insulting - for the same amount of time I spent in school and amount money I spent on my education, I could have five to ten times the salary if I had chosen human medicine, pharmacy, etc.  As we all know, money does not equal happiness, and I chose veterinary medicine over all those other more lucrative careers because it is my passion.

Of course, those facts make it even harder to have a client yell at me, "DON'T YOU EVEN LOVE PETS!?" or "YOU'RE JUST GOING TO LET MY LITTLE FLUFFY DIE??!!!" Often times, it's because they're grieving for the difficult loss (or illness) of their pet; many visits to the ER are unexpected, and as a result, families have not had time to cope.

The other common reason for an irate client is that they can't pay for the care their pet needs.  The majority of veterinary hospitals accross the country are small businesses, with a small operating budget and as a result, are unable to offer payment plans or extend credit to clients.   The costs associated with running a 24 hour facility result in higher costs to our patrons in comparison to daytime only general practice.  Humans are used to going into their M.D., paying a $20 copay, and having a bill sent later for whatever insurance doesn't cover.  People don't realize that their cost of treatment, before insurance and write-offs, is at a minimum, 5-10 times the cost of veterinary care.  Case and point: recently, a good friend of mine had a routine cesearean section without complications; her bill was $40,000 (not including the infant's care!).  An average c-section in an emergency veterinary facility, including care of the puppies, is going to cost between $1000-$2500 depending upon patient factors and local cost of living factors.  That's 16x less than a human's procedure!

Obviously, I do love pets, and so do my co-workers and collegues across the country (and world) who study and live to fix sick animals.  Unfortunately, our education was far from free, we have to pay our rent and utilities just like everyone else, and our support staff needs to be paid, too.  I know it's hard to be faced with an estimate for hundreds of dollars, especially in this economy.  I know it's even harder during an emotionally stressful time.  I want to help -- but I can't do it for free, or I wouldn't have a job, and our facility wouldn't be able to keep the lights on and the doors open for the next patient that needs our help.  Every case is different, and I always try to find the best plan for the patient's needs and the client's pocketbook, but it's not free.  I could go on and on, but I think you all get the point I'm trying to make.

My best recommendation for all of you to avoid this problem: AVOID pet insurance, instead, make a savings account for your pets.  Put in $10 or $20 dollars per month, whatever small amount you can afford.  Over time, you'll have your own "insurance," and you'll be able to decide what YOU want to cover, instead of letting a company decide what and when they want to give you back.


  1. Having learned what a difficult subject this is for veterinarians, I no longer even joke that parhaps my pet isn't 'worth' the cost of the bill. I've learned to just say 'thank you for taking such good care of my pet" and leave it at that. I'm grateful that I have the income to provide the medical care that my pets need.

  2. I'm a large animal veterinarian. On many occasions I've given estimates, only to have clients reply "I could buy another horse/goat/sheep for less than that!" My response? "Yes, you could, and euthanasia is a humane option." Then I don't say anything else. I don't have to.

    OTOH, one of my favorite clients refers to her horse as "priceless". That always makes me smile, because though I know she's joking, she's also serious.

  3. I had a woman have the gall to tell me once that her c-section cost less than her dog's ex-lap. I icily explained to her that, no, her c-sectio likely cost 20,000+ dollars but SHE only paid $20...with her government health care. Maybe she paid nothing. I wanted to smack this woman.

    Ohhh, and the other night - FIVE- yes FIVE - adults came in with a dying, unspayed, febrile Collie. Between the 5 of these ADULTS, they swore they couldn't come up with $92 to see the doctor. They had been calling all night, badgering us, and I offered free euthanasia with the understanding that they would not see me or talk to me.

    They showed up, spent 45 minutes badgering my receptionist about post-date checks, and finally, finally allowed me to euthanize their suffering dog. I was livid! LIVID.