Veterinary medicine, like human medicine, has its share of good and bad practitioners but I’ve been seeing an alarming trend in the area of veterinary medicine. There was a time when vets treated animals for the love of animals and because they cared. Veterinary medicine had gotten as bad as human medicine and in some ways even worse!

At least many people have medical insurance and there are programs for people who need medical care. For pets, yes, there is medical insurance available but compared to the numbers of pets, coverage is not wide spread yet. And yes, there are some low cost programs available but they are mostly spay/neuter programs and vaccination programs.

Veterinary medicine has turned into ‘big business,’ revolving door, ‘bottom line’ watchers. Most vets require 75% upfront payment for any kind of surgical procedure and if there’s any doubt about paying the bill, which can easily mount in the thousands of dollars, they won’t touch your pet. Vet visits and surgery cost dog owners almost $800 and cat owners $500 last year, according to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association. And this is just an average! Few vets are willing to set up payment plans.

I’ve come across several stories in the news lately that have really bothered me, vets holding dogs ‘hostage,’ threatening ‘death’ over bills. People doctors don’t even do anything like that, so how can vets get away with it? Because animals are considered nothing but ‘possessions?’

Josh Gomez of Gwinnet, Georgia, say that his vet, Dr. Garry Innocent of PetFIRST Animal Hospital in Duluth is holding his black border collie, Pilot, hostage and is threatening to send him the an animal shelter where he could be euthanized.

Gomez has already paid Innocent the agreed on amount of $1,125 for the treatment of the pup’s virus in August. The next thing he knew there were all kinds of additional charges that had not been agreed on. The bill jumped to $1,640 and has been increasing daily, with the vet holding the puppy, because of a $27 a day boarding charge. As of the 14th of September, Gomez owed almost an additional $1000 over what he initially agreed to pay Dr. Garry Innocent and PetFIRST Animal Hospital. As a 22 yr old, at home music teacher, Gomez says he just can’t afford to pay the outrageous charges. He’s already run up $400 on his girlfriend’s charge card and used a $750 loan from his employer.

And just what does Dr. Innocent have to say about this, “He’s being such a twit, he just needs to pay his bill.”

How’s that for understanding and compassion?

On Tuesday the vet plans to send Gomez’s dog, Pilot, to an animal shelter. Gomez has filed a lawsuit in Gwinnett Superior Court this week to block Innocent and PetFIRST Animal Hospital from handing Pilot over to animal-control authorities. His lawyer, Ed McCrimmon, says the Georgia law is unconstitutional because it enables pet clinics to take people’s property without ‘due process.’

In another story from San Antonio, Texas, Jacqueline Hines rescued a little Chihuahua off the streets. She was just being a Good Samaritan, helping an animal in need. And of course when the little dog, who she named Macho, got sick, she took him to the vet.

Hines, a 76 year old widow on a fixed income, told the vet that she couldn’t pay more than $100 and the vet told her ok, treated the dog and charged her $93. Sounds pretty good so far, right?

Well the next morning Macho was even worse so Hines took him back, another $341!

Then two hours later she was back in the emergency room with her little dog because he was worse yet! “I was definitely having an anxiety attack,” Hines said.

Here the dog had been ‘treated’ and sent home twice to a total of $434, after Hines expressly told the vet that she was on a fixed income and could only afford $100. To me, a reputable vet would have done a little better at ascertaining the situation and honestly let Hines know what was wrong with the dog or if he didn’t know, at least tell her that he would not be able to treat the dog with her financial restraints and allow her to see if she could find other options. He would not have repeatedly ‘treated’ the dog, charged her and sent the dog home only to have her bring the dog back for additional ’emergency’ treatments!

This last time she was unable to pay the bill and had to leave her little dog at the vet’s office because, of course, they couldn’t let her take him home. Five days later Hines gets a letter in the mail.

“Telling me that if I did not pay within 12 days, they were going to kill the dog,” Hines said.

The actual wording of the letter was, “We intend to dispose of the animal,” wording taken directly from Texas law that allows vets to dispose of abandoned animals.

The vet did say that contrary to Hines’ belief based on the wording ‘dispose of the animal,’ that they try to find a home for the animal, not kill it!

Luckily for Hines, before her little companion could be ‘disposed’ of, a friend paid off the vet bill and now she and Macho are reunited and she can repay her friend over time.

That’s two stories of pets being held ‘hostage’ with vets threatening to ‘dispose’ of them if they don’t get their money. I have no doubt that Jacqueline Hines would have agreeably worked out some kind of payment plan with the vet if that had been an option, after all, she’s worked one out to repay her friend.

And here’s just one more. No dog is being held ‘hostage’ but because the owner couldn’t pay up-front, a dog in grievous pain was turned away at the door or numerous vets even though the owner offered to set up payment plans with them to get her dog treated.Amir

Loraine Standifer of Fort Worth, Texas, was moving and asked a friend to watch her shepherd-mix dog, Amir. All was fine until one day her friend got home from work and found that someone had poured some corrosive liquid, like acid, on the dog’s back. Standifer rushed over and tried and tried to find a vet who would work out a payment plan for the extensive and costly surgery that Amir would need. The dog was in pain but all the vets she contacted turned her down.

Luckily for her and Amir, the rescue group that she adopted Amir from did put her in touch with a vet that actually did the surgery and cared for Amir for free. There actually are still some vets out there who work from the heart rather than with wallet.

Veterinary Salaries have risen, and newer Veterinarians are demanding higher starting salaries before they even walk in the door. A new graduate will start at 60,000 dollars a year. Higher end corporate practices will pay even more. Those practice owners earn in excess of 100,000 dollars a year.  I do know that veterinary medicine has changed and become much more specialized. I realize that there are overhead costs and salaries and equipment but I also feel that medicine, whether animal or human, should be practiced from the heart and not the wallet. What would be the harm of adding a little compassion, at no charge?

Sources – AJC, My San Antonio, Post

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