Monday, September 22, 2008

If you don't have the finances....

Maybe I should change the name of this blog to "Pet Peeves" since that is often what I write about of late. Or maybe I should just post more, so I can post more of the good stories as well as the irritating and bad ones. In which case, maybe I shouldn't work as much so I have more times to post...well, I doubt that will happen. :p

Anyway, on to my topic: Pets and Finances. Since I began my veterinary career a little over a year ago, I have been faced with the question of finances and pets. It's something that is touched on in school, but almost in a somewhat ethereal if costs are something that are important in a parallel universe, but not in the one you are currently in. As students, we didn't have a clue what anything cost. Sure, there are ways we could have looked into it, I suppose, but we barely had the time to adequately SOAP all of our patients, let alone marvel at their bills. Additionally, most critters in a veterinary teaching hospital situation are there because their owners have already spent quite a bit of money and are verging on desperate for a diagnosis if not a treatment. Students have no contact with the client regarding bills or finances and, after being out in practice and dealing with that multiple times on a daily basis, I really think that should be an important part of the curriculum during school.

But that is a topic for a slightly different time. Before I digress too much, I should launch into what inspired today's post. And perhaps the best way to do so would be in list form, so here it goes. Following is a list of the most common ways people complain to me about bills and/or try to get me to reduce them. While I certainly empathize with people with stressed finances (chipping away with half of my pay every month going to pay off my student loan which will take many years to get rid of), I can't help but get a little tired of people blaming me and the rest of the staff at the clinic for their own poor financial decisions. So, before you go to the vet with any of these excuses, know that they have heard these before as well.

1. "I just spent $250 to buy this purebred Shih-Poo, and don't have any money to pay for anything today." This was today's incident, actually. Beyond what I think of paying $250 for a purebred mutt, I had a heck of a time trying to convince this lady that puppies need more than one vaccine to start to induce immunity against diseases. She informed me (in a voice very like a grade school math teacher correcting a student's sloppy multiplication table) that the breeder -- who has been doing this for 45 years -- knows what she is doing, and told her that this puppy was "up to date on all of its shots." She showed me the breeder's card, as if that would impress me of her knowledge and experience. The card proudly advertised at least 8 different breeds, not a one of them not a Something-Poo or a Bichon-Something. Long story short, I finally convinced the lady to at least allow me to vaccinate the puppy against rabies and she was going to need to "think about" boostering the other vaccine.

2. "I just bought these 2 purebred Aussies and adopted these 2 cats. Can you do something like give me a 2-for-1 deal on spaying and neutering them? There is no way I can pay full price for that on all of them." This is another painfully true situation from a few weeks ago. This lady specifically purchased 2 Aussie pups because she had always wanted 2 Aussies. And the farm where she picked the puppies up at had some free kittens up for grabs, so of course she needed some of those as well. Long story short, she didn't get a 2-for-1 deal. Dogs aren't glazed donuts.

3. "I rescued this puppy from being abused. Will you cover part of the costs in treating him?" This one always comes up in a tone and manner that makes the vet sound and feel like a heartless Scrooge if they say "no." What people don't seem to understand is that this one -- maybe of all of them -- gets asked the most. I would also be willing to wager a sizable sum that this is the one that irritates many vets the most. Free services and antibiotics at-cost won't feed the receptionist's kids or make the technician's car payments. People have this strange notion that we become vets purely and simply to "help animals" and apparently all veterinary clinics are charitable institutions or, at the very least, non-profits. Newsflash: it is a business. Businesses that make money stay open. Businesses that give everything away will close. Most vet clinics do an inordinant amount of community service in the way of cheap spay/neuter programs, treating homeless pets and so on. But none can afford to treat every pathetic sneezing kitten found in the gutter for a plate of stale cookies. However, maybe if they were fresh cookies.....

These are the 3 most common comments related to finances and pets. I know there are many more, several of which I havn't touched on for time considerations. Any in the veterinary field, feel free to add your most favorites to the comments page.

On a closing note, let's just say I have gotten really good at making estimates for even the most mundane of procedures and "encouraging" prompt payment despite not getting any training in that at school. Maybe they just figure that is the best kind of lesson to learn "on the job" because it is difficult to teach. Still, I think it would be very useful if some "bounty hunter" classes were included in the curriculum. Maybe right after learning how to play the invisible violin.