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The rest of the story
I am writing this article in response to the letter to the
editor printed on Jan. 18, 2001, titled "Losing a four-legged friend."
I returned from a continuing-education meeting this week to
find that this letter had been published while I was away. As part owner
of the clinic in question, I felt that the letter told half-truths that
portrayed both our clinic and the other veterinarians in the area
as greedy and heartless. While we sympathize with the grieving
pet owner and realize that following such a loss many people are
not thinking rationally, I would like to fill in the rest of the facts
to present a clear view to those of you who read this letter and
We spoke to the editor regarding the inaccuracies of that
letter, and he informed us that it is not the responsibility of the paper
to verify whether or not the letter is true. Offensive content and
foul language are not allowed, but everything else is printable.
The canine companion in the letter was brought to our
clinic after being hit by a car in the street. Our policy (and, I believe,
the policy of the vast majority of veterinary clinics) is to
recommend the best option for diagnosis and treatment for the animal's
comfort and well being. In this case, X-rays determined the fractures
were serious enough to require surgical repair, and it was evident
that this was not going to be an easy surgery.
It is not unusual for orthopedic procedures to require hours
of doctor time, extra technicians and a lot of sweat and hard labor.
Amputation was considered as a lower-cost option, but it was
not a good choice in this case because of pre-existing problems with
the dog's other limbs. The best course would be referral to an
orthopedic specialist, but the owner declined due to the cost
(estimated to be about $1,500). The owner said he could get about $800
The dog's leg was bandaged to stabilize the fracture, and
appropriate pain control was administered for the three days it
was hospitalized while our doctors called numerous area hospitals
to try and find an orthopedic surgeon who might be able to
perform the surgery at a lower cost, or work out some kind of
Our hospital does a wide variety of soft-tissue surgery, but
we do not have an orthopedic surgeon on staff. The client's
ire, therefore, was entirely misdirected, as we were not even
the ones who could do the work for him. This is not to say that
the other hospitals were wrong or uncaring. I strongly feel that
quality care and compassion are the rule, rather than the exception,
in today's veterinary practice.
Veterinary care is more expensive than it used to be, but this
is because the technology and quality of care has come a long
way, too. Credit cards, bank loans and borrowing from friends and
relatives are all options available for most people. Sadly, strict
policies for payment are the norm in today's businesses due to
past abuses by those few who opt not to pay for services they
receive. Over the course of a year, these losses can spell disaster for
With this in mind, it was understandably difficult to find
a hospital that could help this client. Our doctors, however, did
not give up. A large amount of time was spent on the phone
calling hospitals all over the area in an attempt to help (at no
additional charge to the client, I might add).
Finally, we did locate a hospital that said it would be
willing to look at the case and see if it could perform the surgery
and make payment arrangements of some kind. The owner agreed
to have the other surgeon take a look. We were packing up
the films to send to the other clinic when the client called back,
only a few hours later, to say that his finances had fallen through;
he would not be able to pay for the surgery and he wanted the dog
put down. We offered to keep the dog for a bit longer, to give him
time to find some more money, but he insisted that it be done that
day. The final decision as to the dog's fate, therefore, was not in
the hands of any vet in the end.
As far as sending someone to collections, this is normally a
last resort for us. However, it is our policy that if someone refuses
to pay for services rendered in good faith, they are sent to collections.
While we try to be sympathetic to a fellow human
being's financial difficulties, there have been times when people let
their own personal problems be the basis for attempting to lay
the blame where it does not belong.
Bear in mind that the veterinarian's creditors do
not give him or her any slack on the payment of bills. A large
percentage of every payment you make to your veterinarian
immediately slides out the door again in order to keep the shelves stocked
with medicines and the equipment necessary to provide
quality health care. I cannot tell you the number of times clients have
been very happy to find a well-stocked clinic when they rush in with
a dying pet in their arms.
I would like to thank all those clients who read this letter to
the editor and took the time to call in and offer their support. We
appreciate your concern and the chance to offer the rest of the story.
Finally, bear in mind that your local veterinarian is not too
different from you. We try our best to care for the pets that are so
important in so many people's lives.
Dr. Glen Howard
North Bend Animal Clinic