The rest of the story

Letter to the Editor.

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

were concerned.

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

for surgery.

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

payment plan.

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

any business.

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