by CAT HENSTRIDGE on MARCH 16, 2014
Last week a letter of complaint arrived at my clinic that went something like this; ‘We were very upset that you refused to treat our dog, even when we promised to pay you a few days later. You clearly only care about the money and not about the animals,
we will not be using your services again’
Now I am not going to go into detail about the exact circumstances of this patient, although needless to say, we did not ‘refuse to treat’ the dog and thankfully this is the first letter of this sort we have ever received. However, it is a common complaint about vets and one I find particularly upsetting.
When I hear ‘Vets are only in it for the money!’, what I would like to say is; “Well of course we are! That money pays to keep our clinics open and the lights on, it pays for the equipment we use, the medications we dispense, the continual training we undertake to ensure we are up to date and the wonderful staff who care for your pets so well. I’d like to do my job ‘just for the love of animals’ but that wouldn’t pay my mortgage or feed my kids. Do you go to work just for the joy of it or do you go to be paid? Exactly, so why should I do my job, which took years of training, is highly skilled and often stressful, for nothing?!”
I am a vet because I love animals and want to help them. It breaks my heart when owners can’t pay but if I gave out treatment free of charge, there would be a stampede at our doors, it would encourage irresponsible owners (you only have to look at the charity clinics to see the truth in that) and my boss would quickly go out of business. Yet still I am caught out. I have lost count of the times owners have promised most faithfully to pay and are never seen again. Being told a blatant lie never gets easier and it is amazing how convincing people can be.
Many vet visits come out of the blue and in our practices we are well aware that our bills are often unexpected. Sometimes clinics will allow payment plans but this is entirely at their discretion and goodwill. (VetCare does not offer payment plans to our clients. We encourage people to get insurance or Smartcover finance is available.) In my experience, delayed payment is only available in exceptional circumstances or for well known clients. (Another good reason to be a regular at your vets!) Also, why should the thoughtless owners who don’t plan ahead be given preferential service to those that do and are able to pay, however hard it may be for them?
Trips to the vets can be unexpected. You don’t always know when your pet is going to get themselves into trouble!
Payment at the time of treatment is vital to maintain cash flow for small businesses like vets. Even a short delay with the money coming in can cause huge problems. Bad debt in clinics often runs into thousands of dollars and can be crippling. You would be amazed how easily some people walk away from what they owe without a backward glance, especially with the less formal agreements.
The frustrating thing is many of the problems that cause the most hassle are entirely preventable; your dog was hit by a car and has a broken leg? Well, why were you walking it on the road without a lead? Your bitch is having puppies and one is stuck? Well, why did you mate her without having the funds for a c-section, just in case? (Not quite such a good way to make a quick buck now is it?!) Your male cat has been fighting and now has horrible infected wounds? You would definitely have been advised to neuter him to prevent problems like this.
So what can you do? Firstly, take our advice on preventative care. Trust me, we could
make a ton more money if nobody neutered their pets or vaccinated them. We advise
what is best for your animal’s health and not our wallets, despite what some people would have you believe. Secondly, expect the unexpected and plan ahead! Pet insurance is the obvious answer to cover large vet bills but not everyone can afford the premiums. Alternatives include starting a savings account for your animals, having a credit card with some spare on the balance or being able to call on friends or family members for help.
At VetCare we are also able to put you in touch with Smartcover who can offer interest free finance for 6 months for accounts over $200.
Being a pet owner is a joy and a privilege and you, and you alone, are responsible for their health and welfare, which includes paying for their care when they are sick. You must never delay treatment because you are worried about money but do be honest about your means. Vets are always willing to work with owners to ensure costs are within their reach and can tailor treatments to different budgets. However, at the end of the day there will be a bill and it will need to be paid.