Where I Stand Too many pets hurting, owners can’t afford care

February 3, 2019

Back in the 1970s, I brought a cat from our shelter, Pet Assistance Inc., to a veterinarian who had a great reputation for treating eye problems. I don’t think board certifications in veterinary ophthalmology even existed at the time.

We were quoted $300 for the treatment, which was a lot of money in those days. Naively, I said: “Pet Assistance is a non-profit organization. Will you give us a discount?”

And that’s when the words came out: “Animals are not my charity!”

Forty years later, I still quote this vet. And people always have the same shocked reaction when hearing the words.

I got his message, loud and clear! Veterinary medicine is a business. But it should be a business with a heart. As more and more privately owned animal hospitals are being bought out by companies like Mars Corporation, (yes, the candy company now owns VCA hospitals, Banfield, Blue Pearl, etc.) humane and affordable veterinary care is quickly becoming obsolete. Mars, owner of perhaps 2,000 hospitals, employs about 50,000 veterinarians. These veterinarians are now employees rather than owner/practitioners and they are more accountable to stockholders than to their clients and their pets.

I predict that middle class families will not have pets in 10 years. After all, it may be wiser (and less traumatic) to never get a pet than have to choose between a pet’s surgery and a year of college for your child.

Animals are my charity — and I hope they are yours also!

The pets helped by Pet Assistance, Inc (an organization that I founded in 1973 to help pets and pet owners) are not homeless, they are not abandoned and not abused; they are loved.

Their problem is that their owners are not millionaires, and if a medical emergency befalls these beloved pets, their lives may be at stake solely for financial reasons. Even if you feel you love animals more than people, to really help dogs, cats and yes, even bunny rabbits, to relieve their pain and suffering from accidents and illness, to keep them off the streets and out of shelters, we have to help people first.

What breaks my heart is when a financially needy pet owner goes to an animal hospital for a real emergency and is turned away because they can’t leave a $1,000 or more deposit and the pet dies a painful death at home.

The following, a true story, is one of several similar cases with tragic endings. Lola was a 7-year-old dog. Her owner only had a few dollars until her next SSI check came. Lola had chewed up a toy, swallowed some of it, and was throwing up continually. The owner went to a vet, did not have the $433 for “diagnostics” and was sent home. Diagnostics? She brought the chewed up toy with her! She left a message on our phone at 1a.m. We contacted her first thing in the morning, to tell her to get Lola to a vet ASAP, that PAi would pay for x-rays and help with surgery. She sobbed and said Lola had died at home two hours earlier after suffering for nearly three days.

And then there are the doctors who never forgot why they became veterinarians. A woman applied to PAi for help. Her male cat had a urinary blockage, which can be life threatening. We emailed back and told her to get the cat to a vet ASAP, that PAi would help. Her response: “The vet did the surgery with no money up front because Lucky was dying. He said Lucky wouldn’t have made it another night without the surgery. The total was $427. Lucky is doing just fine.”

Have you ever heard someone say: “If you can’t afford a pet, don’t get one?” What does “afford” mean when the bar keeps getting raised? Many pet owners were able to afford all the bells and whistles when they got their puppy or kitty 12 years ago or so, but circumstances may have changed and certainly the practice of veterinary medicine has changed.

Be grateful if you can manage pet ownership on your own. For too many people on limited income, pets are their only family. They need to be shown compassion and given financial help by veterinarians as well as non profits.

What are pet owners’ rights regarding the care they give their pets? Who sets the standards? Why? There is so much more that needs to be addressed.

Ruth Pearl is the founder of Pet Assistance, Inc in New Preston. See reviews on GreatNonProfits.org

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