More and more often, the shelter receives calls from owners that are seeking options because they cannot afford to pay for veterinary treatment for their beloved companion. The queries typically sound something like, “My pet is sick and I cannot afford the treatment my vet is recommending… do you know a clinic that will take payments or a lower cost clinic?”
It leaves me wondering if pet ownership is destined to become a privilege for only the middle and upper class.
Now, I don’t want anyone reading this blog to get the impression that I am bashing the veterinarians in the community. That is certainly not the case, they have a business to run and they deserve to be paid for the services they provide. What I am suggesting is that perhaps a shift in some of the old school philosophies should be adjusted. I think that perhaps the business model that the veterinarians have adopted, by default or design, is somewhat flawed.
In Alberta, clinics are not allowed to advertise their prices on their websites; to me in this day and age this makes no sense and from my perspective is not fair to clients. Sometimes, it is about the price tag and shopping should be an easy option.
Today, if you want the best rate for the procedure that your veterinarian recommended and you cannot afford his quote, you will have to call around. With over 92 clinics in Edmonton and area it could be a lot of calls. Each clinic sets their prices and you will find a wide range.
No matter which way you look at it, advertising forces businesses to be competitive with one another. It’s much easier for the guy down the street to charge twice as much as the clinic you’re currently sitting in, if neither of them is allowed to advertise their rates.
I understand that advertising the price for a dental surgery is probably far more complicated than advertising the sale for a television on Boxing Day, but surely to goodness, there could be some easier way. The advertising aspect is the smaller piece of the problem, however.
Many veterinarians claim that their fees are reflective of the high overhead costs of the clinics. I don’t disagree! That equipment is incredibly expensive! When you factor in maintenance and all the rest, not to mention the cost to lease or purchase retail space inside our fair city, I am sure that operating a veterinary hospital costs a pretty penny.
It just seems to me that those clinics would be far less expensive if each and every one didn’t have to have the full array of equipment at each of their locations. Every medi-centre in Edmonton doesn’t have its own x-ray machine, so why should every veterinary clinic? Would it not be less expensive if there were one or two specialized diagnostics centres that each clinic could refer to?
Why does each veterinary clinic have its own surgical suite? Is that the best use of resources? Wouldn’t it be possible for veterinarians to act as family doctors, referring their patients to specialists for surgery, much like in human medicine?
There are going to be those of you reading this that will point to some of the inefficiencies that exist in our human medical model as a potential downfall of this shift in thinking. And you may have a point. But with the increasing numbers of calls and emails coming in to our shelter each and every day, this issue is only going to grow. And if we keep doing the same things in the same ways, I really believe that pet ownership may simply not be affordable for everyone.
What makes it even sadder is that over 50% of the staff that work at the shelter would not be part of that elite group. People who work every day caring for homeless pets may not be able to afford even basic wellness for their own pets, something we counsel every adopter to be prepared for annually.
There are some limited options out there to decrease expenses. Recently CBC did a report, on medications being much cheaper from pharmacies and wholesalers. At least there is another option available for pets that are diagnosed with conditions requiring life-long medication, however, the down side of this is that the diagnosis itself may have cost that pet owner so much that the medication costs may be out of reach.
And veterinarians are (legitimately) concerned that those pet owners who seek the alternatives, such as purchasing and administering their own vaccines, may be doing their pets’ health a long-term disservice by potentially skipping out on important annual examinations.
And that concern is a very real one. From what we see at the shelter fewer and fewer pets are having this very basic health check. More people are purchasing the vaccinations on their own and giving them to their pet themselves, missing that very important annual check.
Perhaps though, if the cost of the basic examination were to be reduced, because the clinics’ overhead costs were reduced, more of these pet owners, who really do care about their pets’ health, would be inclined to make the annual wellness check a priority.
So, how does this affect the shelter, besides having to answer the increasing calls? Well, it has rippled to us in interesting ways. The pressure on our shelter and our surgeons seems to increase each day. We have adjusted to the needs and demands of admitting more animals in need of medical treatment beyond spay and neuter.
It used to be that the shelter’s clinic only booked spays or neuters; now it is a daily routine to perform several dentals and more complex surgeries such as orthopedics, amputations, wound repairs, eye enucleations, the list can go on and on…
In the last year we have had to ensure that many of our pets have a teeth cleaning and extractions before they are placed on the adoption floor. We cannot get them all but we can at the very least do the serious cases. A costly step for the shelter, not just financially, but also in terms of time; the additional procedures often slow an animal’s transitioning through to their new home.
However, if we don’t complete this on the serious cases, they stay waiting for their forever home for weeks as adopters are not prepared to take on these added costs.
Honestly, times have changed with pet ownership and, yes, people need to be totally informed and prepared to take on the annual costs. Some web sites are estimating that you should set aside at least $500-$1,000 a year for routine veterinary care, coupled with the other basics such as toys, food, training, boarding; a pet owner may be looking at $700-$3,000 a year. Hmm where does that put you?
With this estimate will pet ownership be limited? Or will more pets just not get the care they should have? Or will the shelter be forced to absorb ill animals requiring treatment, fix them and send them back out? I certainly hope that is not going to be the case. If fewer people have the experience of animals in their life, our world will be less compassionate and less caring and not to mention, be a far less healthy society. And I don’t think that’s what any of us want to see.