Letters to the Editor

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Readers voice opinions on topics from nonprofit spay-neuter clinics to introverted veterinarians.

I can understand the need for some individuals to seek out low-cost spay and neuter operations, but Alabama HB 156 is not a bill about low-cost spay and neuter services and blocking the public's access to those services. Alabama HB 156 is about a group of wealthy individuals who are trying to change the ownership legislation portions of the Alabama Veterinary Practice Act.

The Alabama practice act was put in place to protect the consumer from less-than-adequate care based on price. I know doctors who have personally experienced distressed owners whose newly aquired pets were spayed or neutered at an unnamed local low-cost facility in our market. These patients suffered postsurgical complications, and instead of assisting with these complications, the facility told the pet owners they would need to go find a veterinarian to assist them.

So did the consumer benefit from the low-cost surgery? Why did the facility not take care of these pet owners when surgical complications occured? How much more did the owner have to spend in order to correct the postsurgical complications caused by the low-cost operation?

Plus, how many of these surgeries are truly low-cost? I have in my possession an invoice in which the low-cost spay-neuter facility charged the client $220. Was this low-cost? How about the reloacation of these animals in moving vans that appear to be unairconditioned or heated? Some animals are transferred as far as 60 to 120 miles round-trip after having had major abominal surgery. Where is the standard of care?

Also, does the public know that these nonprofits "pad" their surgery fees with grants to their operations to cover many of their expenses? The surgery's true costs are hidden from the public, and the facility retains the benefits of a nonprofit tax status. Then these facilities engage in campaigns against local vets "who charge too much and are greedy," using the state legislature to do so.

I realize that if your publication revealed how much revenue some of the managers, owners, directors and veterinary professionals are pulling out of these "low-cost" facilities in payroll and incomes, it could be an embarrasment to the facilities and make our professional community of veterinarians look like uncaring, greedy ogres for exposing the truth. In reality we are not that at all. I know many collegues who perform low-cost surgery for spay and neuter patients. The hours they have given away would add up to the GDP of some smaller countries.

How about taking a look at what these operations do to surrounding practice owners who have school loans in excess of $100,000, facility costs of $300,000 to $500,000 and neither the time nor desire to sit and write for grant money so they can support operational expenses. But I know many of their spay and neuter prices are the same as low-cost facilities in the area. These veterinary professionals will take responsibility for the patient's care after the surgery at no cost whereas the local facility will not, according to the experience of many local veterinary hospitals.

I've got a great story for you: It's about a young woman and mother of three who had a dream to open her own facility after 10 years of practice and has worked for two years without a paycheck in order to meet the financial needs of her patients' owners and staff in her two-year-old practice. How about telling some of those stories?

—STEVEN TANNER

MANAGING DIRECTOR, KST VETERINARY SERVICES LEEDS, ALA.

Debt can be a good thing

Recently I read about a veterinarian with a lot of student debt whose entire goal is to pay off his debt as quickly as possible at the expense of everything else ("David vs. Goliath: One veterinarian's epic battle against student debt," May 2012). I read a letter to the editor in the same issue saying that veterinarians and practices should work as hard as possible to pay off all short-term debt. Hmm.

Many veterinarians think debt is bad. And all things being equal, you don't want it. Yet almost every American company and household has made use of debt. And mostly this leaves them better off. The terms of the loan are what makes the difference. Eighteen percent? Um, no thanks. A one-percent mortgage like billionaire Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's? Sign me up.

When it comes to student debt, loans can often be consolidated and rates can be dropped. Even earlier than that, you can plan. My wife and I relocated to the state of her veterinary school before we applied. Our in-state tuition net savings was $85,000. That's real money.

I admit that credit card debt at 29 percent is horrid. Pay it off, take out a loan, transfer it to another card at a better rate. Apply for another card if you have to. Ultimately every point you can lower your rate is better.

But overall, I've come to view loans as great things. Without them my wife and I wouldn't have a practice, home or boat. Without debt I would still be renting, yet my house has substantial equity and the total net cost to me is the same when we factor in heating costs, mortgage tax deduction and actual cost.

I view interest like this: If I can get rates under 5 percent, that's fantastic. Five to 10 percent is not bad, but it bears thinking about. Above 10 percent I try to avoid, but at times I have had to make use of higher rates still. The fees matter too. Zero percent for 18 months with a 10 percent transfer fee isn't zero percent by a long shot.

We try to keep enough in our business checking account to cover the next 10 days of bills. The rest comes out as profit or goes back into the business when we hire more staff, becoming more efficient and more profitable, or buy crucial equipment. We wait 25 days of the 30-day period to pay our bills. Why? Because cash flow is the single most crucial element of running a small business. If it's in our bank it's available to us. If they have it, we don't. There is no penalty, no interest and no fee. We use it!

The article suggested keeping a month's worth of gross expenses in a savings account for your business. In even a small clinic that's $50,000—in a bigger one it quickly runs to six figures. That money sits in a savings account earning a fraction of a percent and not helping at all. This is great but it's a huge luxury. Take that $50,000 or $100,000 and do something with it. Improve your business profitability, or take it as a profit as you're supposed to in a professional corporation. If your business hits a slump you can loan it the money.

In the real world concepts are never black and white; they're shades of grey. Loans at reasonable rates with fair terms make your life better. You are probably not making a sound financial decision if you want to pay off a student loan with a rate of 3.5 percent early if you can invest in an index fund and make a historical 10.7 percent. Pay it off for emotional reasons if you must, but don't kid yourself that loans are bad.

Don't believe just me! You spent eight years of your life learning to be a veterinarian. Read a couple of books by people like the Motley Fool and Benjamin Graham to learn about the market. Read a book like the Small Business Survival Guide. I read these books and more besides and figure over my life they will make me more than a million dollars wealthier. That's a good return.

—JOHN JUDGE

PRACTICE MANAGER, EAGLE'S NEST ANIMAL HOSPITAL KING GEORGE, VA.

Why publish hate?

I enjoy reading DVM Newsmagazine and respect this publication for its ability to spark discussion concerning a variety of relative issues within our profession. However, I was sadly disappointed to see the magazine print a letter from Dr. Larry Fisher in the June 2012 Opinion section concerning issues existing for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students from the dvm360.com article "Minority students report strong support from veterinary schools, but racism and sexism remain, study says."

Within his letter, Dr. Fisher lumps all LGBT people into one group, blaming them collectively as the cause for the decline of societies throughout history and currently "why we are declining as a culture." I feel that the editorial staff of DVM Newsmagazine should distinguish between well-thought-out mature differing opinions concerning controversial subjects and one person trying to promote his personal agenda. Although Dr. Fisher's statements are technically protected by the First Amendment, the editorial page of a professional magazine should not be the appropriate vehicle for distributing ideas that could be deemed to promote hatred of a select group of people, especially members of a minority.

Since we are discussing personal agendas, I will provide my own personal experience to the discussion. I am a Christian, married, heterosexual relief veterinarian working in various clinics throughout South Carolina. I have worked in several clinics that have hired LGBT staff. I have found most of them to be professional, kind to the animals, dedicated to their technical duties and fantastic with the clients. I would expect no less from any qualified veterinary staff member, regardless of whether or not they would classify themselves as LGBT. I would hardly label these hard workers as causing the "declining of our culture" and the destruction of a "stable society." Instead of worrying about labels, I prefer to concentrate my daily energy on keeping pets healthy, satisfying clients and providing an enjoyable and fun working environment for the staff involved.

—JANETTE BLACKWOOD, DVM

LOWCOUNTRY VETERINARY RELIEF SERVICES GOOSE CREEK, S.C.

The power of introverted veterinarians

In reference to Dr. Gerald Snyder's July 2012 article in DVM Newsmagazine, "3 Ways Veterinarians Are Their Own Worst Enemies, " where do I even start? I take offense to the idea that to be introverted is to not have well-developed people skills or, as the beginning of the article states more bluntly, "No people skills." I suggest Dr. Snyder read Susan Cain's book Quiet: The Power of Introverts In A World That Can't Stop Talking. At a minimum it might help him understand how introverted veterinarians function and therefore help him give better advice than what is seen in this article. His advice goes on for veterinarians to take a sincere interest in people, as if to hook up the idea that introverts don't do this. What? You think introverts aren't asking "meaningful questions with a sincere interest in the answers?" And taking his initial premise about introverts, only a couple of paragraphs later we're told to be "caring souls." I find it difficult to believe that after consulting with thousands of veterinarians this generic pabulum is the best advice that can be given. By the way, using the Doc Smith analogy of getting people to do things they don't need to and saying he has excellent people skills is missing the point that he not only has lousy people skills, but also is a practiced liar. Not a good comparison/contrast with the point that's trying to be made.

As to a distaste for selling, yes, true. That's because we don't sell and Dr. Snyder seems to state that. However, taking known card-carrying extrovert Tony Robbins' words to basically rephrase the word selling doesn't fool anyone. Dr. Snyder seems to want it both ways because he states that selling involves manipulation, which is bad, yet Tony Robbins' rephrasing of the word selling certainly smacks of manipulation. It's a consultant terminology shell-game. We are doctors first and foremost and, like our human physician counterparts, we advise, educate, and offer diagnostic and treatment options. It is up to the client to decide what they want to do or can do and we need to acknowledge that we have only so much input into that decision making process. You can be as sincere and honest and caring as you want and sometimes the clients just aren't going to take care of their animals. It is not a fault of your abilities. I get tired of the push to lay the responsibility of everything at the feet of veterinarians and, in this case, the fact of being an introvert being considered a negative connotation. As if to say if introverts would just stop being that way more of your clients would what they need to do. Please.

—DEAN W. SCOTT, DVM

ANIMAL CLINIC OF BRANDON BRANDON, FLA.

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