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Nonprofit veterinary clinics: When price trumps loyalty
Private-practice veterinarian learns-again-that price trumps loyalty.
Mr. Holmes loved the family dog, Roscoe. Roscoe had delighted his wife and family for 14 years. As the CEO of a local paper goods company, Mr. Holmes often came home after everyone was asleep-everyone except for Roscoe, who waited up and promptly jumped on his lap as he sat down to have a nightcap after a long day's work.
Photo source: Getty ImagesRoscoe was a privileged dog and enjoyed every minute of his family interaction. His veterinary needs were never neglected; his chew toy needs were always met; the family room couch was his. Roscoe eventually succumbed to the passage of time, and his death took its toll on the Holmes family. Nevertheless, it was time to take the plunge again two years later.
Mr. Holmes went to a Westie rescue and adopted not one but two Westies. The two pups, a 5-month-old brother and sister, were adorable. Their first visit to see Dr. Ames at the Ames Veterinary Hospital was exciting. The staff welcomed Mr. Holmes and the new pups with open arms. The healthy pups were started on appropriate puppy prophylactic protocols, and their spay and neuter appointments were scheduled for when they were 6 months old.
During their next visit, Mr. Holmes told Dr. Ames that the rescue had given him a certificate for the pups' spaying and neutering at the local low-cost spay and neuter clinic. The fee was about half of what Ames Veterinary Hospital had quoted him. Mr. Holmes went on to say that he realized the shelter staff didn't know his pups, but it was very hard to turn down such a deep discount.
Dr. Ames valued the Holmes family as clients and proceeded to share his reasons for this price variation. First, he said, his support of area shelters was unwavering. He donated his time and efforts whenever he was called upon. That said, he continued, the low-cost clinic was a tax-exempt facility and had charitable contribution status. Its original purpose was to control pet overpopulation via neutering for those pet owners who couldn't otherwise afford it.
In recent years, however, affluent pet owners had started using the low-cost clinic to save a buck, and many indigent owners now found it difficult to get an appointment. Dr. Ames went on to say that private veterinary clinics couldn't financially compete with a tax-free nonprofit facility.
Mr. Holmes listened carefully. He understood the professional and financial conflicts that Dr. Ames presented. Ultimately, Mr. Holmes decided that if licensed veterinarians worked at low-cost facilities they were qualified to do surgery on his dogs. He said that he would always bring the pups to Dr. Ames for their medical care, but the dramatic cost difference dictated that he use the animal shelter facility.
Dr. Ames understood but was disappointed. This wasn't the first time a client had opted to have a pet neutered at a low-cost facility instead of his clinic. He believed that he was being asked to compete financially with a nonprofit charitable organization, and that wasn't possible. Dr. Ames chalked up this growing trend to the changing face of 21st-century veterinary medicine. He would continue to offer high-quality, compassionate pet care and hope that his clientele valued his service. In effect, he was resigned to the inevitable.
Do you agree with Dr. Ames?
The tension between private veterinary practices and low-cost nonprofit facilities is nothing new to the profession. No longer can private clinicians expect spays and neuters to be staple services in their hospitals. In order for contemporary veterinarians to be successful, they must carve out a niche for their veterinary services. These unique offerings and qualities attract and retain a vibrant client base.
That said, it's also true that low-cost nonprofit clinics were originally conceived to assist financially challenged pet owners in providing responsible medical care for their animals. However, affluent owners (such as Mr. Holmes) have started using these services much more frequently. Consequently, many animals and owners who are truly in need face long waiting periods for sterilization procedures.
Here's my take: It's time that low-cost facilities scrutinized their clients' financial eligibility so that the disadvantaged can assist their pets in a timely way. It's also time that veterinarians stopped viewing nonprofit veterinary shelter facilities as a thorn in their sides and accepted them as allies in controlling pet overpopulation and assisting our many homeless pets.
Dr. Marc Rosenberg is director of the Voorhees Veterinary Center in Voorhees, N.J. The veterinary practices, doctors and employees described in “The Dilemma” are fictional.