The hardest part of this job is feeling like you are responsible for every pet that needs help.
Saying "No," is a very hard, and very uncomfortable thing to do when someone asks you for help because they love and care about their pet but cannot afford to provide for them.
I have been helping a thirty-somethingish man who is obviously having some internal struggles with his 12 year old unspayed sweet German Shepherd for about 6 months.
He calls me about every 60 days to tell me that he is concerned about the mass that is growing more and more pendulous on the caudal aspect of her ventrum. It is most likely a mammary tumor and it is most likely a bad one.
Every time he calls he tells me that he loves his girl, and that he knows it needs to be surgically removed and he wants to know "how much that is going to cost?"
Everytime I speak to him my answer is always the same, "Well, I can't give an estimate over the phone without seeing her first, and even then it is sometimes hard to pin it right on the dollar."
"Well, I can't afford to do both the exam and the surgery, and I don't know how much surgery is going to cost?"
So every time I offer him a free exam.
He brings her in each time with a larger and larger mass and a more disparaging grimmace on his face. Every exam the estimate gets larger, and every exam her prognosis worsens. And every time he leaves feeling more determined to find the resources to fix his dog.
Last night I got another call.
"Doc, the tumor is about twice the size of the softball it was last time. How much is it gonna cost me to take it off her?"
"Well, its very hard to give an estimate. Surgery cost is dependent on time and I don't..."
"DOC! You saw it last time! You don't need to see her! It's bigger! She needs it removed!" He was upset, he was sounding desperate, and he was beginning to get belligerent.
And so began yet another conversation with yet another client who is peachy-keen-sweet-as-pie to you when they want and think they are going to get something from you, until you try to stand your ground, and then the beast gets unleashed and they become a raging, cursing, guilt placing menace.
I loathe the parts of my day where I find myself blitheringly spouting off excuses about "why I can't give payment plans," and "that I am not a financial instituition," as I am assaulted with guilt ridden pleadings about why I should be doing/providing/caring for...blah..blah..blah..
Oh god its awful. Nothing in the world sucks more than someone making you feel guilty.
He repeatedly reminded me that he had no credit, couldnt get credit, and had no one to help him.
He repeatedly told me that "If you can't help then I have to put her down. Is that what you want me to do? Put her down!"
Theres no recovery from these remarks. There is nowhere to go. There is nothing that you can say to turn an angry desperate person who loves their pet into an understanding accepting person.
He hung up on me as I tried to offer some rescue organizations names that I knew would likely not call him back,and likely not be able to help sufficiently if they did.
Phone clicks, I say "hello?, hello?" knowing full well that I have been hung up on.
OK, fork in the road. What do you do next?
I take a deep breathe, I get angry, I feel awful, I let the wave of guilt crash upon me, and I pick the phone back up.
And I call his mother.
And I explain the whole thing to her. This is a small town, and I have a memory like an elephant. I know who is related to whom, and that there is more than one way to skin...(ugh! terrible saying).. a potato?.
And she apologizes. Which I am grateful for, and feel even more guilty about.
She asks me if I can give him a payment plan?
I reply, "Well, we don't offer payment plans (because they NEVER! EVER! work!), I'm sorry."
Can every vet offer a payment plan? Well, yes, of course. But you do not get paid back. Expect it, and if you are silly enough to offer it, expect to write those accounts off, and then be inundated by people asking for more "free" services. That's what you will get.
His mom pushes on, "But you could give one, couldn't you?"
I reply, "If I did could he pay me back?"
"No," she replies without a hesitation.
The conversation ends with her telling me that her son loves his dog, and that he has "some troubles" and that she will talk to him. She will call back and she will help him find the answers to his dear dogs issues.
The chain of guilt is one link lighter.
And tomorrow is another day.
If you have any pet related questions you can find me @FreePetAdvice, and Pawbly.com. I am happy to help, no guilt, PLEASE!!