Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A Guilty Conscious And A Feral Cat?

Sometimes I want to scream!

For whatever reason we at the clinic have been inundated with people complaining and expecting that we are in veterinary medicine because it is our civic duty to provide free services.

The assumption that we are independently wealthy, and morally obligated to take care of pets because we are compassionate and dedicated members of our community is presumptuous and manipulative.

I have great faith in my fellow pet caring neighbors. My husband would tell me that that is my first mistake. But still I remain stubbornly devoted to helping them take care of their pets.

Yet everyday there is another person who walks in our doors EXPECTING that if they yell loud enough, stomp their feet hard enough, and worse yet, guilt us relentlessly, that they will get THEIR pet cared for for free.

To add insult to injury many of these people drive new cars, have kids in private school, and know that I care about their pet.

I either get thicker skin, a sharper nastier and quicker venous tongue, or I let the guilt burn me out.

It is not a new dilemma for a veterinarian. It is just my dilemma du jour.

Here is the first example that has my knickers in a knot.

A client called the clinic requesting an appointment because her 'feral' cat had a wound that had not resolved over the last two months. She further told the front desk that she had "financial restraints and was requesting help in caring for him." She was put on the appointment docket with me for that evening.

Now, to be fair, our vet clinic tries very hard to not deny care to any pet in need. There is also an enormous number of feral cats in our rural Maryland County. So there is truly a need for assistance in many cases.

When I walked into the appointment for this cat I was greeted by a woman and her two children. Now I understand that assumptions can be incorrect, but this was not a family in need of financial assistance. New iphones, new car, private school kid attire, new gym outfit. I am not going way out on a limb here. The problem? Well, it appears that the husband doesn't feel that an 'outside cat' is worthy of care from the family budget. The wife repeatedly told me that her husband was already angry that she was here with him.

But I am getting ahead of myself. This cat was named, housed, fed, loved, and cared for by this family. He was purring and weaving through the kids legs seeking and getting attention from all. So why would this client call this cat 'feral'? It was obvious to me that I wasn't looking at a feral cat.

She believed he was considered 'feral' because he had an ear tip, he was not purchased by her, and he lived outside.

After an examination, an injectable antibiotic, and a rabies shot she and her cat were sent to the front desk to check out. When she received her bill the angry scene erupted. She was upset that she had been given a bill. Now to be fair I am still not sure if she expected a partial bill or no bill, but she didn't expect a full bill. She publicly voiced her discontent because she had been led to believe that her 'feral' cat would be given pro bono services. I apologized that she had been mis-informed and tried once again to remind her that this was her cat, and he was not feral. No luck.

In typical veterinary fashion I cowered, refunded her appointment fee, and secretly burnt another piece of my soul. I understand why it is impossible to try to help. People expect you to care, expect you to help, and then persecute you when you try to pull back because it is impossible to sustain.

Here is the email I received days later. (It took my three days to not write the letter I wanted to write).

Hello Dr. Magnifico,

I just wanted to thank you again for your help today with our "feral" cat.... I don't want there to be
bad feelings between us as we have 2 other cats that we bring in regularly...and another that is being transferred from
the XXXX in the near future. I have always been happy and impressed with the care my pets receive at your practice.
Thanks for taking the time to come out and talk after I left. I usually am not one to gripe over bills. The ONLY reason
I reacted the way I did is because our appointment was switched specifically because I was told that "She will work with you financially." I was taken back because I was told one thing and another happened. I was caught off guard. I understand that you are running a business and if I
was told that no "pro bono" would happen then I wouldn't have been shocked. Again, I hope there are no bad feelings. It looks as if it was a case of broken down communication as you knew nothing of the situation when we arrived.
Have a great day,

My reply:


Thank You for taking the time to write.

I do agree that there was a break down in communication.

We, at JVC,  try very hard to help every pet in need and every person who asks for assistance. Unfortunately, this is a more than daily occurrence which places a significant and severe strain on our ability to maintain a functional business where employees are given reasonable wages and we have adequate equipment and a facility to meet all of them demands of a hospital. 

We have to be very careful who and how often we provide pro bono services. Compounding the endless requests for free services, goods, and care, is the frustration of having people be angry when they expect this.

It is a no win. I am unable to provide all that I wish I could. 

For us, at JVC, the definition of 'feral' is un-owned and un-handlable cat. I will make this clear to my staff in the future. I will also clarify that a feral cat will only be given pro bono goods, care, and services if it comes through a rescue organization. I hope that this avoids any future mis-communication.

What was particularly upsetting to me was that it appeared that you are caring for this cat as if he was yours. A cat that is named, tame, looked after, housed, and treated as if he is yours, is in my opinion, yours. There were also multiple statements about your husband being upset that you wanted to get care for him. It made me feel like this was somehow my fault? Many of our clients have cats that stay outside. An outside cat is not synonymous with 'feral'. 

It also did not seem to be a fair nor accurate statement that "you could not afford to care for him."

On a personal note I would add that I feel almost completely emotionally burnt out to be asked and expected to take care of every cat in what feels like everyone's back yard in the entire county of Harford. I have 12 years of college to try to serve my community by doing what gives me a sense of purpose: to help pets, and I am becoming a sounding board who feels an overwhelming sense of guilt because I am not able to take care of other peoples responsibility. It is a daily guilt ridden soul stealing occurrence. My husband has to witness me not bring home a salary reflective of my education, hours of work, and deal with my emotional burn out. It isn't fair any way you look at it.

I hope that you can understand my dilemma.

I sincerely appreciate that you are caring for Buggy. Clearly, he was not a product of your irresponsible pet ownership, but unfortunately there are literally thousands of cats just like him. 

I wish you and your family the best.


Where is the key sticking point on this? "I hope there are no bad feelings". Yeah, I have them. And yeah, I haven't figured out how to resolve them.

Note to the staff at JVC: Please don't sign me up for something without talking to me first. We all end up bitter. 

Ok, head up, press on, and sorry if I vent to much.. I seriously try not too..

Well, after a bit of hesitation about sending my reply, I did. I decided to be honest and upfront..and I got the same in return.

Hello Again,
Thanks also for your response. I imagine it is super frustrating dealing with everyone's issues as you are trying to run a business. And, I apologize for putting any guilt on you. I certainly didn't mean for you to feel that my husband's issues were your fault. He always thinks I spend too much on my various animals. LOL We are new to the area and new to "feral" cats. I guess he is ours if we go with your definition. I was simply trying to make this little guys life easier as he wandered into our yard in the dead of winter.  I have never before taken in a stray. I never really liked the idea of an outdoor cat. Again...breakdown in communication...as to what a feral is and that JVC was going to do something for him.  I thought, through reading about ferals, that vets sometimes do pro bono stuff for them. Like I said before, I wouldn't have reacted in such a way if I knew from the start that JVC doesn't do that. I'll take it as a learning experience. It's quite sad that you feel so emotionally burnt. I used to be a classroom teacher and know what burn-out feels like. It sucks! Please know that most everyone who speaks of JVC does so with positivity. I wish I could do something to help...???

A little better, but still sort of missing the point..

so I say again, 

Chin UP! Press ON!


  1. Thank you for this post!! Yes yes and yes!! FYI I have a blog too - called PurrViews at purrduedvm.blogspot.com
    Found you via your post on compassion fatigue - also excellent! I shared that one on my FB page.

    1. Hello,

      I checked out your blog. Its AWESOME!! I think that your articles on vaccines, and advice about being a vet are all spot on!

      Keep Posting! I'm reading!

      Take care,

  2. The "dilemma du jour". That's probably the most accurate thing I've ever read about how veterinary medicine rolls.

    1. Hello Regina,

      Its the truth isn't it? The days of the calender roll past and they are marked by the little conquests, the lives saved, and yes, of course, those daily dilemmas.



  3. If she really wanted there to be no hard feelings, she would come back and pay the rest of her bill and maybe bringing a gift for the front-desk staff who had to endure her ranting.

    1. Can I give you a "high five" for that one?


      Thanks for reading!