Monday, February 17, 2014

The Ode of My Obligation

There are these unwritten rules that we live by, sort of a brethren code of ethics.

When I was at the Academy it was that we would never rat on our fellow classmates. Certainly  there were instances that this secret code was broken, and certainly there were many more times that it was upheld. Drawing this line was a personal choice that varied between the individual and the circumstance. For me when those sealed lips cost another person their physical or emotional well-being it was time to hold someone accountable and deal with the repercussions of my classmates. When you are a teenager the lines are blurry and the consequences hidden in waves of punishments that could ultimately cost you your own seat at the appointed table. As I have gotten older I have learned that the code of conduct I live by is mine alone and that the judgement of my peers is not what persuades me to continue to sail with the convoy.

The first decade of my professional life followed the same code. Ten years at sea with a crew of men and a very small handful of women and the secrets accumulate like notches in a belt of some sailor on leave in a port far from home.

I left that life to become a veterinarian. Seems so different from a life at sea..(save for the deeply rooted male dominated profession I stepped into,,,again), but now I stand about to break another code of silence. And I ask myself why?

What is my motivation?, what is to be gained?, and what is to be lost?

I am not bound to the previous thoughts, beliefs, and motives of my profession, nor to the forefathers who set the standard, forged the way, and expect their torch to be carried on. It is not a matter of disrespect, or defiance. It is a matter of personal ethics and principle.

My reasons, my motivation, and my obligation is to my patients. Not my profession.

I read an article in one of the veterinary trade publications about the shift and resistance "to admitting that the animal welfare movement has to be acknowledged." I find it laughable. That this profession touts and advocates the building, fostering, and utilization of a highly skilled subset of veterinarians, pet services, and board certified experts who perform incredible acts of medical miracles and are rewarded with salaries to reflect that. There are brave few of us who would not recommend the referral of a beloved patient to one of these specialists, knowing full well that our patient will receive care well into the thousands of dollars and well above their 'replacement value," because the client would be exceeding their pets replacement value. How many of us remind our clients that should their pets care prove to be inferior or faulty that they can only sue us for a fraction of the monetary value they have invested? I would guess none. We advocate a animal-human bond to leech thousands of dollars from our clients pockets and then hide behind an archaic principle negating what we all know to be real and true love that our clients have for their pets. Its hypocritical and ludicrous. My presumption is that it is not going to be tolerated for much longer. We, as a profession, are evolving, whether or not we chose to be. Our public/our clients/our customers, etc. will demand that we stand by our public persona of caring, advocating care, and then be held accountable when that shroud is lifted and our true colors of being a "consensual euthanasia on demand" yielding population.

We cannot have it both ways. They are mutually exclusive, and dare I say, detrimental to the course our profession is headed in.

I have decided to stand with my clients who see their pets as family members and assist them in providing great care for their pets and not protect the profession I adore with blind eyes, deaf ears, and a dumb tongue.

The advances in veterinary medicine over the last few decades is astounding. There isn't anything that we cannot do for our pets that you cannot provide to another human being. If you have the funds you can provide your cat with new organs, brain surgery, and prosthetic limbs. In fact, the laxity in our laws regulating pet care are so loose that you can regenerate tissue with stem cells, and perform the science fiction medicine that has brought movie stars to Congressional board hearings asking for relaxation/reversal of draconian rules that keeps the magic of medical promises locked firmly inside Pandora's box. If you want a clone of your cat there are firms that will provide it to you. (Think this is going to happen to you even if you are a billionaire when you die?)

So, we provide impossible to comprehend human medical options to our pets, still deem them property, and then frame the profession in a primitive chauvinistic governing body.

I received a call from one of my associates on Saturday. It was about lunchtime, so I knew that the clinic was winding down and preparing to close in about an hour. The newest of my associate vets was calling to ask my permission on a client paying us in two installments so that her cat could get its much needed emergency pyometra surgery.

I asked her if she "was going to do the surgery today?"

She replied that she had offered to refer her to the ER, but when she called the ER gave an estimate of $1800, which she couldn't afford. So she was offering to do the surgery now for her." The estimate at Jarrettsville Vet is about $700. This includes her examination, pre-op bloodwork, i.v. catheter, i.v. fluids, surgery, and post-op antibiotics and pain medications. Of course, like every estimate there are sometimes unforeseen changes to be made with the treatment plan, but after performing many of these myself I knew that this figure sounded about right.

An hour later the cat was on its way to the ER for post-operative monitoring with an overnight estimate of $200. Her departure bill with us was $686.25.

This leads me to talk about veterinary care and veterinary prices for anything you get at your vets office which has been a secret unspoken topic for generations.

Your veterinarian, or the company that they work for that owns that veterinary hospital, can charge you anything that they want to for anything you get from them. Any vaccine, any product, and any service. To add to this merciful state you as the customer are placed in, they are not held accountable should you complain to the State Medical Board, the Consumer Affairs office, Better Business Bureau, or any one else outside of civil litigation. In essence, you will have to spend a considerable amount of your own time and money to try to prove that the vet took advantage of you. How do we vets get around this? Well, you get an estimate, we have you sign it, and then you cannot say that you were not notified of the costs your pet would incur.

All of this has got me to thinking about how my profession is vastly different from many other highly competitive others.

Let's think about insurance. How many of us see endless commercials about "15 minutes saving us 15% or more?" Or go into our grocery store and see two full to the brim shopping carts with the exact same goods in them, one from the store you are standing in, and one from their competitor right down the street? Not surprisingly the shopping cart from your store was cheaper (see big circled in red "you saved $____" at bottom of receipt) when the competitions was more expensive. Most of us know that there are subtle differences in prices from one store to the next. And, that if you went down the block you wouldn't be surprised to see the same scenario in that store. Few of us pay attention to the discrepancies between carts when the difference is a few dollars. But how many of us would walk out the door and drive down the block to our competitor if the difference circled in red was $1114.75 ($1800 - $685.25)?

I am disappointed that such discrepancies exist, and that the public and most especially the pets suffer because of it. I think that many people elect to put their pet to sleep because they cannot afford to do anything else.

Why don't any veterinarians publish our prices? Well, I haven't because I am not trying to start a price war with my neighboring vet practices, and because the cheapest option is not necessarily the best option. But, I am considering it.

Realistically, I cannot keep my clinic open 24/7 to serve my clients, and none of us want to go back t the days  of being on call for our emergencies (think 2 am, no sleep, exhaustion, and inability to perform our normal daily duties the subsequent day). So,

What is the answer? 

Maybe it's time for someone to be brave, open their mouth, and start serving our clients like our family who loves their pets as their own family?

Maybe it's time for someone to offer veterinary services like Progressive offers insurance? We give you our price and the price of 5 others and you pick?

Maybe will open this can of worms and save more pets? That's why we created it.

If you have a pet question you can find me there,, or on Twitter @FreePetAdvice, or at my clinic Jarrettsville Vet.

Related posts;

Libby, A Lesson In Why We Spay Cats.

Cait's Story. Pyometra Surgery.

Homecoming USMMA.

Delaware Dogs and Hazardous Skylarking, KP mini reunion 2013

Me and my work buddy, Magpie.

The puppies, always together.
 I met this group of rescue puppies and their mom yesterday. Rescued from Kentucky, there are 5 puppies who are 4-5 weeks old. They are a small mixed breed. Mom is about 25 pounds, they are absolutely adorable, and up for adoption through Black Dogs & Company Rescue.

Buttercup, their mom. 2-3 years old, and sweeter than you can imagine.

Rescued with them is the Black Lab mix puppy, about 3 months old.


  1. This is a "well refreshing" post. Kudos to you and that is why you are so special. Sometimes I have thought of some Vets as being like Banks, "Give us your money, were else are you going to find a better Bank?"

    1. Thank you for reading..It isn't my intention to belittle or criticize the emergency facilities. They are a vital piece to being able to provide care to our pets. They have excellent, knowledgeable staff, and facilities. I also understand that their overhead is significant and the costs for care reflect all of this...BUT, I also understand that very few people can afford their services..These pets suffer because of this, (although I am sure some would say the same for my facility)...My hope is to be able to find some way to provide more care to more pets, regardless of financial ability, location, and even available facilities..

      I continue in my search, and hope that Pawbly will help bridge the gap between need and available care.


  2. I have been taking my pets to Jarrettsville Vet for over 20 years and I have never doubted the level of care I've received or questioned a bill because I believe you treat your clients as you would treat a personal friend. So thank you for that. I've also had to utilize an ER vet where I was required to give them a $400 deposit before they would even look at my pet. I am someone who would spend my last penny to care for my animals and gladly handed over my credit card so they would help her but I really don't understand this way of thinking and it's a shame that in an Emergency this is typically our only option. I don't know if this would work, but have you ever considered an "on-call" service? Similar to that of your doctor when the office is closed, usually you have the option of reaching a doctor on call if it's urgent but you aren't sure if you should head to the ER or not. I would gladly pay a fee for this service and I'm sure many other people would as well. I would much rather call someone from your clinic and get honest advice over the phone before going to an ER vet. Animal Poison Control has a similar program where they bill your credit card for their consultations.

  3. Hello Amanda,

    I have for years toyed with the idea of how I can provide better 24/7 care/availability to our is an interesting idea that you pose..I will talk to the other vets about it..

    Thanks for reading, and for being such a loyal client..I have to say that I love being at JVC because we have such great people and patients..I would move mountains for you all.