Monday, November 17, 2014

There Has To Be Mercy Before Money. Why are we failing our clients at the expense of our patients?

Loon, our resident house cat mans the front desk.
I have become almost completely obsessed with the idea of creating a place that both helps and changes the world. I suppose it is a lack of disorder in the few quiet times of my day. I watch my sister go from the chaos of work (much of which I have dumped on her) to her home of 2 kids, three dogs and two cats (one being 90% feral) and I realize that she only has time to sleep when her batteries flag red, flicker and cut power to the rest of her body. There is nothing outside of her immediate sphere of responsibility that she has much time to chew, ruminate, and ponder. Secretly, I think her empire will likely long out live mine. But, yet, I ponder can I create a place of meaning, a work of compassion, and change the way we care for our pets?? Not only am I trying to build this on a community scale with my practice, I am trying to build it on a global scale with Pawbly.

Dr. Morgan works her magic.
I suppose I have earned my self appointed entrepreneur title. I see a problem and I immediately pick apart the opportunities to improve upon, or, resolve it. I actually don't look for how things are working well or efficiently anymore, I look for the hitches in the machine.

I am completely determined to disrupt (also obsessed with that word) the current flawed system that discourages people from seeking, diagnosing, and treating their pets. I would normally place a current stat about what percentage of pet people I am referring to, but (small thanks from my soul) no one keeps track of that*. From my own clinic I would guess that 80% of my clients are reluctant to seek after hours emergency care, 50% refuse to ever go,  (many based on previous experiences), 60% cannot afford specialty clinics, and when I speak about the entire pet population in my community I would estimate that 30% of the pets don't get any care outside of food and shelter and a rabies vaccine, and 20% aren't even considered a pet (feral cats).

That's a lot of pets falling through the cracks and in need of additional help.

Coot, (Loons brother), strikes a pose.
Where are the cracks? Well, they exist in every community, every facility, and every pet centered business. We have become a nation of haves and have-nots, and the gap grows larger with time. As my practice grows and persists I am reminded daily that for every pet I see I know there are at least 2 who need care but will not get it. It is my veterinary practices goal and motto to not turn away a pet in need. Sometimes that service is in the form of a free euthanasia to relieve suffering, a payment plan, a donation from our generous donors, or a free moment of my expertise. There has to be mercy before money.
For my clients I have an ear, a hand, and options. It is very important to have a relationship with your veterinarian so your pet has an advocate in their corner. I now am seeking to extend this relationship to the other care facilities that we refer to. This referral network goes up the financial spectrum, for instance, specialty facilities like surgeons, cardiologists, dermatologists, and down the financial cost lifeline, like, rescues, shelters, fosters, etc. Between all of these there needs to be an open communication network AND a safety net.

Of course it's time for a disclaimer. I have many clients who are very happy with the care they receive elsewhere in the wee hours of the night when my clinic is closed, dark and quiet, or those who are seeking a specialist to guide their pets care. In fact, while preparing for this blog I asked my clients what their experiences were. I received many emails from clients who had excellent experiences at all of the facilities we refer to. Many felt that the emergency and referral clinics were compassionate, flexible, and provided outstanding life saving care.

Unfortunately, I also have a few clients who live pay check to paycheck. For those with disposable income there are more options and more favorable outcomes. Everyone might think that I am crazy to care, or chase the smaller spare change when there are enough big spenders out there.. But I see too many pets with neglectful parents who are stuck between being able to and wanting to and I refuse to believe that there isn't a way to make a difference in the life and health of every single companion animal.

Finishing up a cruciate repair with a our amazing staff.
I believe that much of the root of the problem lies in differences in our perspectives. I own a small rural practice that has been in existence for 80 years. I am a part of a legacy that I intend on passing on to another person in a few decades. I know that my clinic serves families who came here with their grandparents pets. I hope to see the same children with their grandchildren. I have to build strong relationships based on trust. I live and I die by it. I am not a one time stop for a once in a lifetime tragedy, and I am invested in the care of my clients and patients. This concept of trust and building long term relationships is becoming more and more foreign and will cost more and more veterinary facilities. It is not the low cost vaccine clinics, spay/neuter clinics or online pharmacies that will be  the undoing of you, it the your inability to be a part of your clients family.

I believe that all of us who love pets as family members need more options. I also believe that veterinarians are generous, compassionate, and genuine.

Here is the key; Figure out a way to disrupt the current system to provide better oversight and assistance for  the people and pets that my clinic serves AND use that system to build global assistance. You see, I might truly be crazy, but I still care even after I turn on the closed sign. And, I care even if you live a continent away and think no one else does.

Stay tuned.. I have a plan....

So, I want to hear about your experiences. Your concerns, and where you think we need to be paying more attention so that we can help you take better care of your pet 24/7/365.

* There have been some studies done, most notably by Bayer, focused primarily on cats, but, I believe a HUGE portion of the cat population remains unclaimed, unseen, and certainly uncared for. Homed cats and dogs are not the only small animal companions that matter or deserve care.

I can be reached here, at the clinic, Jarrettsville Vet, on Twitter @FreePetAdvice, and anytime for any pet question, or pet health care epiphany at

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