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Friday, December 10, 2010

Finding help when you need it

Chance,After Cruciate Ligament surgery
Before I begin, for those of you that get my blog via a direct needle into your email vein, the previous post you received on low cost spay and neutering will now make more sense to you!

I used to have money set aside just for my dog’s veterinary care, but cuts in salary, health issues with both dogs and humans alike have wiped out what was once a lucrative pet fund. Trying to get it started again at times seems doable and at other times seems near impossible. Hopefully the economy will soon pick up or some medical scientist in the world will develop a miracle ‘stay healthy pill’ for both pets and their human companions!

This dilemma gave me pause for thought and sent me to a vet forum to ask how patrons and vets can come together and find a solution so that the animals weren’t the ones to suffer and so that the vets could still be compensated reasonably, in a reasonable amount of time. I mentioned the possibility of an old fashioned bartering system between patient and vet. After all, back in the day, bartering was done when times got tough. I realize I am dating myself because I do remember the oil man filling our tank and my dad, being a butcher, giving him some meat to hold us over until payments could be made.

While only a few Vets responded to the question, it was not as encouraging as I was hoping it would be, nor was I ready for the small spark that could ignite a stick of dynamite and put so many on the defensive. A spark that I did not mean to set off and I think it was destructive for these reasons. First because I had asked the question in the wrong way by using a poor example of what I was trying to find out, and second, many Vets are burned out with ‘compassion fatigue’ hearing one excuse after another as to why a patient can’t make a payment. So, before this stick of dynamite was able to totally explode and burn down a town, I rephrased the question, which made more sense and some were able to put together helpful insights for pet owners.

This rephrasing of the question however did not put out the spark completely and I am realizing how very annoyed and bitter some vets are feeling because the public perception is that Vets should want to treat our sick animals just because they’ve chosen a compassionate field of work. A question I often hear from John Q Public is, “Why did they get into this business in the first place if not to help sick or injured animals?”

The key phrase is right in front of your face, “This business!” Would you expect any other business to service you if you stated that you couldn’t pay the whole amount due at the time? One could argue that a human physician might, at times, forgo full payment at the time of the visit, but on the other hand, either health insurance or government subsidies could cover a big chunk of that payment. As well it is a law that they cannot turn anyone away from an emergency room.

Our pets are seen as property by the law and sadly are not any more special than the vehicles that sit in our driveway. We may treat them like they are family members yet when it comes to vet care we sometimes skimp and often put off bringing our pet in for care because of the anticipated cost. I have to admit, I too am guilty of this. I may let a medication slide because I don’t have the extra money that month, I may seek cheaper alternatives to buy medications elsewhere which in some cases is not a good thing to do. Medications such as heartworm pills can be purchased cheaper from other countries but as recent as this year we have seen such medications either be deemed as counterfeit, or they are not regulated leaving you paying for expired meds, improper doses, or improper medication entirely. When you buy these meds (heartworm or worming pills) from your vet if something is wrong with them and they do not do the job intended, most vets will treat the pet at no cost to you.

As stated above, my goal when I posed the question was to find a common ground that we as humans in general could pull together to benefit not only our pets, but at the same time find a way to reasonably compensate our veterinarians.

There is a popular website called “speaking for spot” which has a listing of places that will help you if you can’t pay your vet bill. It became a very popular site when the economy started to fall. So, I called a few of the charities on this list, which basically just gave me a higher phone bill. Within the first five charities I called, only one charity answered. The first charity I called had a disconnected number, the second never answered, the third, had a voicemail that stated only a licensed Vet could make the request for funds (I’m sure that’s added time to a vet’s day that they really want!), the fourth just rang for what seemed like ages before I hung up, and the fifth one picked up! This particular charity called “God's Creatures” is based in New Jersey making me think twice about those Jerseyites!

When I asked the person from “God’s Creatures” if this was the group that helped people with vet payment, the woman hesitantly said, “Yeah.” And it was not in an optimistic tone. I told her of my intent regarding this article and that I did not wish to seek any donation for myself. Then her tone picked up a bit. My next question was, “Are you finding it harder to help people who need assistance for their pet?" Her answer was, “Definitely.” She stated that the most they might be able to do is offset a payment by sending a $50.00check to a vet, but at times they were getting stonewalled by vets who wanted the money in their hands at the time of service. Needless to say that this woman seemed as put off by the same Veterinarian attitudes as I had been when I first posted my question in the Vet forum. However, once I started to explain to the women the Vet’s side of the situation she became a little more understanding just as I had become, but again she brought it back to that general perception of “why did they get in that profession if they aren’t going to help?”

This does seem to be the general consensus across the board. But it’s like asking me to babysit your child for free just because I like my job working with young children! I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t do that. Well okay, I might once or twice if you were really desperate!

The lady from God's Creatures did suggest that anyone can raise funds through a walk- a- thon, or maybe ask their church or school to do a fundraiser, but I don’t think starting a fund is the problem. The problem lies in keeping up with it. People are working two and three jobs just to keep their homes! Where are they ever going to find time to raise funds for pets and keep the fundraising going? That is the big question!

If you wish check out the “speaking for spot” website you can find it here. Sadly, I hold out little hope that there are still funds available.

One suggestion proposed by a vet in the forum was to apply for ‘Care Credit’ which can be done right in the vet’s office. But this is a credit card which not everyone is approved for. The interest rate is 26.99 percent and there is a $29.99 late charge. Your best bet is to use a lower interest rate credit card and if you feel at this point in your life that your credit rating is in good standing, get that card now and lock it in a safe until you really need it!

My friend and fellow dog trainer Jane, whose daughter works at a vet office, told me of how the employees in that office put a dollar or two of their paycheck into a pot to help offset the cost of someone who really needs the help. This was a joy for my ears to delight in and made me have faith once again in humanity! As a patron, I too would give to such a fund in my Vet’s office if I had a little extra.

Dr. Fiona, my much grounded voice of reason from Canada who always takes the time to give me a quote or some guidance told me of the Farley Foundation which was set up by the Ontario Veterinary Medical Association. You Canadians can find that here.

I was also able to find this site for the UK here

My friend Candy, a Vet Tech who worked on the business side of a vet office as well as the care side, was able to bring reasoning to both sides of the dilemma , point them out accordingly, and offer up suggestions as well as provided sites with low cost spay and neuter across the US. However her list was too long for me to post with this article so you can find it on the previous blog article or by typing in low cost spay neuter by state in the search box at the top of this page. Thank you Candy for doing so much work!

I was also able to find a site called United Animal Nations which covers the needs state by state. Some of the information provided is for food banks, large animal and small animal care, as well as vet care, and spay/ neuter. You can also donate to this site if you want to.

I also like the fact that they have a Face book page which is kept updated.  All who know me know I am a HUGE FB fan! This just may be worth checking out for the rest of you.

Two days in a row this week I had the pleasure of brining my dogs into the vet to update shots so they can maintain their therapy dog status. Taking off on Jane’s idea regarding vet workers putting a dollar or two of their own into a donation bin, I asked the vet who was examining my dog Chance, if he knew of any legal ramifications to the vet office if they set a donation jar out for the public so that we could also contribute. Since he was not the owner of the business, he did not know for sure but thought it might be worth talking to the owner about. That’s a step in the right direction and I do hope he does this. Had there been such a jug in the waiting room upon checking out, I would have gladly put in a dollar or two. Most people love animals, but they don’t think of such situations until it is placed right in front of them and what better place than the very vet office they are taking their pets to?

So here are some suggestions, you can take ‘em or leave ‘em and if anyone has other suggestions or ideas please feel free to leave a comment.

1) It may not be first on your mind, but if your pet account is low or has been hit hard, have a yard sale and get rid of junk you don’t use anymore. Put that money aside for your pet. It will seem like you’re getting started again without actually touching your pay check or bank account; so in essence, you’re tricking your own mind!

2) (Via Vet Tech Candy) Talk to your vet about setting up a running account, give them money when you can to keep in an account to pay or lower the cost of your next visit. You are not going to get any interest on that money, but if it gives you peace of mind knowing you have money with your vet office should an emergency creep up, then it’s worth it.

3) Keep up with yearly exams and vaccinations. Vaccinations alone can prevent illness as can heartworm meds. Preventative measures can in the long run, save you money.

4) Call the Humane Society or ASPCA to locate a food bank if you are having trouble buying pet food.

5) Check out breed specific clubs. While limited in the breeds, it is worth checking out. These can also be found on the humane society's web page

6) Ask your vet if a prescription for medications needed can be written out and given to you rather than filled at the vet office. Places like Walmart can fill that prescription for a much less. Click Here for a list of meds that Walmart carries which you can get a prescription for. My hubby Peter recently did this for me upon our second bout of diarrhea that overtook our canine household and it was a big savings as well the vet made it refillable.

7) This site put out by the Humane Society is a great source of information on much of what has been discussed above.

8) Here is The humane society: Assistance by state

9) Check out Veterinary schools and see if they charge less. Here are some listings that may be in your area.

10) IF you live in a city, seek out vets in a more rural area as they may be less expensive.

11) I also heard from a Vet Tech who said her vet office did accept some bartering of a long time customer who suddenly fell on hard times. He would do sanding and painting in the building at times even exceeding what vet may charge for a visit. So if you are a professional at something and a long time patron you may want to ask what you can do for them. Of course put everything in writing so the Vet knows you are serious and both sides are protected. This will only work if the vet is the owner of the business. In Canada though, a Vet could loose their license if they do bartering, via Canadian law.

12) Keep an eye out in local newspapers and vet offices for rabies clinics as many non profit agencies team up with vets to help their own animal causes and offer low cost vaccines during these events.

13) If all else fails move to California where all those actors that are making more than they’re worth are at least making a difference for Animals in Need. No offense Hollywood, but most of your average Joe’s living in the USA work just as hard and make diddly squat for the luxury of having a job at all! On a sad note though after visiting this site, they also seem to be out of money! But I would check back with each New Year.

In closing I am posting this quote from a friend and retired veterinarian, Dr. Pete who speaks of the original feeling one may have had for the the profession years ago and how all of us have played a role in this breakdown we see today.

"I don't know if the original "fire" for the profession still generates enough heat to keep an altruistic spirit warm. The client loyalty that used to exist in most professions has waned in the last 30 years. And there is enough blame, on both sides, to explain it. Not everything can be justified or denied based on economics of the situation. What goes around, I guess, does come around."

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