‘Too few veterinary surgeons take the problems seriously’ - Veterinary Practice
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‘Too few veterinary surgeons take the problems seriously’

FRANCESCA RICCOMINI bemoans the attitude of some colleagues and the reluctance of clients to pay

WHEN setting accounts, driving a Bentley to the clinic does not mean that money will readily be forthcoming. One of life’s great ironies, which we as veterinarians know only too well, is that clients’ ability to pay has little, if anything, to do with their willingness to part with cash on their pet’s behalf.

A valuable early lesson for any new graduate is that privileged socioeconomic background, healthy bank balance, excellent life-long prospects and high-flying lifestyle are often irrelevant. When it comes to forking out the equivalent of their monthly outlay on pamper sessions or tri-annual weekend breaks bills, surprising people baulk.

What’s more, less well-off owners with a proper sense of responsibility, and who value their companion animal’s company, may well be prepared to go without a lot to ensure it is healthy and happy.

Families have whip rounds to fund major operations and elderly people living in far from luxurious circumstances quickly dip into their “pet funds”, carefully gleaned from meagre incomes and set aside for a rainy day.

When, however, a companion animal’s mental health and behavioural welfare are concerned, such home truths as these are even more starkly exposed, as three recent cases have highlighted.

Luxurious lifestyle can be misleading

In response to a distraught client reaching “the end of his tether” with his two expensive pedigree cats house soiling, I arrived at a home in millionaires’ row and squeezed my modest vehicle between the Mercedes and BMW in the expansive driveway.

Pleasantries disposed of, we sat down to begin. A referral centre invoice was pushed my way.

It had nothing to do with behaviour – or with me – but nonetheless my opinion was invited on both the magnitude of the sum and the client’s version of the consultation.

I soon discovered 101 ways of saying “no comment”! The owner may or may not have had a valid point. But evidently this very well-heeled chap resented every penny he expended upon the pets that had cost a significant sum and gave much pleasure, judged by the mutual interactions I observed.

Had the breeder’s more handsome mite been so thoroughly resented as the veterinarian’s, I wonder?

Priorities simply differ

This interesting but minor incident would have quickly faded into memory had it not been shortly followed by an astonishing conversation. Coming via the RSPCA the telephoning owner explained she was retired. Ah, I thought, perhaps a pensioner living in straitened circumstances with only a rescued cat for company.

Not a bit of it! She expressed surprised on hearing that I don’t run a free helpline. But hey, what does a little no-cost advice matter when a pet’s welfare and her elderly owner are concerned? We talked on.

The problem, it transpired, entailed her Maine Coon’s (purchased, not rescued) reluctance to come home. The reason? She didn’t like her owner’s two ragdolls and though she didn’t mind the other two resident felines, the regular visit of the professional groomer also upset her.

Yes, a behaviour consultation sounded a good idea and she could easily get her vet to refer her. A modest fee for a three-hour home visit, report and followup support was mentioned.

“Good gracious,” she exploded. Three weeks on she’s still “thinking about it”! Breeders deserve payment it seems. Groomers it appears are worth their weight in gold. Whatever the issue, however, we vets should nod to St Francis and perform for free.

Great clients make it all worthwhile

But it never pays to let cynicism rule the day. I recently heard from a single mother of modest means with a muchprized first family dog. His insurance didn’t cover behaviour and the problems were minor, due mainly to the whole family’s hard work with a member of a fairly challenging breed for novice owners.

The results have been good but the significant point is the initial ’phone call. Though travelling made the fee more substantial than usual, this client’s reply on hearing the sum was “fine”.

Her perspective was that: “We looked forward to getting a dog for a long time. We all love him. He’s generally such a good pet. We’ve invested so much in him in so many ways there’s no question of not doing that little bit more.”

Oh what joy! Refreshingly responsible, caring, committed people sent to gladden the heart of any professional adviser.

Veterinary colleague’s input is crucial

So what makes the difference? Well, when it comes to behaviour very often it’s the general practitioner’s input. In the last case, for instance, as much interest had been taken in the animal’s behavioural development as his medical status.

Guidance had been given so potentially vulnerable new owners had been channelled towards a good quality training class. When gold star status here had not resolved some niggling little issues, the veterinarian had stepped in. Referral was arranged in the proper way, the client appraised of the relevant credentials and the fee involved.

She knew what was expected of her and what she was going to get. Standard practice, one might think, with any referred case. I’m afraid not. With behavioural issues it pays to be realistic.

While recommendation is always welcome, too many people come our way through word of mouth from other owners, via charity helplines or their own efforts on the internet.

It’s still a sad fact that too few veterinarians take behaviour problems – a substantial killer of both dogs and cats – seriously enough.

Those who do, not only deserve our respect and gratitude for smoothing the behaviour counsellor’s path but they also make a significant contribution to animal welfare and go some way towards enhancing our profession’s valuable reputation.

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