'The most uncomfortable part of my job' - Veterinary Practice
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‘The most uncomfortable part of my job’

reports on some of the
‘contentious issues’ sessions at
this year’s BVA congress,
beginning with how to deal with
clients who have no means of
paying for treatment

SHOULD practices offer a free 24- hour euthanasia service for those clients with a seriously sick or injured animal but without insurance or any other means of paying for its emergency treatment? Lancashire practitioner Robin Hargreaves made the suggestion during the debate on the relationship between veterinary practices and the animal welfare charities. The organisers acknowledged that the current recession was putting additional strains on links between the two sides which are already highly variable in quality. So how can they work together to ensure that pet owners can make adequate provision for the needs of their animals? Mr Hargreaves said there was no welfare clinic in the Burnley area where his practice is based so he would see many cases that might otherwise be dealt with by a charity. Although many people in the area were on low incomes, the majority made suitable financial arrangements for looking after their pets through insurance or savings. But there were some people who were barely able to look after their own needs and were therefore incapable of thinking sensibly about the welfare of their pets. The duty of care for pet owners introduced in the Animal Welfare Act has not eliminated problems of people taking on pets that they are unable to pay for. Indeed, there is a belief among those who are most likely to end up as bad debts that by presenting the animal to the practice they have discharged their duties and that it was now the vet’s problem, he said. “It is the most uncomfortable part of my job when I have to tell people that I am not going to do what I am trained to do, what I would like to do and what I would actively enjoy doing. I don’t like it, they hate me and think I am unreasonable, and in the end everybody loses.” If the owners of a seriously injured animal are presented with a list of the treatment options, euthanasia is usually the only one that they refuse to consider. They don’t care how much the other options will cost because they are unlikely to be able to be paying anything towards it. So if a dog with a sadly broken leg arrives at the surgery at 10pm, Mr Hargreaves said his practice offers a free euthanasia consult. It is usually possible to persuade the client that this is the right choice for them and will be in the animal’s best interests, he said. Mr Hargreaves believed that the welfare charities should do more to persuade pet owners to take their responsibilities seriously. By covering many of the fixed costs of pet ownership such as neutering, these clients had no idea of the expense involved in providing any subsequent care. He also challenged whether rehoming services were offering animals to the right people. “We hear of people being turned down as new owners because they are not at home, probably because they are at work. But they are happy to give a pet to somebody without a brass farthing, I think that is completely ridiculous.”

Educating would-be owners

Nicola Martin, a senior veterinary surgeon with the PDSA, noted that it is difficult even for the most astute pet owners to properly estimate the lifetime costs of owning a dog or cat. So in common with all the other welfare charities, the PDSA put a substantial amount of effort into educating would-be owners with literature, web resources and spoken advice. All those taking on an animal were strongly encouraged to take out pet insurance. Nevertheless, there are still many outlets like pet shops and internet sales through which owners can acquire a pet on impulse. Both speakers agreed on the need for some measure, such as licensing, compulsory microchipping or a
compulsory cooling – off period that would give potential owners pause for thought before they commit themselves to taking on a pet. One partial solution is being developed by the BVA in partnership with the RSPCA, explained the then president of the association, Harvey Locke. The idea, which they hope to launch next year, is for all would-be owners of a new dog to receive a “puppy contract” which would be in two parts: a legal document setting out their responsibilities in caring for the animal under the Animal Welfare Act and an information pack detailing how they can achieve this. Although the concept was being developed by the two organisations, he hoped that all veterinary and welfare organisations would support the initiative as a way forward in the collective promotion of responsible pet ownership.

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