Confused about your rights as a consumer of veterinary services? Do you have rights and if so, what are they? It is wise to know what to expect and where you stand on issues before going to the veterinary office. As a trainer I see quite a few dogs, including my own, who had their trust violated at the veterinarian office either by going into the back room alone, by mishandling, or trauma.
At the same time, veterinarians are increasing their knowledge, their services and their client relations. As consumers and protectors of our animals, we need our veterinarians and they are worth their weight in gold when a surgical procedure means the difference between life and death.
Still there are considerations and minimizing stress is an important consideration, as a visit to the veterinarian is not always going to be pleasant. It is critically important to train a dog what to expect beforehand and desensitize to veterinary procedures. The reality is most will not do the proper beforehand training and will leave complete trust to their veterinarian to know how to handle their cherished pet. Below are some brutal realities to consider before choosing who will be your veterinary care professional. Bottom line is, who will you trust to provide care for your beloved family member and what can you do if emergency care is required and funds are not available to pay for a pet’s care?
Do you have a right to veterinary care if you can’t pay up front?
If you take your pet into the veterinarian clinic and your pet is very sick, and you can’t immediately pay for care, do you have the right to expect care?
In one true case witnessed by me, a pet is lying on the floor, obviously in pain and not themselves. The question was asked as to what their care would cost. The answer, $600. While that might not seem like a lot for some, it could be like asking for $6,000 by others. This emergency came at a time the funds to pay for it were not immediately available. Funds would be available, as the client explained, two days later on payday.
Can a post dated a check be considered? The answer was no. Further a fair credit report eliminated qualification for the payment plan service offered by the veterinarian. This pet owner had pet insurance, but that still required up front payment before reimbursement. A quick call to the pet insurance company denied upfront payment of care without a paid in advance receipt for services. The company said they were very sorry. Anyone who is looking at the pet in question can see they needed immediate care, but no one was helping. What are this client’s rights?
This example, while sad, is a true incident. The bottom line is veterinary care is not a luxury, it is a necessity of owning a pet. Pet ownership requires that you be able to afford care for the life of your pet. The veterinarian, as a service business, has a right to be paid. With the surgence of pet insurance, all pets should have the right to health care. While that is the ideal, the reality is, especially in tough economic times, people do not have funds set aside for themselves let alone their pets, nor do many have pet insurance. Pet insurance assures only that you will be reimbursed for a percentage of veterinarian costs not that there will be coverage before payment is received. Pet insurance can save a lot of money in an emergency and replenish a savings plan quickly just for pet health care needs.
Working with your veterinarian is key. The veterinarian is in business and even though they work with pets daily, and take the Veterinarian’s Oath, they are not required to provide care, unlike humans who enter an emergency room are required to receive care whether they have health insurance or not. This brutal reality seems to be in conflict with the Veterinarian Oath, which clearly states “I solemnly swear to relieve animal suffering”:
Being admitted to the profession of veterinary medicine, I solemnly swear to use my scientific knowledge and skills for the benefit of society through the protection of animal health, the relief of animal suffering, the conservation of animal resources, the promotion of public health, and the advancement of medical knowledge.
I will practice my profession conscientiously, with dignity, and in keeping with the principles of veterinary medical ethics. I accept as a lifelong obligation the continual improvement of my professional knowledge and competence.
All you can do is to protect yourself by familiarizing yourself with the policies of the veterinarian office you choose to use for your pet’s care. Each office or clinic is different and state and city laws vary. Some clinics may accept payment plans, most do not. Some will take post-dated checks, especially if they are very famliar with you and your pet. Again, most will not.. Ask if a barter for services is possible. Most likely, especially in large clinics, the answer will be no.
Don’t expect your veterinarian to explain all the options available to you, because that is not their job. They simply do not have the time. They have to meet daily schedules and heartless as it may sound, they’ve got fifteen minutes to spend with you and your pet. More time can be arranged, but will cost more money.
If you cannot afford veterinary services, there are other options. A group called IMOM, is helping people help pets. They may be able to help if you qualify through their application process. Don’t wait for last minute emergencies to apply.
Today’s veterinarian office provides payment programs through independent loan companies. To qualify good credit is necessary. They offer several payment plan options and are great, if your credit is great.
The United Animal Network (UAN) is another option. People make donations to help animals in need. It is worth a try depending on the health issue faced.
If you have a credit card, it is also possible to ask the bank or credit card company for a higher spending limit in case of emergencies.
As for rights, the pet consumer of medical services, unbelievably, has no right to care for their pet. Why? Pets are considered property in most states. According to a report, “the law has classified pets and animals as property – NOT living, breathing, feeling life forms. Therefore, veterinarians service property.” But even when you purchase a car, there is a “Lemon Laws” protecting the consumer. Are pets of lesser value than a car?
What are your rights if you have a reactive or aggressive dog needing care?
A case in Colorado involving a stressed dachshund sheds some light on the problem. According to the Indianapolis Examiner, in an interview with the dog’s owner, the dachshund wasn’t even aggressive, but just stressed. Yet a vet tech, bitten in the face, filed a lawsuit and a dental procedure costing approximately $1,000 ended up costing over $10,000 in additional lawyer fees.
In an incident of my own, one holistic vet, after seeing my own dog one time, emailed me the next day to tell me they would not see him again. Why? He had barked at her when she stooped low. My back was turned and I didn’t see her come into the waiting area. She did not allow me, a behavior trainer of aggressive dogs, to prepare my dog for her irratic movement and therefore, it was not the fault of the holistic vet, but rather the fault of my dog. This seemed odd to me, as dogs do bark, and I am sure they bark in veterinarian visits. Later I found this same veterinarian had been bitten by a dog and closed her practice for a time to recover.
Veterinarians do not have to care for your pet and can even turn you away, if you cannot pay or if they have any reason, such as the case above, to refuse care to a dog or pet they feel they cannot handle. Further, they can sue you if your dog bites them for any reason and if you choose titers instead of vaccinations for your dog this gives even further reason to sue if a dog happens to get to the point of stress where they are capable of biting the vet tech or the veterinarian.
Is this fair? Shouldn’t veterinarians by the nature of their work, with pets, have assumed risk and be exempt from the ability to press charges? In some states they are, and in others not. To add to this the city the clinic resides could have loopholes to the state laws.
Shouldn’t veterinarians know proper handling techniques to help an animal cope with the stress of being away from their owner? Shouldn’t there be time to help a dog acclimate to the smells, sounds and irratic movements of a clinic setting? I am not talking about restraint devices when I post that question.
To say to people that they shouldn’t have a pet if they can’t pay, is sage advice, but it is not advice that will be followed by most. It is advice that will make people feel guilty, more guilty than they already do when their beloved pet falls ill. To feel you might be turned away because your dog doesn’t have perfect skills, or because you don’t have immediate funds available is simply forcing people to hope they never need veterinarian services. Each animal, as an individual, will handle stress differently.
There is much that could change in this industry, such as pet insurance companies covering pet care in advance just as human health insurance companies do. The veterinarian’s office will tell you they have enough paperwork and don’t want the insurance companies to go this route. In fact, that is exactly what I was told when I asked why papers couldn’t be submitted prior to care and paid by the insurance company. Let’s hope that changes in the future change this policy and attitude so more pets get the care they need when they need it. Pet insurance and the way veterinarian offices handle client needs simply don’t seem to have come full circle.
Do you have the right to go in the backroom with your dog for veterinary procedures?
Your dog needs x-rays, or dental care, or surgical procedures where they will need to be anesthetized. Should you ask to go back with them? Is it allowed? Would it be okay for you to be there when they go under and when they wake up? These are all questions you should ask the clinic in advance. If they are not able to meet your needs, find a clinic that will.
The answer is, it depends. It depends on the veterinary clinic and their policies, it depends on whether you ask and it depends on the procedure. As a consumer it is important to understand that you are the consumer of services for your pet. It is you who are hiring the veterinarian to care for your beloved family member whether they are cat, dog, bird or horse. As an emotional being the animal should have the ability to have their caretaker, family member with them to relieve stress. Pleasant assertiveness and asking questions may be the key to persuasion.
I request to be with my pets at all times, especially my reactive one. So again, it depends on how much stress your pet can bear or what their temperament is like whether you will trust your veterinarian to honor the bond and allow you to stay with your pet.
In some cases, vet techs just come out to retrieve your pet and do not even ask if you want to come back. In most cases they’d prefer you did not. Some dogs can handle this and are a joy to take to the veterinarian, others may be fearful/shy, reactive or aggressive and if the visit is not kept successful, they could suffer the repurcussions for many months to come. What if your dog goes in confident and comes out a biter, much to your surprise? You hire and you can fire your veterinarian and find a new one to provide the care you need. Understand a veterinarian can, in some states, sue you if your dog bites them. Also realize you will have no idea what goes on behind the scenes once your dog leaves your sight.
A report makes a good case saying, “Would you take your mother, father, husband, wife, son, daughter, sister or brother any place, drop them off and simply say, “Call me when you find something out?”
What are your rights if your dog bites the veterinarian or a vet tech? Can you be held liable?
A report states, pet owners have a right to question and scrutinize veterinary care whenever there is a VALID indication of indiscretions, lack of professionalism, negligence or malpractice. If animals are considered to have no rights, however, then by association pet owners have no rights.
The truth is in many states you cannot sue a veterinarian for negligence, malpractice, pain or suffering. The answer is that in some states you can be held liable. For example, in Colorado where the dachshund biting the vet tech incident occurred, there is a state statute recognizing there is assumed risk in working at an animal hospital and exempts emplyees from being able to press charges. However each city also has varying regulations and the city of Lafayette, Colorado provides a loophole that allowed the vet tech to pursue the dachshund’s bite case in court. This loved, but afraid dog stressed by operations as usual in a vet clinic setting is now in the hands of the legal system, with a $10,000 plus lawsuit and in the hands of those who can sentence him to death or life in a kennel. A routine vet visit turned into a nightmare and the comforts of home are no longer available to this little dog.
Check the laws in your state and cities, as in many states veterinarians cannot sue for dog bites. As a normal dog owner this is not something one might think of in advance of taking their valued pet to their veterinarian for routine procedures or exams or for surgery.
Dog owners, especially those of reactive, easily stressed, untrained or aggressive dogs, need to pay attention and know their consumer rights when they purchase services including veterinary services. Making informed decisions, knowing state and city laws and the veterinary clinic policies prior to taking a pet could save a lot of heartache and cost later on. Know your rights, know your pet’s rights.