THE BLOG

Is Your Vet Your Pet's (& Your) Best Friend? (Part 2)

04/28/2015 08:40 am ET | Updated Jun 27, 2015

My previous post on being shown the door by a local vet here in Los Angeles, and my relatively gentle inquiry into this unregulated industry, drew much response: on-line comments as well as private emails. It appears that others have experienced similar treatment by both mega-corporate and other vets who allow the non-arbitrated dismissal of any client who is perceived to be critical of any aspect of their operation.

Besides my Huffington Post column, I wrote a long letter (as a client of the VCA where I'd been taking my dogs) to the CEO of that corporation. Unsurprisingly, I never received the courtesy of a reply, though their corporate slogan, I believe, has to do with "clients first"? (First out the door?)

I did, however, receive responses, as mentioned, from many individuals, as well as concerned pet-industry consumer advocates. One of these was PETSREVIEWS, a popular website and active advocate for "improving transparency and accountability within the pet industry." This consumer watchdog group let me know that they are "in the process of rolling-out our nationwide directory of Animal Hospitals. Our California directory consists of nearly 2,500 providers. We welcome the opportunity for your readers to share their feedback about recent visits to an Animal Hospital or Veterinary Clinic."

If "transparency and accountability" in this industry are indeed a goal, advocacy groups like this one seem to herald a beginning grassroots campaign towards greater client protection.

Information-sharing is another protection. For example, re VCA, I have been informed since my own negative experience that a client cannot be dismissed without the animal hospital administration informing the client's own vet prior to the shut-out. This dismissal must be communicated to the vet (and time-stamped, I believe) and the vet must acknowledge this information before the hospital can release the client. Individuals are not informed about this requirement and the requirement is not always met.

Other correspondents have asked me to reiterate the following: in many animal hospitals, veterinarians work on commission. Think about that. And think about how that arrangement might affect diagnoses and recommended procedures (including surgeries) plus medications and required clinic visits. It is my belief that most vets do not abuse this income pressure, but, inevitably, of course, some do.

As I said in my earlier piece, difficult though it is for pet-owners with ailing animal patients to manage this -- a second vet's opinion on any significant procedure presented as necessary or life-saving is a potential safeguard against unnecessary patient suffering (or worse) and the substantial expense that these procedures require.

The "model" for a large corporate vet industry begins with the front-line reception-desk staff, who work for very little compensation and do not always possess "people skills." It is a job offering little or no promise of career advancement. The next level of staff would be a "hospital director"-type position, that apparently is seen by some as a job with promotion promise -- but minimum research re this "promise" reveals unencouraging statistics. Vet "techs," given their educational backgrounds and training, have hope of advancement, presumably. Veterinarians, of course, have advanced educational degrees, training and licensing.

Through further research, I've found a welcoming and non-corporate-feeling "individual" vet office/clinic (along with my ongoing vet's home visits) and my two furry pals give the place many many wags (since they can't manage thumbs-up!) -- a vote of confidence I never witnessed at the animal hospital we went to before -- or not until we got inside to an excellent ethical vet who honestly returned their love.

Industry watchdogs: keep barking!