More than just a job

2014-08-11 00:00

SO. Times are tough and people are feeling the pinch. A few Sundays ago, I got a call out to see a pup that had been bitten and needed attention. They had no money, were unemployed and the SPCA did not have a vet available. Would I help?

To cut a long story short, I met them at the hospital, knocked the pup under and did the job. The bill came to R1 850. They managed to find 300 bucks and I called it quits. They were decent people and were honest and up-front about their financial circumstances. I was happy to help.

Which got me thinking about this whole animal welfare issue. We, of course, all swim in the same pond. Sometimes private veterinary practice is on one side of the pool and the animal welfare organisations are on the other side. But the fish are the same, however. The only difference between the two is that the private practitioner has elected to make a living out of his or her hobby by charging for his or her service to people who are willing to pay for it, while animal welfare has evolved to look after the animals of the indigent. There is no government buffer between the two.

It is obviously imperative that a private practice runs at a profit, or it will close. The vets who are shareholders in the business have to educate their kids, put food on the table and petrol in their cars, and, in the early days at least, often have to pay back substantial student loans. They enjoy the fruits of profit and suffer when there is a loss.

It is equally important that animal welfare does not spend more than it gets in through bequests, the Lottery and various fund generating events. Take note — there is no bail-out from government or any other state-funded means. This is not human health, South African Airways, Eskom or Telkom.

There is no government slush fund, an endless supply of cash without controls. I have yet to hear of an SPCA employee flying business class. (Come to think of it, I don’t know of private practitioners who do, either.) Every cent generated by the welfare organisations is open to public scrutiny. If they spend more than what is coming in, that will be the end. The problem is that which comes in is at the discretion of the goodwill of people and this is never enough.

Every practitioner will, however, build some degree of welfare into his practice, the extent of which would be based on many factors including the attitude of the vet and the distance away from the nearest animal welfare organisation. I have yet to find a vet who does not offer some form of pro-bono work in one form or another.

The costs incurred in running a veterinary private practice will vary enormously between various practices. Important indirect costs may include the cost of real estate, equipment and staff, and this is usually a lot more than the direct costs, which would mainly be the drugs and equipment involved in the particular procedure.

Welfare is also subject to these costs, of course, although they might be reduced by the affordability of expensive technology.

Some people, who can afford private practice, may be tempted to take their pets to an animal welfare clinic in order to save costs. This abuse of these limited resources will mean that less can be spent on those who really need it or on situations where it is required. Like litigation.

I popped in on a colleague, a specialist veterinary pathologist, the other day. He was doing an autopsy on a puppy at the request of an animal welfare organisation. The pup, apparently, had been beaten to death by some barbaric individual who had held it by the back legs and bashed its head repeatedly against a tree. Virtually all the bones in the hind legs had been broken and the little head was a bloody mess. This was a young dog, for goodness sakes — incapable of being vicious, aggressive or a threat to anyone. Animal Welfare needs all the resources it can muster to bring these bastards to book.

So, let all of us who are lucky enough to make a living out of the welfare of animals, be grateful to all of you who really do care.

• To you, Gentle lady, who has been a loyal supporter of our practice for 20 years. Yes, you, who are going through tough times and are struggling to come out on your pension, and yet you stand at our counter and spend your last cent from your purse on your old cat.

• To you, young man, for catching a taxi to the SPCA to bring in that stray pup with a broken leg.

• And to you, who care strongly enough to put all your energy and resources into a shelter for the injured and neglected animals.

• To the critic of the welfare organisation, who is prepared to roll up his sleeves and put action to his suggestions.

• And to all of you who love your pets. You make our job worthwhile!

• Follow the exploits of the Village Vet on his blog at

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