In my work with people whose pets have passed away I have gained a lot of experience about pet health care and safety. One of the most surprising things I learned is that all veterinarians are not alike. I don't know why this was a surprise to me. Perhaps it was because like most pet lovers I just assumed that people in the animal care business had great big hearts and were very conscientious about an animal's well being.
Unfortunately, I found that this is not true. The veterinarian field is no different than any other. Its ranks are populated by people with different ethics, values and motivations. Most veterinarians are great people who care about both their human and animal clients. But there are those few who do not. They care only about making money and being affluent. The care they give may sometimes be adequate, but often it is not. They lack compassion and just do not care. They are ugly veterinarians.
Complaints about veterinarian indifference and poor conduct arrive in my mail routinely. Unless a veterinarian commits an extremely egregious or unlawful act, there is not much recourse that you can take. There are regulatory bodies and a legal system, but I think you will find that animals and their people do not usually get a fair shake in these situations. One only needs to look at the number of animals put down in shelters each day to know what importance society places on them.
The best cure then is prevention. We who keep animals need to set the bar on what is acceptable to us in terms of animal care and then choose only those veterinarians who meet our standards. The following suggestions are offered as a guide and should be at least your minimum considerations:
• Meet with the Veterinarian. A veterinarian who understands the importance of your pet to you should have no problem finding a few minutes to meet with you. My veterinarian always comes out to talk with me before he sees one of my pets and once in awhile he calls me unexpectedly to see how they are doing. If you detect reluctance by either the Veterinarian or their staff to accommodate a short introductory meeting, you probably should take this as a negative signal.
• During your introductory meeting, you should ask about services that they provide. You may have a special need that they do not accommodate. One of your concerns might be after hours and weekend emergency care. They may or may not provide that service and you need to know before your need arises.
• You should observe the general appearance of the office and facilities. Are they clean? Is there an overpowering foul odor? Is the waiting room adequate? How professional does the staff look and act? If possible and if it can be done discretely, ask a waiting client how they like the clinic.
• Ask for a schedule of costs. Most veterinarians charge about the same for services, but some have greater overheads than others (i.e. upscale neighborhoods, more employees, etc.) and must charge a little more. You don't want any surprises on your visits. Animal care can be expensive. Added or unseen expenses might hurt your budget. Don't be afraid to ask.
• If you are satisfied with the veterinarian, the staff, the facilities and costs, then call and make your first appointment. Even though you may not need to, ask for a specific date and time to see how responsive they are to your personal needs. Don't be unreasonable. Select a day and time for the following week. If they cannot accommodate you, ask them why they cannot. There may be a good reason (i.e. the veterinarian might be going on vacation, etc). If they say they are just too busy, this might not be a bad thing. Generally, good clinics draw the clients. You need to look at all the facts and then decide. It might be worth the wait.
There should never be routine complaints about a veterinarian. If people would do their homework, they would select a capable and caring veterinarian and not an ugly one. If everyone would do this, those ugly veterinarians who come up short would not get new clients. They would soon be out of business and most us would not miss them.