Everett Washington high school senior “Shelly” has a real issue with veterinarians. Her email and tone of voice during our telephone chat Sept. 15, revealed a young lady furious with the vets who refused to provide free emergency treatment to her family’s Chihuahua.

Denied at five ER hospitals

“Last night our Chihuahua passed away after being denied care at five ER hospitals in Snohomish County, Wash. He was having seizures, but they all refused to stabilize him, even a pet hospital that had treated the dog in the past insisted on money first. They wanted proof of insurance and/or cash before even looking at him.

“The fact that our dog died due to this is so cruel! There are many laws dealing with harming animals, but I see nothing when it comes to emergency situations when an animal’s life is on the line,” she wrote.

“I want to confront these ER clinics and make it so that no one has to experience running from hospital to hospital, continually being refused until the animal dies in their arms.

“It is inhumane to the animals and heartless for pet owners who should have the right to obtain treatment for sick or injured pets from veterinary clinics, especially pets in emergency situations, without worrying about payment.”

Vet clinics are not subsidized 

We read Shelly’s email to Stephanie Bell, Senior Director of Cruelty Casework at Norfolk, Virginia-based PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Bell understands how the articulate high school student would be so upset at being refused by these veterinary hospitals, observing, “Many pet owners do not realize that a veterinary hospital or clinic is a business which, unlike human hospitals, are not subsidized by the government.

“A human hospital ER cannot turn someone away, while an animal hospital is a private business and can. They are not in a position of offering free services, just as a restaurant  – which is a private business – is under no legal obligation to feed the homeless.”

Consider veterinary costs before acquiring an animal

We asked Bell, “What, in your experience, is the one thing that pet owners fail to consider when acquiring a little doggy or kitty for the family?”

“It’s the predictable cost of pet ownership,” she replied.

And just how much? Well, hang on to your leash for the answer:

“Nationally, the estimated annual cost of owning a dog ranges from a thousand dollars for a small dog to $1500 for a large dog, not including emergencies, such as a dog who ingests a chicken bone or fractures a leg. Basic costs include feeding, grooming, flea control, possible increased rent charges,” she points out.

What if your neighbor’s dog has a litter of adorable puppies and wants to give you one? What then?

“Someone who acquires an animal for free should plan on spay/neuter expenses, in addition to hundreds of dollars and sometimes more yearly, depending on the animal’s size and needs. And, you’ve got to factor in that, just like humans, your little dog or kitty’s needs will increase as she grows older, often leading to significant health issues and expensive veterinary costs.”

As Fido or Kitty become family members, they can also benefit from pet insurance which Bell explained.

“Just like car insurance, pet insurance has an annual premium and a deductible which the pet owner pays before the insurance kicks in. We pay fifty dollars a month for our geriatric cat’s policy, and that rate has increased over time.

“Clearly, a year-old-dog will have a smaller premium than one 14-years-old. As the older dog requires more health care, the likelihood of having to reimburse for higher veterinary charges will increase as well,” Bell underscores.

Unlike human health insurance, “Pet insurance reimburses you. So if your dog eats a sock which wraps around his intestines requiring emergency surgery, you will have to pay $3500 - and your insurance will reimburse you a certain portion of that.”

Budget for this life that depends on you

As veterinarians are under no legal obligation to provide free services, “A financial burden rests on the shoulders of the animal guardian, lessened by creating a budget for this life that depends on you and being prepared for an emergency.”

So, as you can see, showing up at a vet clinic you’ve never dealt with — holding a dying animal and expecting free care — is unreasonable. Also, Bell notes that crisis situations frequently result, “Because initial symptoms were ignored.”

To PETA’s Stephanie Bell, the moral of today’s story is clear:

“Veterinary care is a necessary and predictable expense that comes with the responsibility of animal guardianship.”

Dennis Beaver Practices law in Bakersfield and welcomes comments and questions from readers, which may be faxed to 661-323-7993, or emailed to Lagombeaver1@Gmail.com. And be sure to visit www.dennisbeaver.com.

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