By NIKHITA PARANDEKAR
There have been a couple of times during my clinical year so far that a client has looked at me and said “what would you do if you were in my place?” When I was younger, I used to think that this should be an easy question to answer — obviously I would do the most medically sound thing. As with many other things, however, I’ve come to realize that the answer is never so black and white. We offer clients the gold standard of treatment but then also let them know of all of the other available options, and what the decision eventually comes down to is often intensely personal and entirely financial.
I often talk about how important I think client education is when it comes to pet ownership — people should know what they’re getting themselves into when they get a pet, both financially and in terms of lifestyle changes. I used watch a lot of Animal Planet when I was a child, and whenever there were animal hoarders on Animal Cops I would get angry at how the people would keep so many animals without the funds to care for them. But again, I eventually learned that not everything is so black and white. People who love their animals all too frequently fall on hard times and don’t have resources to pay for their care when they get sick. Even people who are prepared for the financial stress of pet-ownership don’t often have a few thousand dollars that they can part with for an unexpected medical procedure. This doesn’t make them bad people, but it does often make their stories incredibly sad. Cornell has a few resources to help pets in need — there’s a credit-card type system that owners can apply for (but that requires them to have high enough credit ratings to get approved), and there are a few funds that can be dipped in to. Even with those resources, in the half year that I’ve been on clinics I’ve already seen so many heartbreaking stories.
It’s frustrating to me that money has to be the deciding factor in so many treatment plans — it seems wrong that an animal doesn’t get the highest standard of care when we are capable of giving it. I suppose that people say the same thing about human health care — people without insurance often receive substandard care especially in terms of specialty care (i.e. they couldn’t easily go to an oncologist to have a mass on their arm checked out), which feels inherently wrong. I know that some people would laugh that I’m so concerned about the animals when there are so many people out there who need help, but this is why I’m becoming a part of this profession. So the main question that I’ve been thinking about lately is: Do we just accept that life is unfair and this is just the way things are, or are there things we can do to change it? I would like to think that there is change in the future — some combination of insurance plans for pets that are financially sound decisions for owners to buy as well as more of a generalized awareness about the financial dilemmas faced by pet-owners, for a start.
Until that happens though, there is still the question to answer: “What would you do if you were in my place?” I’ve learned that putting yourself in someone else’s place is almost impossible when finances play a role, and I hope that maybe one day their role won’t be quite as significant as it is now. I’ve also learned that the answer to the question really boils down to why the person is asking it. A veterinarian’s responsibility is to recommend the most medically sound option. But sometimes, the person is asking because he just wants to hear that it doesn’t make him a bad person to not be able to afford the highest level of care, and the kindest thing you can do is show him that he’s not going to get judged for being unable to spend a few thousand dollars on the surgery and intensive care that you’ve recommended.
Nikhita Parandekar graduated from Cornell in 2011 and is a fourth-year veterinary student in the Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Hoof in Mouth appears alternate Fridays this semester.