The “Silent Animal Cruelty in Our Country”: A Veterinarian’s Call for An Affordable Standard of Care

Dr. Jan Pol

Dr. Jan Pol, longtime owner of Pol Veterinary Services in Weidman, MI & subject of the NatGeoWild series “The Incredible Dr. Pol.” Sun file photo by Susan Field. The Morning Sun News. www.themorningsun.com

 

I recently came across a statement written by Dr. Jan Pol, on the topic of affordable veterinary care.  Of course this caught my eye, and I stopped whatever work I was doing so I could take the time to read what he had to say.  By the time I was finished, I wanted to hug him.

I am well aware that Dr. Pol has his share of critics.  Since the debut of the series “The Incredible Dr. Pol” on the NatGeoWild television network, he has had disciplinary action taken against him by both the Michigan Board of Veterinary Medicine and the Michigan Dept. of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs.

My objective here isn’t to defend or condemn Dr. Pol’s skills as a veterinary practitioner.  My opinion isn’t relevant anyway, because I’m not a veterinary professional, and I’m not one of his clients.  Based on nothing more than watching several episodes of the series about Dr. Pol, my main impression of him is that he is a caring and dedicated man.  It also seems to me that clearly he must be doing something right, considering the number of clients he has and the number of years he has been in practice (19,000 and 34, respectively, according to information posted on NatGeoWild’s web site.)

What I do wish to highlight is Dr. Pol’s sincere and passionate belief that he has a duty to provide veterinary care at a price that his clients can afford.  He is sensitive to the fact that his clients are “most vulnerable when their animal is in pain.” He also is very cognizant of the financial limitations his clients have.  “For some clients,” says Dr. Pol, “a $200 vet bill can mean the difference of having food on the table that week or not.”

Rather than continuing to quote Dr. Pol, though, I’d like to share his statement in its entirety:

Dr. Pol with horse

Dr. Pol with an equine patient       Image: TheDrPol.com

A Veterinarian’s Call for An Affordable Standard Of Care
When I came to America more than 40 years ago to marry my beautiful wife Diane, with nothing
in my pocket besides my veterinary degree, I paid close attention to the Emma Lazarus poem inscribed
on the base of the Statue of Liberty, which begins, “Give me your tired, your poor…” Well, I thought,
I’ve come to the right country! Over time, through a lot of hard work and my hand up the backside of
more cows than I can count, I have managed to achieve the American dream. But I have never forgotten
where I started and what it was like to have nothing but my love for my family and for animals.
My philosophy on veterinary ethics is simple: “First Do No Harm!” And for me, this philosophy
applies to the owner, as well as the patient. In practice, that means applying a common sense approach
to treatment and care.

 

Veterinary medicine has changed dramatically over the years as the emphasis moved from the
farm to small animals. Many of the small, community-based vets have been replaced with larger
companies operating numerous practices. There is an increased emphasis on the profitability of the
practice, and vet services costs have sky-rocketed, at a higher percentage than even human healthcare,
with advances in medicine and treatments.

 

I know from experience that my clients are most vulnerable when their animal is in pain. No
owner wants an animal to suffer because medical care is unaffordable. So many people will spend
whatever it takes — and all too often, more than they can afford–to provide treatment for their animals.
For some clients, a $200 dollar vet bill can mean the difference of having food on the table that week or
not. For me, the animal always comes first. Always. But care for the animal doesn’t have to come at
the expense of the owner and their family.

 

Having treated more than 500,000 animals in my career, I rarely see a problem I haven’t seen
many times before. The question I ask myself when I see a patient is “What do I have to do to reach the
best possible outcome, in the fairest and most economical way possible?” There is a great deal of new
technology and new techniques that have become available to vets. Using the new technology and
techniques, however, doesn’t guarantee a different medical outcome, but they can drastically increase
the cost of care either because they simply cost more or take more manpower to use.

 

Affordable care doesn’t mean substandard care, and to imply that would be misleading. We
have most of the best equipment in our clinic – we have a state of the art hematology machine, blood
chemistry unit, lasers, and even gas anesthesia — and we use them when it can make a difference. But
when conducting expensive tests or procedures isn’t going to change the diagnosis or the prognosis, the
responsible thing to do is not burden my clients with a large unnecessary bill.

 

I am very honest with my clients. I tell them what to expect and what treatment options are
available and their costs. I don’t want any surprises when they open the bill. I let my clients make the
choice. If we don’t have the equipment or expertise to help an animal, we will refer the owner to
someone who can.

 

The best judge of my care and techniques are my clients. I have kept many of my clients for
decades because I provide affordable, common sense vet care. And I have humanely cared for and
treated hundreds of thousands of animals and pets successfully. Many of my clients have become my
friends, and we have lived through the lives of many animals together. A proud moment for me was
when I was talking to a new client, only to discover that she was the fifth generation to call herself a
client of Pol Veterinary Services.

 

Dr Pol with client and patient

Dr. Pol with a client and patient                 Image: PetsAdviser.com

It saddens me when I get letters from countless fans across the country who are in despair
because they cannot afford the care their animals need. Unfortunately, states are taking the decisions of
pet care out of the vets’ discretion. Through law and regulation, they are forcing veterinarians to adopt a
standard of care that is less affordable for the client. The decision-making is being taken away from the
consumer and the veterinarian, and put in the hands of government. Unless we act now, we may see
millions of pets with owners who are unable to afford to take their animals to the vet. After all, animals
do not have the same rights as humans. Owners have the option to euthanize or surrender to
overburdened rescue organizations any animal they cannot afford to keep or care for. I believe there are
far too many animals euthanized, abandoned or left to recover or die, because their owners cannot afford
the care that their animals need. This is the silent animal cruelty in our country, and there should be a
solution to end this. I don’t think the Statue of Liberty stood for this, and I certainly don’t.

For me, the most powerful part of Dr. Pol’s statement is “I believe there are far too many animals euthanized, abandoned, or left to recover or die, because their owners cannot afford care that their animals need.  This is the silent animal cruelty in our country, and there should be a solution to end this.”

VetBilling.com is absolutely, 100% committed to being part of the solution to this growing problem.  Notice I said “part of the solution.”  That’s because I realize that we don’t have “The Answer” or “The Cure-All.”  Equipping veterinarians with the ability to offer contract-based installment payment plans to their clients is a significant step in the right direction.  But there is still more that can, and should, be done.

I have always maintained that pet parents should do everything they can to avail themselves of all possible resources to help manage veterinary expenses.  This includes purchasing pet insurance, setting up and having the discipline to maintain a health savings account for their pet, and educating themselves about the financial responsibilities of pet ownership.  However, have we come to a time in our history with companion animals that not being armed with every possible financial safeguard means that pet ownership should be banned for everyone but the most wealthy Americans?  I certainly hope not.

That being said, it’s also incumbent upon pet owners to realize that even the most compassionate veterinarian can’t work for free.  It means having the integrity to pay your veterinarian even when he or she can’t save your pet (I hear way too many stories from vets about pet owners who refuse to pay their bill if their pet has to be euthanized, which is just plain wrong no matter how you look at it.)  It means acknowledging that, whether you believe it or not, your veterinarian’s first concern is the welfare of your animal, not hatching a plot to raid your bank account.

It seems to me that there could certainly stand to be a little more understanding on both sides of the “cost vs. care” issue.  This cannot be boiled down to a black or white “all vets are money hungry” vs. “all pet owners want to skip out on their bill.”  Neither statement is true.

But as one pet owner put it – in response to an article on the cost of veterinary care on the site PetsAdviser.com –  “Is there nothing in between top treatment or good-bye?”

Dr. Pol believes there must be.  And so do I.

 

Sources:

“Michigan state veterinary board rules against Dr. Pol.” DVM360 Magazine. March 26, 2015.  http://veterinarynews.dvm360.com/pol-defense-michigan-veterinary-board-discusses-negligence-charges?rel=canonical

“Dr. Pol Facts:  64 Fun Facts About America’s Favorite Vet.” December 13, 2013. http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/wild/the-incredible-dr-pol/articles/all-about-dr-pol/

“Dr. Pol, Reality TV veterinarian, fined and placed on probation for negligence, incompetence.” DVM360 Magazine.  October 5, 2012. http://veterinarynews.dvm360.com/dr-pol-reality-tv-veterinarian-fined-and-placed-probation-negligence-incompetence?rel=canonical

“On the Dr. Pol controversy, from a fellow country vet.”  Deborah Lichtenberg VMD.  PetsAdviser.com October 2, 2014. http://www.petsadviser.com/pet-health/dr-pol-controversy/

“Is veterinary care too expensive?” Deborah Lichtenberg VMD.  PetsAdviser.com June 5, 2013. http://www.petsadviser.com/pet-health/veterinary-care-too-expensive/