I grew up with my older brother in a low-income household headed by a single mother. We were a family of animal lovers and I decided at an early age I wanted to pursue veterinary medicine. When we finally moved into a home with a yard I begged for us to get a dog. Finally, on August 1st 2001, just before starting third grade, my wish came true.
He was a black miniature poodle name Peppie. He was my best friend growing up and adored by my family. Although he wasn’t very friendly with those he didn’t know, he was incredibly affectionate and protective of us. My mother would comment how she felt safer with him despite that he was just a twenty-pound little dog; those who approached our home couldn’t see him but could certainly hear his ferocious bark! He was an amazing source of companionship and happiness to my family.
Peppie didn’t routinely get his vaccines, wasn’t maintained on heartworm prevention, and was fed whatever was cheapest at the grocery store. He didn’t receive annual physical exams and rarely saw the veterinarian. Of course, being young, I did not understand the potential consequences from lack of veterinary care. Besides surviving a horrifying attack from our unleashed neighbor’s dogs, he never had any overt signs of serious health problems.
As I got older and more involved in the field, I began to understand the importance of routine veterinary care. After becoming employed full time as a veterinary assistant at a small animal hospital during my early undergraduate career I made sure to have everything done for him: routine comprehensive blood panels, feeding a top-tier diet, prescription heartworm/flea prevention, etc. This even included pulling out all his rotten teeth when he was 15 years old (which, allow me to brag, he handled like a trooper!) Despite my fears of what ten years of substandard veterinary care could have caused my dear Peppie, he emerged with a clean bill of health.
After gaining more experience by working in clinical practice during my undergraduate years and enrolling in veterinary school, I became more distraught with the common attitude so many veterinary professionals have about financially restrained people owning pets. I cannot say I’ve never shared that sentiment; it is a safe assumption that any veterinary professional as had a patient that needs treatment which the owner declines due to finances.
Thoughts such as ‘Why can’t you put it on a credit card?’, ‘You should call your family and friends for help’, ‘There must be a way you can pay for this, you just refuse to sacrifice’, ‘Pets are a privilege and responsibility, NOT a right’, have all before passed my mind and probably yours too. It’s frustrating and, many times, heartbreaking to be limited in how to care for a pet in need.
However, this jaded attitude routinely is applied by veterinary professionals to those financially constrained owners who legitimately do the best they can. Think of an owner that has a dog with mild flea allergy dermatitis who declines prescription flea product due to costs. Think of a friend’s dog that hasn’t seen a veterinarian for three years but hasn’t had any symptoms of illness. Think of my late childhood dog, Peppie. Chances are, those pets are living wonderful, happy lives.
Furthermore, it is my sentiment that poor people may even need pets the most. The hardships of being financially unstable or economically disadvantaged can be emotionally overwhelming. Pets make life better and deserve to be with those who genuinely love and care for them despite budget limitations to sustain the standards of care we strive for in veterinary medicine. Additionally, there are many studies that have documented both physical and mental health benefits to humans that own pets! Adopting a dog from the shelter, possibly saving them from needless euthanasia, and giving them the best life one can give should be universally accepted in this profession.
Peppie lived to see me off to veterinary school which is something I will always grateful for. He passed away during my first semester of veterinary school on Thanksgiving Day, 2015. He was 18 years young. I have since decided to pursue research and Public Health Practice, however, I still get my veterinary medicine fix by picking up shifts as a veterinary assistant as my schedule allows.
I’m endlessly grateful to have had the privilege of growing up with Peppie. I cannot imagine any benefit that could have occurred if my family was denied this privilege due to our financial situation, and our story is not unique. In conclusion: empathizing with your clients that are in financial hardships, rather than harsh judgement, is the most constructive way to maintain a positive relationship while maintaining your duties as a pet advocate.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the DrAndyRoark.com editorial team.
About the Author
Megan McCarthy has a Bachelor of Science degree in Biomedical Sciences and is currently enrolled in a Masters of Public Health program at the University of Florida. Megan has 5+ years of experience as a veterinary assistant in clinical practice, however, she is currently conducting research in the field of addiction science utilizing animal models.