Veterinary charities promote irresponsible pet ownership.

Charities are paying for people to own animals.

In the UK there is one main charity dedicated to providing assisted or free veterinary treatment to the pets of ‘impoverished’ owners and several other charities such as the Blue Cross and RSPCA who also offer similar services among their other endeavours.

The number of animals receiving treatment and the amount of money expended is huge and all because owners are unable or unwilling to fulfill one of their basic moral responsibilities to the animals in their care: the ability to protect them from pain and suffering. The Animal Welfare Act 2006 makes it a legal obligation for owners to have this capability under their duty of care.

In 2017 the Peoples Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) provided over 2,000,000 treatments to 500,000 pets at a colossal cost of over £70 million although the total cost of providing the service is £100,000,000 each year. At the time of writing they run 48 treatment centres and have an agreement to pay for assisted treatment with nearly 400 private vet surgeries.

PDSA veterinary charity, logo

The Blue Cross which has a third of the income of the PDSA and only 4 hospitals provided treatment to another 28,000 animals at a cost of over £10 million. The RSPCA treated a further 130,000 and Wood Green Animal Shelters (WGAS) 11,000 pets.

It’s almost as though they are trying to set up a NHS for animals.

Donations to the PDSA and Blue Cross are constantly increasing, and they are continually expanding their facilities to provide for more patients in different areas of the country. All the charities are rightly proud of their achievements and the public obviously agree as we bombard them with legacies and donations. But the more money donated bizarrely has the knock-on effect of needing to find a use for it under the terms of their aims and policies and they have to build more facilities and offer more services which in turn encourages more irresponsible ownership. It is almost as though the veterinary charities are trying to set up a NHS for animals and put the private veterinary practice out of a job.

Many owners may feel that this would be a very good idea, but the problem is that such a service takes away an owners’ responsibility for the care of their pets and encourages more people to acquire pets which they can little afford.

Blue Cross charity, veterinary treatment, free treatment for pets

Both charities are predicting large increases in numbers and excitedly forecast great expansion for the future  as though they are a corporate industry dependent on increased business and profits.

The Blue Cross expects their treatment numbers to increase from 28,000 in 2017 to 36,000 in 2019 and in 2018 have “expanded” into Wales by building a clinic there and new clinics in Ashford, Luton, Torbay and York because “more people are relying on the Blue Cross to help their sick and injured pets”. The PDSA are building a £2.4 million “wellbeing” centre in Manchester “with dedicated wellbeing facilities to help local people provide everything their pet needs to be happy and healthy”

Providing free services only encourages reckless ownership.

Not only do these charities provide essential veterinary treatment, but they go out of their way and spend huge sums on providing the basic health requirements such as neutering, vaccinating, worming, flea control and micro-chipping animals in the mistaken belief that in some way this will solve the problems of reckless and uninformed ownership. It has reached the stage where veterinary charities are paying for people to own pets. Is this really a sensible way of spending all this money?

Cat, buster collar, neutering,
Charities are providing neutering, micro-chipping, vaccinations and other preventative treatments which any responsible owner should be able to provide without help.

At the very least all owners should be able to pay for these basic requirements. Charities have been doing this for at least four decades and it is clear by the rising numbers that it has had little if any effect on reducing the numbers of unwanted and stray companion animals or making pet owners more The problem with providing subsidised services.responsible.

Whether we like the inference or not all owned animals are captive animals, just like zoo animals, and if a person cannot provide adequately for them during their captivity they should not be allowed to own or keep them.

The problem with providing subsidised services.

In the same way that some critics view re-homing charities as counter-productive it is the same with veterinary charities whose emphasis should be on reducing numbers they treat and targeting the prevention of animals going into them in the first place. The PDSA do appear to be seeing the error of their past ways as they are reducing the number of animals per person that they will treat from three to only one. They have also recently changed their policy on providing assisted treatment through local private vets.

While once working at a large charity hospital in London I can remember a time when there was no restriction and human nature being what it is some owners amassed a dozen animals that they regularly brought in. Not only that but owners falsified their ‘poverty’ status by using ‘proof of benefit’ of other people.

The sheer presence of the PDSA, Blue Cross and RSPCA  discourages owners in certain sections of society from obtaining pet insurance or putting money aside for emergencies, as they see no need to when they can get free or subsidised treatment at one of these local clinics.

Most clinics are congregated in cities and large urban areas where the perceived poverty and greatest pet ownership is concentrated, and their arbitrary coverage causes problems when owners, who having become reliant, decide to move to an area that has no such service. They are shocked and indignant that there is no free or assisted treatment available, which often results in their pets suffering through lack of treatment or in some cases being put to sleep.

Owning a pet is not a civil right.

The benefit system is embedded in the psyche in the UK and owners believe they are ‘entitled’ in some way to get help for the care of their pets mainly because veterinary charities give them this false impression. For many people it is a deliberate act to take on pets knowing they do not have the finances or circumstances to look after them, as they are well aware charities will never turn them away in the same way as private vets do, but the crux of the matter is that they shouldn’t own them in the first place.

In this context operating charity veterinary clinics and hospitals is a short-sighted activity with no long-term benefits to animals in general as it does little to tackle the problem at source and costs millions in financing which could be spent on more vital animal welfare issues. The emphasis should be on phasing out such services and concentrating on restricting people from keeping animals if we are ever to tackle irresponsible ownership. The message that owning an animal is some kind of a civil right, regardless of circumstances, needs countering.

Veterinary practice is changing. Should we be worried?

The days of James Herriot are long gone.

The days of James Herriot, the famous kindly Yorkshire vet, willing to come to the aid of any animal at any time of the day or night and only accepting a cup of tea or a home-baked cake as payment are long gone and even the modern traditional independent veterinary practice in the UK is in danger of extinction.

Large corporate franchise groups are moving in and taking over everything to do with the veterinary industry, pets services, pet food and pet medicines; something that is prevalent in the USA. And as we know whatever America does we always follow, but is this good for pet owners and more importantly our pets?

This is not a new concept as forty years ago when I was working in a veterinary hospital in north London, local veterinary practices were buying each other out to form multi-practices across different areas in London.  This resulted in a lack of competition and freedom of choice with owners wishing to seek cheaper prices or better service forced to transport their pets long distances. This continues today in some places, but the problem is that large companies are now buying these practices out or offering franchises to form even bigger monopolies.

Veterinarian, operating, veterinary surgeon
Veterinary practices are becoming large corporate monopoly’s.

Should we be worried by big business taking over the veterinary profession?

The CVS Group plc and Pets at Home are the largest operators in the UK and are expanding at an alarming rate, both competing for the title of the largest veterinary services provider. This is obviously good for investors and the economy, but the best interests of the animals could get forgotten in the rush for profits.

CVS rates itself as the largest provider and its name is probably less well-known than its biggest competitor Pets at Home. At the end of 2017 it boasted over 460 veterinary practices, 4 laboratories and 7 pet crematorium employing 1,270 vets, over 1,800 nurses, 31 pathologist plus an online marketing company called Animed which sells drugs, pet foods and other accessories. Its turnover was £272 million and it purchased 67 vet surgeries in 2016 and 62 in 2017.

The UK Pets at Home company acquired two existing large franchises of Vets4Pets and Companion Vet which now work mostly out of their stores.  There are  296 in-store vet surgeries, 153  “stand alone” vets, 4 specialist hospitals, 306 grooming parlours and 55% of its stores have both a vet and a grooming parlour.  Its stores, online marketing and other activities bring in £843 million.

Big business controls over 900 veterinary surgeries

Both companies intend to buy out or open over 50 new veterinary practices each per year. As they already run over 900 and the Royal College Veterinary Surgeons state there are only 5,536 vet practices, these companies already control nearly 20%, which some analysts estimate will rise to 50% in the next ten years. They will also be controlling most of the diagnostic labs, drugs, pet food and accessories and other services like grooming and cremating your pet.

CVS has employed over 300 newly graduated vets over the last 3 years which is good for them and Pet and Home have set up hundreds of vets in business who would otherwise have had to wait many years to become a partner in one. They do this by providing the money, premises and equipment and taking a cut of the profits until the loans are paid.

All this clearly opens the industry up to the potential for monopolies, rising costs and perhaps poorer service becoming inevitable. These franchises can undercut and have promotions that attract clients away from traditional practices, such as cheap vaccination deals and once they have the clients through the door many no doubt stay with them.

Are home visits a thing of the past?

Many have already opted out of doing farm visits as there is more profit in treating a continual production line of companion pets in the warmth of their surgeries. Worse still, the few remaining farm practices are probably going to be taken over by ‘in-store’ farm vets.

The profession is already trying to turn its back on home visits declaring they are too busy, time-wasting and that owners should take full responsibility to get them to the surgery. They are even questioning twenty-four-hour coverage expectations. Dog, sick, veterinary treatment, veterinary surgeon

In the past they would cover their own out of hours, but now worryingly, most use specialist out of hours vet companies to offer this service. They mostly sublet a local veterinary practice for the night and weekend, move into it early each evening and at weekends and then move out in the morning having seen patients from most other practices in the area.

These companies no matter their protestations charge outlandish fees and have caused welfare issues when owners are unable to pay. A consultation fee can be as much as £150 plus and if overnight hospitalisation and treatment is required, such as an intravenous drip or x-rays, the bill rockets. Those kept in overnight are often sent home prematurely in the morning, and owners asked to move them to their own vet, as the practice they are operating from need their cages back for their morning admissions.

Where will it end?

Ultimately it seems that we will end up with all our veterinary services being controlled by a handful of companies who can dictate pricing, standards of service and care.  Although the veterinary regulating authorities who licence vets to practice might wish to intervene in the future it could reach a point where it becomes difficult if vets decide they have more allegiance to their employers than the veterinary college. It might be time for the monopoly commission to take a look at what is happening in the veterinary industry.

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