World Veterinary Day will be celebrated on Saturday 29th April, 2017.

We will use this day to thank our veterinarians performing animal welfare work, for their dedication and sacrifice made to ensure animals owned by people who cannot afford veterinary care at private practices, still receive veterinary care.

Many members of the public and even in the veterinary profession, believe that care provided at welfare organisations are substandard, based on using only the cheapest items and euthanasing what is too time consuming, or difficult to fix.

The reality is welfare organisations cannot afford to offer the full range of services that a private practice can. We do not get services like blood work, bone plating or eye surgery subsidised and while we may be able to get a discount for some, the cost is still too high for a client who is a state pensioner or client who was recently retrenched. We will give clients all the options available though, so they can make an informed decision, and this is where the welfare vet truly stands out.  He recognises the human-animal bond between client and animal, and respects that this may be the only companion that the client has. The client has a very limited budget to spend on his pet but would still like to try to help it. So the vet will prescribe the best medicine that will work for the problem, not necessarily the fanciest or most modern on the market. But the pet will be treated.

He will also advise on the most affordable way to do surgery and be honest with the client when the options are limited. Sometimes a Plaster of Paris cast managed properly is better than amputating a leg. Conservative treatment like cage rest and anti-inflammatories may help in certain cases.

Veterinarians are ably assisted by veterinary nurses and Animal Welfare Assistants who care for hospitalised animals. Animals are not left in dirty cages unfed. They are taken outside for fresh air or exercise, fed according to their needs, and may even receive physiotherapy where applicable. Swimming a little dog in a sink has the same effect as a hydrotherapy pool!

But with this must come the realisation that welfare hospitals cost money to run. Staff are working for a salary far below what is offered in private practice, but still need to be paid. Drugs and consumables have to be bought from wholesalers but even with a discount, we still need to try to recover the cost of these items. And these drugs and items are the same used in private practice. So our mark-up is low as our clients are financially constrained, and as we are providing a service, we also have to add vat on. So this does not leave much wiggle room to subsidise further.

So why do our clients think our services are for free? They aren’t, they can’t be. Our funding, unless for a specific project, has to cover our running costs, including the cost of care for an average 200 animals in our kennels looking for homes. These animals have to be fed, vaccinated and dewormed, and treated by the vet when sick or injured.

So on World Veterinary Day, thank the veterinarian that is attending to your pet at the welfare hospital, and pay your bill for the services rendered. It’s the right thing to do, in order to sustain subsidised veterinary service to your pet.