“He’s not a nice cat.”
That’s exactly what the veterinarian said. While that may not be a very professional thing for a pet doctor speaking to a distraught person caring for an animal to say under any circumstances, it was especially jarring under these circumstances.
Scimbles was a cat that lived in my apartment. He had been placed in my care by a former roommate who moved to Europe. Being an alley cat, he was a bit of a scrapper in general, but this night, he was suffering from urinary blockage, a common problem with male cats. I don’t know about you, but if I couldn’t pee, I might not be in the best mood, either.
We had taken him to the Centre Vétérinaire DMV on Montreal’s West Island after the receptionist had convinced me that he wouldn’t live through the night otherwise. They were the only vet that was open 24 hours a day and it was by now close to 2am.
The vet had presented me with two options: either pay $1000 for the operation that was needed and $500 of it up front or he’d do me a “favour” and put Scimbles down for free (except, of course, for the roughly $120 I now owed for them having a look at him).
I didn’t have $1000 or the means to get $500 on the spot, in fact I had even borrowed the $120 visit fee from a roommate. I also didn’t want to let Scimbles die that night. So, I was attempting to find another solution when I asked the doctor if he could clear the blockage temporarily so Scimbles could feel better and live through the night. That way I could find a cheaper vet in the morning.
That’s when he made the comment about him not being a nice cat, as if it would be too difficult to clear the blockage as he was moving around too much, as if they didn’t have access to anything that could sedate a cat. Eventually he relented and five minutes later, my friend was driving us home. Scimbles was much calmer.
The next day Scimbles received treatment at the Baker Animal Hospital for a much more affordable fee that I could pay for in instalments. Scimbles lived happily with me for another year and a half before disappearing this past summer. Hopefully he moved on to a happier home or just maybe some day he will return.
If I had believed what I was told by the vet at DMV, Scimbles would have died that night. Fortunately I was able to remain a bit savvy and wary of sales pitches despite being concerned. That, essentially, is what it was, a sales pitch and a very hard sell at that: pay our fee or your cat will die.
Charging more than others for a service isn’t the problem here, that’s their right. Demanding on an upfront payment for an operation isn’t the problem either, as a business, that’s their right, too. The real despicable thing in this situation, I feel, is the fact that the Centre Vétérinaire DMV used hard-sell sales tactics and put Scimbles’ life in jeopardy just to make a buck.
True, the doctor did save his life temporarily and eventually made me promise that I would get Scimbles the operation somewhere or else put him to sleep because that was the humane thing to do.
Still, the humane thing for him to have done if he actually cared about animals would have been to inform me from the get-go that I had three options: pay their fee, put the cat to sleep or find somewhere else that would treat him for less money and not use a life as a bargaining chip to make profit for the business.
This event really made me wonder just what life would be like if human life was treated the same way. I live in Canada and free universal health care has always been a given for me. I don’t know what it’s like in the US where people have to get medical insurance or else pay for the surgery they need.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure the doctors themselves that operate under the American system, or at least most of them, have more compassion for human life than this vet did for Scimbles and I also don’t think that people have to pay up front at an emergency room in the states when it’s a life or death situation.
However, if you have the rationale that health is a product that can be used to generate profit and follow that logic to it’s obscene (and extreme) conclusion then you get a situation where a human life in the balance can be used as part of a hard-sell sales pitch to generate profit, just like a cat’s life was in the vet’s office a few years ago.
About a month after the dust had settled on this episode, I got a letter in the mail from DMVâ€¦asking me to make a donation. I didn’t make one.