There is great debate in the veterinary community about all the low-cost clinics available to people. Most of these clinics are limited to spay/neuter surgeries, vaccines and other minor procedures or tests. It seems most people are either strongly for or against this trend. This is not a post about which side I'm on-because I can see both sides. I just thought I would write a bit about the issues and throw in some opinions along the way. After all, it's my blog.
1. Low cost clinics take away business from private practices. This is a huge argument from practice owners. So does it? Well, hard to say. It really depends on the situation. Some of these low cost clinics don't have any requirements-they let anyone come in and get services regardless of income. I suspect these are mostly spay/neuter clinics whose aim is reducing the pet overpopulation more so than servicing the public. But, if the facility truly has an income or need based program then these are likely people who would not be able to afford the services at many higher-end private practices. At least this way they are getting some care.
2. Offering low cost services gives people the idea that a service is not worth what a private practice charges for it. I could agree with this. Most of these programs are subsidized to provide a low cost to the client, even if the service is performed at a similar level of quality as at a full-price clinic. But, I can imagine that quite frequently the users of those low cost clinics do not necessarily realize that that is why they are getting a deal. Without educating the client as to the true cost of care anyone can see why they would think a spay is only worth $40. It's not that it only costs X amount of dollars, it's that someone else has donated the rest! And that's not to say that some non-profit or low cost clinics don't cut corners to keep costs down. However, the same issue occurs in private practice. The clinic that charges 1/2 the price of a competitor for a surgery is likely not offering the same quality and standard of care. It's lack of a standardization of what is acceptable care that is the issue. Sadly, many people don't realize this and will price shop for their pet's medical care, not knowing they may put their animal at risk.
3. If a person cannot afford routine veterinary care at a regularly priced full service clinic then they should not have a pet. This is probably the most controversial. I admit, this has always been my opinion as well. However we all know this is not reality After all, there are plenty of people who do not have the financial ability or the responsibility needed to care for children but we can't stop them from having as many as they want. And we think we can stop them from getting pets they also can't care for? Not gonna happen. These people are going to get pets no matter what. It's not the fault of the pet that they belong to those less fortunate, so why should they pay for it? And it also entirely possible, that in today's economic times the person was better able to care for the pet when they acquired it and have now fallen on hard times. Isn't it better that they do what they can until time are better than to dump the pet at a shelter? Sure there are people who will abuse the system if they can, but that's no different than any other charity. I know better than anyone there are people who get a pet, don't even try to take care of it and knowingly let it live with chronic conditions that are easily addressed. But there are some people with limited finances that truly try to care for their pets.
In conclusion, I would agree that this is not an ideal situation. Ideally everyone should only take on animals (or children for that matter) that they have time, space, and money for. But that's not the real world and likely never will be. At least there are some options for those pets left in less than perfect situations, even if it's not perfect system.