Firstly I’d like to thank everyone who’s contacted me with both their positive and negative comments about Monday night’s Tonight programme ‘Pets Undercover’.
An investigative programme like that was never going to go unnoticed and it seems to have ignited a discussion within the veterinary profession as well as the general public increasing widespread awareness of what appears to be a growing problem.
I made it quite clear in my interview that the “majority of vets are giving excellent service and value for money and it’s the minority who are tarring the rest of the profession with the same brush and causing loss in owner-confidence”, and meant it.
We humans have a huge responsibility to look after and respect as best we can the animals we chose to domesticate; and alongside the majority of vets, nurses and vet receptionists in this country I also enjoy promoting responsible pet ownership as much as I possibly can.
By using my fairly recently-attained media position to encourage this, I’m proud to front campaigns for issues including microchipping, anti-pet-obesity, rabbit nutrition, rescue shelters, National Pet Month as well as against the puppy farming trade.
Other interests include customer care, pet-friendliness and practice marketing and PR. I have written over 500 pet-related articles for the press and for the last ten years have regularly visited schools and youth clubs to educate children and young adults by talking about pets; and have definitely noticed a decline in the percentage of families out there who own pets.
By energizing the current and next generation of pet-lovers and embracing social media (including twitter, facebook and ThePet.net), we can explore countless other ways to reach and engage pet-owners, encouraging them to share their experiences and search for the best for their pet thus making sure they (and of course their beloved pet) gain the maximum benefit from pet-ownership possible.
My point is that there are so many of us out there doing good by promoting pet ownership it greatly concerns me that there exists a minority who do not appear to have the animal’s optimum welfare as their primary motivation.
Recently I was called to put down a 22-year-old cat that had only 6 days previously had over £2K worth of dental treatment done on her after the owner had been persuaded to, even though the cat had confirmed renal and liver failure by the same vet. Her worried owner had originally gone in to have her euthanized. She told me she’d had cats all her life but this experience has put her, and her family off ever owning another cat forever.
What Monday’s Tonight programme achieved using a ‘mystery shopper’ type of model – a method commonly used nowadays in every business to greatly improve customer service – showed that there is huge variation in attitudes about pets brought into various veterinary practices.
Awareness and education around the differing levels of quality of care and advice given to pet owners needed to be addressed, and those PR/marketing-aware vets out there will have already seized this opportunity to use the programme as a clever business tool to reinforce to their clients that they are not driven by bonus incentive schemes and how they are part of the majority who continue to proudly put the pet first and give excellent value for money.
All the feedback I’ve received from these vets and owners who proudly ‘love their vet’ has only proved that is the case.
A little known fact amongst pet-owners is that the veterinary industry is a service industry. People come to us for a service because they trust us, we give it to them as best we can and if they like the experience we’re providing they will repeat it – hopefully without hesitation or any need for doubt.
It’s this ‘experience’ that is of most concern to me as (and I’m sure made much worse by the current credit crunch), and there is just too much evidence out there now of pets and owners being exploited. This in turn will eventually lead to a reduction in pet replacement rate and fewer pets.
We must all protect our pet industry from those practicing vets who continue to exploit pets, owners, and insurance companies, giving us a bad reputation; and I was privileged to have been asked to voice that opinion, for the sake of the animals and the good-guys out there who continue day-in day-out to proudly put ‘pet before profit’, and the longevity of this country’s passionate pet-owning population in our consumer-driven society.
With regards to the individual treatments, examinations, histories and opinions shown in the programme I would like to stress that some material did not make the final cut, as in the case with any edited television programme but that doesn’t change the overall clear message to the viewer.
By informing the viewer that there is in fact a choice available to them enables the owner to seek out a vet that’s right for them and their pet and continue to enhance their pet-owning experience rather than destroy it and risk that animal never being treated again or being dumped instead.
Seeking second opinions from garages for any car maintenance or repair-work and builders for any home improvements are commonplace and commonsensical. There are too many non-treated and abandoned pets nowadays for this matter to be just overlooked and it’s them I feel most sorry for.
We all know that every vet has their own way of examining, treating and charging for every type of pet condition; but the point that needs to be stressed and awareness raised is that there’s a fine line between recommending further tests and work-ups that are completely justified and well-communicated to the owner, and taking advantage of a stressed pet-owner for a cut of increased overall company profit through overselling goods and services.
So it’s up to all of us to be aware of the current consumer climate and need for transparency when dealing with pets and their owners. It’s not after all the total bill that’s ever the problem, or even if the animal gets better; it’s whether the amount charged is seen as ‘worth it’ and the pet’s welfare has been paramount throughout.
For those who took the time to get in touch with their comments, both constructive comments and criticism, I hope it is now clear what everyone’s motivation was for making the show: by putting animal welfare first at all times will ensure we all, and all the vets to come, have pets to treat and look after well into all of our futures.