The BVA's Animal Welfare Foundation has an absolutely fascinating video of a discussion at their 2013 meeting on what happens when vets are faced with a scenario where an owner either can't or won't take responsibility for their pet's needs.
It's nearly an hour long, but full of things that we in rescue need to think about:
- Chipping — is it a way to identify a particular animal (this is Fred who is vaccinated against rabies and that is Trigger who can't be eaten as he's been treated with Bute), or is it a way to make it possible to contact a human who accepts responsibility for an animal (this is Fluffy Jones; Mrs Jones will pay to fix her broken leg and can be contacted on this mobile number)? Both the Pet Passport and the Horse Passport schemes were designed only with the first option in mind and it makes their welfare value much less useful than it could be.
- What happens if an un-chipped stray dog is badly injured? Theoretically the Local Authority is responsible for the dog's welfare but they will almost certainly refuse to pay for treatment.
- The need to educate vets and their staff that healthy stray cats should not be "kidnapped" probably removing them from a satisfactory home and possibly meaning they will be put to sleep or other cats will be put to sleep to make space for them.
- Owners don't budget for vet bills because they hope the worst will never happen — when it does they expect the vet to make an exception for them, but the same scenario may be playing out in the vet's premises several times a week. We have to educate the public to understand it is impossible to treat hundreds of sick or injured animals without a reasonable amount of financial input from their owners.
- Horses may be in a field somewhere with no indication at all of the location of their owner if something goes terribly wrong.
- Payment plans largely don't work as a solution to the owner who can't pay as the owner either doesn't meet the payments or sends a series of cheques which bounce. The owner who can't save also probably won't be able to set aside a certain amount each month to pay the vet back. This is pretty much our experience of trying to run payment plans at the Cambridge RSPCA clinic.
- Dealing with the problem of the owner without enough money is complicated by the law on credit, intended to restrain loan sharks but adding an extra worry for anyone wanting to offer interest-free credit for vet bills.