The dilemma in the February issue dealt with the fate of a whelping shih tzu bitch and her unborn puppies, which had been brought into the surgery by a friend of the breeder. It was decided that a caesarean would be necessary, but the owner, who was out of town and who had planned to sell each puppy for £400, said she was unwilling to pay for any treatment (In Practice, February 2014, volume 36, pages 102-103). Steven McCulloch proposed performing a caesarean section, not expecting payment, on the condition of a ovariohysterectomy to prevent this situation from occurring again. While the practice owner wouldn't receive any financial gain, this solution would save their employees the severe moral stress which would accompany euthanising the bitch and puppies. Moreover, the owner would be unlikely to refuse the C-section and spay, as the only other option would be to put the bitch to sleep and lose the puppies.
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AS a large animal vet and business owner I might have a slightly harder outlook on the situation. This owner sounds like a puppy farmer, which is why I am looking at this scenario from an economic point of view, as we have to in the large animal sector. If she was a responsible owner she would have the funds to pay for this operation, which is always a possibility when breeding animals.
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The owner has made the decision for you, as she has said that she is unwilling to pay for the operation. The only option in my opinion is to put the animal to sleep. Why should the practice have to stand the cost? By doing so they would set the precedent of being the practice that does things for nothing and this would soon get around the dog breeding community. I take Steven McCulloch's point about having a happy work force, which, as an employer, I strive for, but how happy will employees be when they do not get their expected wage increase or bonuses due to all the pro bono work that has decreased practice profits?
There is another option that has not been explored, which is seizure of the dog and puppies until payment is forthcoming. This is evidently not a case of genuine hardship if the owner can afford to go away on holiday and also has the puppies (hopefully) to sell another day. I would offer the owner the option of paying over the telephone via credit or debit card so that their friend can take the bitch and puppies home immediately after the C-section. If the breeder is unwilling to do that, and it is possible to keep the bitch and puppies at the surgery, then the owner can pay on return, on the understanding that they will have incurred extra costs for keep.
It is perfectly legal to seize goods from a tradesman who owes money (although this is best done via a bailiff) and I would argue that this is no different in law. Many people are very willing to test the boundaries in situations such as these in the hope or expectation that a vet's kind-heartedness will force them to do the procedure for nothing. If the owner continues to refuse payment the practice could sell the puppies at weaning and return the bitch and balance (if any) to the owner. My experience has generally been that people will find the money when faced with resistance to their morally indefensible behaviour. This approach would result in a good outcome for the animals involved, the veterinary surgeon and the practice owner. Indeed the owner of the bitch and the friend will also come out of it much better than if the dog had been euthanased.
T. P. Gliddon,
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