Statistics from Altmetric.com
Last month we asked: What would you do if a client cannot afford surgery but returns post-treatment to reclaim their pet?
14% said they would refuse to rehome the patient to its original owner as it will encourage other owners to abuse the system
61% said they would rehome the dog to its original owner if they sign up to a payment plan so the shelter can recoup the cost of the surgery
25% said they would rehome the dog to its owner as it’s in the best interests of the dog
Vote in this month’s poll at: twitter.com/Vet_Record
Reader comments: Rehoming a surrendered dog to its original owner
While working at a shelter veterinary clinic you are presented with a four-year-old female shih tzu with severe lethargy. Physical examination, blood tests and abdominal ultrasound are consistent with a closed pyometra. You explain that emergency surgery is indicated and estimate that the costs will be around £600. The owner wants to go ahead with the surgery since it is in the best interest of their dog, but they cannot afford the treatment. As a result, the patient is unconditionally surrendered to the shelter. A few days after the surgery, when the patient has successfully recovered, the owner returns, claiming he felt pressured to surrender his dog and now wants her back (IP, July/August 2019, vol 41, pp 278-279).
Regarding last months scenario, I agree with the authors, Cheung and Fawcett, who acknowledge the cost-benefit factors, as well as the potential stress implications on both the owner and dog. It is important for vets to consider the possible repercussions that remaining in the shelter may have on an animal, compared to it being in its familiar home environment – especially during recovery.
Good communication is invaluable and our profession teaches us that it is the most important and effective means of resolving issues, as well as forming solutions in practice. By sitting down with the owner, we can understand each particular situation and mould our approach to the specific needs of the client. Why do they want their dog back and why weren’t they able to pay for the necessary treatment? Asking these questions provides insight and helps identify the best possible solution.
It would help to understand the pressures owners feel to surrender their dog and how shelters could prevent this. Implementing a specific protocol for the shelter team to work through with the owner if such situations should arise in the future could help tease out relevant information. For example, implementing a step-by-step payment plan (such as the one proposed by Cheung and Fawcett’s article) could relieve some of the financial stress, as well as fully explaining how the process of surrendering a pet to the shelter works. Once an owner has all the information they can then make a well-informed decision.
Such discussions should not delay treatment and the main priority should always be to proceed with surgery irrespective of the cost. On recovery, the owner and the shelter can sit down and discuss possible measures and outcomes. It will become clear at this point whether it would be feasible or not for the dog to return to its owner.
It seems a little impractical, on both sides, to unconditionally surrender a dog to a shelter without delving into the finer details of the situation and ensuring that both the owner and the shelter team have communicated effectively. But whatever the decision, the welfare of the dog must be at the forefront.
Alexia is a student studying veterinary medicine at Surrey University
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