Saturday, April 13, 2013

Community hostage, more like.

Community service: donated service or activity that is performed by someone or a group of people for the benefit of the public or its institutions. Performing community service is not the same as volunteering, since it is not always done voluntarily. (source: Wikipedia)

As a veterinarian, I am sick of “community service”. Here in North Carolina the Public Health Department is responsible for ensuring that every county has a rabies clinic at least once a year. Note: that’s ONE rabies clinic per year. They are encouraged to ask each county’s veterinarians for ‘help’ with the clinic. After all, both the state rabies regulations and the state veterinary practice act require that a licensed veterinarian to administer the vaccine. North Carolina does allow for certified rabies vaccinators (CRV) but only if there is no veterinary participation. Even then, a veterinarian has to be available to supervise the CRV!

So Public Health Guy (PHG) comes to the office to ask for my participation. It’s a public service, do your part, protect the public health, let’s fight rabies, yada, yada, yada. He is not concerned that these animals typically have never seen a veterinarian in their lives. Most are not well socialized and understandably, want to take my head off. Or my hands. Better yet, try to corral a terrified cat loose in a hot car to give it an injection of vaccine! If an animal gets away and gets hit in the parking lot or causes a wreck by running into the road, will the owners acknowledge their own stupidity for not having said animal in crate or on a leash? Will it be Public Health’s responsibility for not arranging an indoor location? No; it’ll be Blame the Veterinarian time- so we have to provide liability insurance for the event.

So after this discussion, Public Health Guy (PHG) shows me a proposed newspaper ad stating what day and time we local veterinarians would be available to provide this valuable community service. The vaccination clinics are scheduled for Saturday afternoons and last for 2-3 hours. Apparently you can’t expect John Q Public to get up and about before noon on a Saturday. So PHG is asking me to take time away from my family to work for free- after I have already worked 6 days a week. Most people will find this odd, but veterinarians like to have time with our families too. They want me to participate this year in addition to the vets that did it last year; with more vets participating wait times will be shorter. Apparently John Q Public complained last year about having to wait 45 minutes to get their $5 rabies vaccine.

Notwithstanding the loss of a big chunk of my precious little family time, the biggest drawback is the cost. PHG is telling me that I can not charge more than $5 for the rabies vaccination. That doesn’t cover the cost of the vaccine, syringe, needle, tag and certificate much less license, staff time, my time and oh yeah, the insurance. But doesn’t the Public Health Department provide the vaccine you say? NO! They provide nada towards the clinic. Zip. Zilch, zero, nuttin’. In previous years, the Public Health Department would at least provide the specific required government rabies tags, the books of vaccination certificates and some administrative help to fill them out. But because of decreased county revenues, the Public Health Department did not budget to cover any costs associated with clinics that they are mandated to hold! You would think, since having the clinics is their responsibility, they would budget for said items. Nope.

Participating veterinarians are responsible for providing EVERYTHING for these clinics: their own time, vaccine, syringes, needles, liability insurance, technicians- who have to be paid (which puts them into overtime) or they won’t be covered by liability insurance, tags, certificates. And oh BTW, you can’t charge more than $5 per pet. When I pointed out to him that $5 does not even cover costs and the participating veterinarians will lose money on every vaccination, he responded “but it’s a community service”. I don’t see him losing money providing the community service! He’s on a government salary with benefits- and he isn’t giving up his personal time to help provide this community service. Yet veterinarians are expected to give up time with family, eat the cost, lose money, endanger themselves and those around them by dealing with animals that are poorly socialized, poorly restrained, in fact many animals that never see a veterinarian, except for the rabies clinic…all in the name of COMMUNITY SERVICE!

Here’s another newsflash - COMMUNITY SERVICE does not pay my bills, feed my family or fund my retirement. I provide community service daily- when I provide spay surgery below cost to make sure people can afford to get it done, when I work with the local shelter to provide care for unowned animals, when I work with the homeless.

The state statute raised the price Public Health Departments could charge for rabies vaccinations but guess what? Public Health doesn’t set the cost in my county- the cowardly bastards leave that to the county commissioners. Never mind that us local veterinarians who are supposed to participate aren’t consulted about our costs, the commissioners set the price to $5. After all, it has to be “affordable”. Affordable to who? Well, to John Q. Public, who feels entitled to government subsidy of their lives. After all, “It is a community service, a win win. For the pet, for the owner, for the community!” Uh, ‘scuse me…am I part of this community? If I have to pay to participate in this project, and am already barely keeping up with my overheard, is this a service to me?

Pet ownership is a privilege, NOT a right, folks. If somebody can’t afford to spend $10 a year on a legally required vaccination that protects them and their pet from a 100% fatal disease, then they shouldn’t own the animal. Shove your entitlement attitude of Community Service up your backside, PHG. Public Health should have the moral fortitude to stand up to the collective entitlement attitude of our society and charge $10. Then next year I might be able to participate without losing money.

At which point PHG states “Well there is always the rabies clinic we want to have in the fall. You could help with that if you don’t want to do one now”.

There is now a dent in my desk the exact size and shape of my head.


  1. No is a complete sentence. Wheee. I dare ya, go ahead.

    We don't have pets-we can't afford them.

  2. I don't believe they have these types of problems in Vetlandia.

  3. Tell your PHG that you will run a weeklong promotion of $5 rabies vaccs w free exams in your office. They can provide the advertising and you can make up some of the losses treating hotspots ect. You may even pick up a client or two who don't manufacture methamphetamine in thier garage. Dealing with pit bulls, chows, feral cats, whinos and crack heads at your own expense on your day off = EPIC FAIL.

  4. I really want to like this, because this piece is well written and captures a common sentiment. I can't, because this SUCKS. Don't we already pay enough to care for the public? Between the taxes and the freebies I already do, my charitable account is overdrawn. As the "Newsflash" post says, I do this for money.

  5. 25 years ago I tired of the county-mandated vaccine clinics where I sat at some rural outpost to do less than a half-dozen $3 rabies shots.

    I told the health department I would do them during the designated week, but I would do them in the front yard of my clinic, which gave it sort of a carnival atmosphere that attracts the type clients who want the cheap vaccines.

    Long story short, I still do it once a month for 2 hours, though I set my own price and we do it indoors. We are usually very busy and we sell other services and products. Win for me/win for my budget conscious clients that have enough pets to count as "herd health."

  6. I used to get angry at these situations, now I just get angry at my profession. We are the biggest group of enablers I've ever seen. We have several avenues for coming together to combat these kinds of things but do we? Nope. We still do vaccines without exams, rabies vaccine clinics like this one mentioned above, etc etc. We shoot ourselves in the foot. There is always SOME vet willing to do it for $5 even though it's a direct insult to us all. I promise you, if just ONCE we'd grow balls big enough to defend ourselves, our profession would improve. Instead we make stupid decisions, stab each other in the back, allow the Dr. Pols of the world to basically run more than 50% of our clinics, let the corporations run us over, etc etc.

    We have no one to blame but ourselves, as sad as that is. At some point, the collective has to come together and just say enough is enough. This entry is a perfect example of the frustrations that have built up over the years from a profession that has pussied out on so many levels, it cannot be measured any longer.

  7. As a new resident to North Carolina, when PHG comes a'calling, the answer will be a resounding NO. Until the grocery store gives a free/low-cost steak clinic I will not be giving away my services.

  8. The best part is, inevitably at least one animal always dies 1-3 days after the rabies vaccine clinic. Considering that we vaccinate hundreds of animals of various ages with sketchy or absent medical histories and no physical exam, this is just the law of averages. But, after donating hours of time after a busy morning at the clinic, this is just the thing I love to hear on Monday morning.

  9. The day it becomes commonplace for physicians to donate several hours on a Saturday afternoon to vaccinate humans (for influenza or whatever), paying a nurse and providing all supplies including vaccine out of their own pockets, will be the day I will even consider participating in something like this. When I say physicians, I mean all of them: dermatologists, neurosurgeons, radiologists, etc. not exempted.

    Of course, I'm being unreasonable. I guess I'd understand if I were a Real Doctor.

  10. I did one of these clinics about 10 years ago and I would NEVER do it again. I actually spent 6 hours of my time on a Sunday and not only did people not appreciate it, but they actually treated me with complete disdain as if I were part of the big government machine that had been screwing them over their whole lives. They also got incredibly rude when politely informed that this clinic would not result in the diagnosis of the mass present on the dog's side for the past year or various other complaints. I left that day with a terrible feeling of defeat as if I was some horrible person based on how people treated me rather than feeling good for donating my time.

    1. This was also in a very wealthy community by the way. People suck.

  11. You've seen this sort of response, right?

    Somebody else offering up your services without allowing you to cover the basic costs involved? Unacceptable in a free society.

    I agree with the posters above. Group together. Say no. If J.Q.Public can't afford a $10 (or $15, or $20) vaccine once a year, you can't afford a pet.

  12. Tell them no, and it will be no until they at least provide commodoties and cover the liability. There are enough grants out there to probably cover the entire cost of these clinics. It just takes seat time and initiative to apply for them. Our PH department doesn't mandate these, but I'm noticing they are being offered around my animal shelters. That seems to be the most logical location for these anyway.