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The disparity in veterinary charity

by
01 April 2017, at 12:00am

GARETH CROSS follows up his investigation into the practices of animal charities and receives some revealing responses to his leading letter

LAST MONTH I DISCUSSED THE CROSS SUBSIDY that our paying clients unwittingly donate to large charities via our practice till. I also quickly reviewed the chief execs’ pay for the large charities (circa £130,000 pa) and discovered that the executive team of eight in the Dogs Trust is paid over £850,000 between them.

Veterinary practices undertake various tasks on behalf of charities, for example neutering at a loss, inserting microchips for free, and administering charity-provided drugs and vaccines to animals, all the while providing staff, office facilities, phones, internet, insurance, etc., to facilitate the charities’ activities as we carry out their work. 

Our paying clients subsidise this when they bring in their ill pets and pay the usual price. At the end of last month’s column, to see if the charities would do for someone else what they expect from us vets, I sent them a request. Please dig out last month’s magazine for full details, but my column ended with the email that I sent to them: 

Dear [charity name] 

I am planning on starting a group to help rescue and relocate pet tortoises in the UK. I have managed to get a landowner to offer some land for use but need some help in getting publicity and starting up. I appreciate that you cannot give me money as it has been given to you for you’re charity, but I was hoping you could offer help to me and my tortoises in other ways. I need an office for use during the day whilst I get it up and running and notice that you have a large HQ building. I will also need use of a phone, internet (for facebook etc.) and printing facilities. As I won’t be there in person all the time I would appreciate if your staff in the office could answer the phone for me – especially early morning! – and take details etc. of people and tortoises in need of help and be sure to mention the groups name (yet to be thought of!) when they call in. It would be great if you could help out a smaller animal rescue group like this. I will happily pay for any paper used in printing. Look forward to hearing from you, Gareth Cross. 

The replies came in and, as expected, the charities were not prepared to do for me what they expect us to do for them. 

RSPCA 

Thank you for your enquiry about setting up a tortoise rescue... 

Unfortunately we do not have the resources to offer office space or help answering calls.

It is wonderful that you want to help tortoises, but it is vital that anyone thinking of setting up a rescue is very sure they have the necessary financial resources and skills. Sadly so many small organisations fail, often from lack of funds or knowledge, and it is then left to the larger organisations to pick up the pieces. An alternative would be volunteering with an existing exotics rescue. 

Thank you again for contacting us. 

Kind regards, 

RSPCA Advice Team 

Dogs Trust 

Dear Mr Cross, 

Thank you for contacting Dogs Trust. Unfortunately, we have limited space in our offices. We have just had to rearrange space ourselves to accommodate our growing team. I’m sorry that I cannot be of more help. 

We wish you and your tortoises the best on your future endeavours. 

Kind regards,

Operations Assistant Dogs Trust – A Dog Is For Life 

Cats Protection 

Initial automated reply and guess who they advise must pick up any urgent cases (my bold type)... 

Dear Gareth Cross, 

Thank you for emailing Cats Protection. 

We will endeavour to respond to your query within five working days. 

Please note: If you have found an injured stray cat, please take it to your nearest veterinary practice and advise them it is a stray. Vets have a duty to give emergency care to any animal presented to them. 

Best regards, Cats Protection 

Then: 

Hello Gareth 

Thank you for contacting Cats Protection. 

We would be unable to assist you I am afraid, this is because our welfare work and limited funds are focussed on re-homing cats in need, neutering to prevent unwanted litters of kittens and educating people about good cat care. 

We wish you all the best with your future plans. 

Kind regards, Contact Centre Coordinator 

Then I asked again and suggested that it wouldn’t cost them anything, and guess what? When it’s the other way round and someone asking them for free help… 

Hello Gareth 

Unfortunately what you are asking is not something we are able to offer. I hope you appreciate that we would incur costs if we were able to consider your request. 

Our apologies, we wish you all the best for the future. 

Kindest regards, Contact Centre Coordinator 

The Guide Dogs for the Blind 

Did not reply to any e-mails from me about the tortoise rescue. 

So there you have it. The main charities that our clients subsidise so we can help them could not return the favour when asked. Cats Protection acknowledged that the sort of support they expect from us does indeed cost money, and also in their initial e-mail directed enquiries to their local vet for emergency treatment with no mention of costs or paying, the clear inference that we had to treat it – never mind any costs incurred. Which would be funny in an ironic way if it wasn’t us vets at the butt of the joke and our clients funding it.

I then sent them all my original full article for comments. Replies below: 

Dogs Trust 

Dogs Trust initially sent seven paragraphs about the good work they do with facts and figures (available on request if you want to read it) with three sentences thanking vets. When I pointed out that they had not addressed the cost sustainability for vets or cross subsidy from clients, i.e. the whole point of the article, they replied: 

Any schemes that Dogs Trust runs with vets are voluntary, whether that be for neutering or microchipping. 

We are eternally grateful to those vets who feel that they can take part, and appreciate that some practices do this as part of their CSR to support both Dogs Trust and ultimately those dog owners with limited means. 

I nearly threw the computer out the window when I read that. So entrenched is the corporate mindset that they didn’t bother to explain CSR (corporate and social responsibility) and feel they can, between the hours of 9am-5pm, lecture practising vets on the subject. 

My CSR is, for example, this Wednesday evening, leaving my kids at bed time to see a stray RTA cat for no recompense, looking after a stray rabbit all weekend, de-brambling an old lady’s dog on a Saturday at no charge. Oh, and being there to see people directed to us out-of-hours by the Cats Protection e-mail. Or the local equine vets who attended, at the request of the police, a horse stuck in a ditch recently with very slim prospects of payment. I really don’t need the Dogs Trust with its over £800,000 executive salary bill to offer me the chance of doing my bit for CSR.

Guide Dogs 

We have strong working relationships with hundreds of UK based veterinary practices, including private, corporate and referral practices and last year we spent £4.3 million on veterinary services carried out to support our dog population of 8,000. 

Our veterinary partners support our work by offering free six-monthly health checks for assistance dogs, in line with recommendations from The British Veterinary Association. 

The pharmaceutical industry also supports the organisation with replacement vaccinations and some preventative health care products for our working guide dogs. We do not ask vets to provide a free microchipping service. 

It costs just under £55,000 to support a guide dog from birth to retirement as a result we value and appreciate the good working relationships we have with the veterinary practices who offer a service to the charity, Guide Dogs and help us make a difference to the lives of those living with sight loss.

Cats Protection 

Comment from Cats Protection’s director of Veterinary Services, Maggie Roberts: 

As a charitable organisation that receives no government funding, we are obliged to use our funds in the most effective way possible to help as many cats as we can. This involves working with vet practices to offer lower cost neutering campaigns. When we run regional campaigns we generally contact all veterinary practices within the geographical area inviting them to take part and they can then decide whether they would like to be involved. 

We are extremely grateful for the support we receive from a huge number of vet practices across the UK and, as all the vets currently working in our vet team at Cats Protection have previously worked in private practice, we do have a realistic understanding of the costs of procedures and the overheads involved.

We know that many cats would go unneutered without this financial assistance. Many owners who are eligible for our schemes and are therefore on low incomes have not previously registered their pets at a vet practice. Therefore many practices gain customers through this initial contact, as well as through their ongoing work with local charities because when people adopt a cat from us they will often choose to return to the same vet next time their pet needs treatment or preventative care. 

In the case of cats in our care being prepared for rehoming, we often provide our own vaccines and microchips as we can obtain these more cost effectively by dealing directly with the manufacturer, however, vets usually make a charge for their time e.g. for giving our cats a health check and administering products.

Regarding microchipping, it can be advantageous to vets that pets are microchipped so that, in the instance of an animal being brought in as a stray needing emergency treatment for example, the owner can be easily contacted for payment. 

In cases where an owner cannot be located, vets are able to call on animal charities that can often help cover some of the costs of treatment. Without these charities vets would have to cover the entire costs themselves. 

Neutering campaigns are often part of a wider partnership between charities and vets and for most practices this is a beneficial and symbiotic relationship.

Unsustainable 

Cats Protection are one of the worst charities for screwing prices down to unsustainable levels by forcing practices to compete against one another (see last month’s article). Our practice has done all that they have asked and partakes in their campaigns. 

As it says in their own comment above, “they will often return to the same vet” after CP treatment. Why then do they often direct clients to a different practice from one they usually attend? 

Should they be allowed to interfere in the market? Why, when we do everything they ask and work for them at a loss, do we find they direct clients of ours to the opposition for CPfunded work? 

One reason I have got them to admit to is deals done between CP and the big corporates. So if like us you are a smaller business doing your utmost to offer CP what they want, don’t be surprised when they send your clients elsewhere if they get a kitten from them! 

Next month we will finish this miniseries on the business of charities with feedback from the veterinary associations and readers. I have already received quite a few, but if you have any comments about the issues covered please contact me (within the first 10 days of the month) on garethcross@hotmail.com.