In the state of Florida, practicing attorneys are required to complete a few hours of pro bono work every year to maintain a favorable Bar status. Vets do not have similar requirements. But I’d like to change that.

If I were on the Board of Veterinary Medicine or a Florida VMA muckity-muck, I would stop wasting my time pushing more economic-based, vet-protectionist regulations or relentlessly rewriting old policy statements. Me? I’d get to work taking some positive steps to follow the legal profession’s lead on publicly documenting the freebie thing.

Lawyers do it in large part because it’s excellent PR for their profession. Forcing them to give it away, even if it’s only to help family and friends who can’t afford their services otherwise, makes them look better in the eyes of the common folk. Vets should get in on some of that, too, especially now that our profession’s enjoying a higher profile lately.

It’s true that citizens of most any stripe would prefer to think of us living the James Herriot high-life in a modest country house with tricky plumbing and nary a materialistic thought for ourselves. But those days have come and gone and vets’ incomes run a pretty wide gamut. I know some living on the water with their powerboat in the back and the BMW in the drive. I also know vets who can hardly pay for their efficiencies without working two jobs. Neither is typical, but they’re both common enough to shatter anyone’s idea of what a fellow citizen-vet looks like.

Going the way of the law profession might help counter the public’s increasing discomfort at the “serious cash” we’re raking in now that pets might actually be worth more than your lawnmower in a court of law (that’s a nice John Deer tractor we’re talking about in some states). But I have other reasons for wasting my time requiring that vets give their services away like lawyers do.

And that’s because my concept doesn’t require that vets actually do anything they don’t already do—unless they’re the type that got there by never ever giving anything away (and I know precious few of those). In case you don’t know this, vet medicine is very easy to give away. Most of us do so every day in a variety of ways.

Last Friday, for example:

1. the woman who only had fifty bucks in her pocket at checkout time (the emergency visit had cost $145 and I swear we’ll never see her again)

2. the puppy covered with fleas a child brought in (sans parent) who received a free deworming and an application of Advantage (he also didn’t bring any money)

3. the six (!) kittens in the back who are slowly being farmed out to clients and friends with castration and shots thrown in along with their bill of health

4. the stray cat “owned” by a church group, which we agreed to spay and vaccinate—gratis

5. the hefty discount on a surgical procedure for the longtime client whose personal tragedy led him to ask for it

Need I go on? Every day there’s something we fail to charge for because our clients “can’t afford it” (but the pet really needs it), because the bill “sounds” too high to us, because they used to work for us, because their efforts are worthy and, ultimately, because we’re in a position to give something away that others really need.

Complimentary vet care, via discount or outright gifting, is a commonplace enough event in modern vet practice. But attorneys don’t seem to suffer from the same expectations or compulsions that reign supreme in our kind of practice. Yet they’ve codified the freebie thing in a lawyerly term now almost synonymous with the arguably oxymoronic concept of “legal aid.”

Sure, vets have a better reputation than lawyers in spite of our failure to report on our daily rightdoings. Still, I counter that proper accounting of free services rendered makes for excellent business when the taxman comes around and great PR for the profession when critics counter we only care about making money.

Most importantly, tallying up our contribution is what we vets really need when it comes to feeling good about ourselves and what we do. If we keep track of our gifts—like lawyers do—we’ll feel less taken advantage of when clients abscond before paying their bills, more satisfied with ourselves and our daily work, and far more likely to take pride in exactly how much we contribute to helping people and pets in need.

Sure, what I propose is ultimately self-serving, as it is for the legal profession. But after years of giving it all away with none but the most personal means of satisfaction as impetus, it’s time we looked to the pros and learned to extract a bigger bang for our freebie buck.

And, by the way, should anyone want a free me...please.