CAUTION: Long rant in progress.

No this post is not a continuation of yesterday’s post on animal cruelty––nor was it intended as its corollary. Rather, today’s is a completely standalone rant on the subject of how some clients come to abuse of their veterinary care provider’s kindnesses.

I’ve posted here before on the subject of financial stress in recessionary times and how veterinarians are not immune. After all, we swim in the same economic waters the rest of you find yourselves in:

Our practices are less busy. Our transaction per client stat is way down. Our incomes are lower. And our expenses are higher. Its enough to make some of our practices wonder, week-to-week, how we’re going to make payroll.

Amid all this woe comes the inevitable stress: clients who can’t pay for their sick pets’ care.

It’s a completely understandable problem. Now that business is down, I rely on my sideline writing income to pay for my son’s braces, allergy shot co-pays and my own animals’ impressive expenses. “Basic” stuff like this I’d be hard-pressed to pay up on in a timely fashion in this economy if I waited for my veterinary paycheck to make it happen.

Still, I know I’d find a way. There are credit cards I could apply for, family loans I might seek, the daily stop at Starbucks I could skip. I’d manage somehow.

I feel for my clients. That’s why I’m offering discounts when they’re needed, using technician down-time to accomplish low-overhead tasks at a pittance of what they normally go for and generally try and work with my pet owning people by offering CareCredit payment options (essentially a credit card) and formulating payment plans in some special cases.

Yesterday’s clientele was no exception. When four morning clients decline the diagnostics I deem their pets require, you know it can’t be good.

It’s especially troubling given that most of my clients are not the jobless and foreclosed on. They’re upper middle-class––which in Miami means they still drive new model SUVs and buy Coach handbags instead of Gucci when the going gets rough. In other words, they’re like me. They still have some discretionary income to spend, in spite of the recession. But they’re also a bit like me in that they’re all a little scared. And they’d rather not spend if they don’t have to.

That’s where the story gets interesting. Because this post is not so much about clients who have selected their limits and refuse to spend on their pets. They’ve got their own priorities in order, after all, much though they’re not mine. No, this post is more about those who would run up a bill and run out on their payments.

Well...not exactly. They’ve all promised to pay. But only after getting their estimates, agreeing to services and crying poverty when it’s the front desk’s turn to collect. Literally crying––at least in one impressive case sourced from yesterday’s morning line-up.

Instead of paying as they’ve promised, they’re passing bad checks, post-dating them, offering serially declined credit cards, even throwing them at us when we refuse to see their next pet until their previous balance is paid down.

They cite their recent move, their aged parents’ ailing health, their high stress levels and their children’s expensive schools. Like that’s my problem.

Worse yet, they call us insensitive, abusive, unfair, cruel, money-hungry and penny-pinching. As if collecting on an unpaid, $800 outstanding bill constitutes “penny-pinching” on our part.

Some bounce check after check (for routine care!), and still they drop off their strays by the back door for low-cost spays and neuters with nary a rescue organization certificate in sight (with which we pay for a modicum of our expenses). Then they whine and count the years they’ve been coming to us when we say we can’t support their stray-collecting habit or their good works, whichever the case may be.

Another long-time client leaves a stray cat in our care for weeks(!) when her mother heads to the hospital. She never returns the calls and shows up with another stray and another bum credit card––after bragging that she’s moved to a new tony address. When asked to pay or else no kitty-cat services on the new one, she looks me in the eye and says it’ll be on my head if we lose her business.

It happens almost every day. And it’s enough to make me decline the next charity case, offer no discounts, negotiate not at all and act like a corporate hospital instead of the humane family establishment we’ve always been so proud of.

The older I get and the longer I’m in this profession, the more I see the foul side of this business. But I know the abuse will never stop as long as I let it get to me. And the only way to manage that? No exceptions and a cold heart when it comes to cash. Pay up front, put up or shut up, and take your business elsewhere if you don’t like it.

It’s stressful enough to make a veterinarian with any sense of self-preservation start to wonder whether it’s worth it at all.

Some get stressed and yell. Some commit suicide. Some turn their hearts to stone. Me? In a couple months’ time I’ll be three-daying it in practice. Because writing at home may not pay as well, but it sure beats the hit to my sanity and the threat of cold, cold heart.

Do you blame me?