The following is a copy of a "letter To The Editor" by Dr. T. J. Dunn, Jr. It was published in a northern Wisconsin newspaper in 1990 ... over 20 years ago! But is still is relevant today. It is in response to a reader who was complaining that veterinarians charged too much for spaying and neutering dogs and cats, and that veterinarians were actually contributing to the numbers of unwanted and orphaned pets due to excessive surgery fees.
I would like to express some personal opinions relative to the pet population problem present locally and nationally. These opinions have been formed throughout my 25 years as a veterinarian, working daily with dogs and cats and interacting with their owners.
There are a number of pet owners who believe that veterinarians are part of the problem and are actually one of the causes for so many excess, unwanted pets. The reasoning behind this belief stems from the perception that "The vets charge too much to get my pet spayed or neutered." This self-serving criticism asserts that since the pet owner cannot afford the surgery, it means, therefore, vets are charging too much.
I am frequently involved in discussions that begin with, "I've got six cats that need to be fixed and I sure can't afford all that surgery -- but they keep having litters. What kind of a bargain can you give me if I get 'em all fixed?" Now I begin to feel like I'm partly responsible for any future litters these cats might have! How does one perform "bargain priced surgery" where each patient's life is on the line during the procedure? It is not acceptable to me to ever lose a patient during this type of surgery; and yet the owner is looking for a bargain...
Also, there are responsible pet owners who ask a perfectly honest and reasonable question, "Why does it cost so much?" Well, I'm going to tell you why.
1. Education: There are only 27 universities in the United States that provide Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M.) degrees. They accept only one out of ten qualified applicants. Students may be accepted for the four years of professional veterinary school only after three to four years of pre-veterinary studies. Therefore, there are seven to eight years' minimum of college preparation, studying such topics as biochemistry, physics, comparative anatomy, microbiology, genetics, pharmacology, surgery, etc., etc. No home correspondence courses here! According to the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges the costs incurred by a student to achieve a D.V.M. degree in Wisconsin (Ed. note: these are 1990 figures) is $8,000.00 per year tuition ($11,500.00 if you are from out of state), $4,300.00 per year for room/board, and $1,800.00 for books and supplies. These figures are only school related costs! Not everyone is able or willing to make the educational/financial sacrifice to earn the B.S., D.V.M. degrees. I'm one of the lucky ones!
2. Licensure: After graduation the veterinarian may only practice if a license is obtained through intensive examinations for a particular state. I am licensed to practice in Wisconsin and Florida; I cannot simply move to any state and start a new animal hospital. There are regulations I must follow and minimum requirements of knowledge and expertise I must possess.
3. Business: An animal hospital owner is generally self-employed. For me that means that I am responsible for payback of the loans I took out to establish the business. For example, real estate, hospital equipment, inventory suppliers, employee wages, advertising, insurance, telephone bills, etc., etc., are all my responsibility. Nobody provides me with insurance benefits, paid vacations, retirement funds, bonuses for hard work or pats on the back for maintaining a positive attitude. There are no corporate expense accounts or perks, no government grants or subsidies.
Every small business owner is in business to make a profit, and profit is what's left over AFTER all the expenses (supplies, equipment, rent, wages, etc.) are paid. Then with that profit the self-employed business owner has to take care of personal expenses such as car, house, insurance, food, utilities, etc., just like everyone else. If the self-employed business owner is fortunate, a little profit is left over after all those ordinary expenses for savings or retirement. In general, people do not perceive veterinarians as small business owners, but we really are no different from the shoe store operator, the dentist, the plumber, or carpenter. We get paid for our ability to perform a service.
I chose to become a veterinarian; nobody told me I had to do this. I spent seven years in college gaining the ability to perform a service and expected to make a good living through conscientious application of the skills I acquired. I don't know how to repair a ruptured water pipe though; and I don't have the tools to do it if I did. So, I'll call a plumber and expect to pay him for his knowledge and skill. In return, he'll provide for me a service I request. Likewise, pet owners call me to apply my abilities to safely prevent their pets from reproducing.