DEAR DR. FOX: My widowed friend adopted a formerly abused older dog a few years ago. It was love at first sight for both human and dog. They went everywhere together, even to church.
When her pet became very ill one day (spitting up blood), she brought her dog to a 24/7 veterinary facility called BluePearl. They insisted on taking her credit card and told her to sign for an estimated cost of $1,800 before even examining the dog. The animal hospital reportedly ran 40-plus tests on the dog who, sadly, had to be put down two days later.
My friend was given of bill of over $5,000 for the dog's "care." She has been crying every day over the loss of her best friend, and has no means to pay these outrageous charges. Within the last few days, her hair has begun to fall out due to stress. I have written letters to BluePearl asking them to reduce the bill, to no avail.
Is there anything you can do to prevent excessive charges by corrupt animal care facilities being levied on lonely, vulnerable animal lovers? One other interesting fact about BluePearl: The Lee County (Fort Myers) Better Business Bureau has given the facility a D- rating. -- L.C., Lehigh Acres, Florida
DEAR L.C.: BluePearl Veterinary Partners is owned by Mars Inc., and currently has hospitals in 28 states. The Mars pet care website (mars.com/made-by-mars/petcare) touts the company's commitment to improving the lives of pets through nutrition and "high-quality medical care," mentioning its Banfield Pet Hospitals and BluePearl facilities by name.
"We take action to achieve our purpose every day," the website continues, "whether it's working to end pet homelessness, collaborating with governments and nonprofits to make 'Better Cities for Pets,' alleviating student debt for veterinarians or advocating responsible pet ownership."
All of this sounds wonderful, but in my opinion, this monopolistic trend in companion animal care -- coupled with promoting often-dubious pet health insurance packages -- parallels what has happened in the profit-driven human health care sector. Both sectors have seen declines in patient care and satisfaction, and increasingly outrageous charges.
I am shocked at the bill your friend had to pay, with its $1,000 for "miscellaneous" expenses and hundreds more for "consultations" and ultrasound "review."
Mars Inc. is a privately held multinational corporation. It has a moral obligation to the animals and their owners, from whom they profit, to establish more low-cost veterinary facilities in low-income communities. To this end, the company should follow the U.K.'s tried-and-true model of the PDSA (People's Dispensary for Sick Animals).
I addressed this issue in the following communication, which I sent to Mars Inc., on July 6:
"What funding and projects, current and planned, does Mars Inc. have to address the issue of adequate veterinary care for the poor and homeless at home and abroad? Having communities of dogs and cats in segments of society lacking basic veterinary care and preventive medicine is of considerable public health and animal welfare concern.
"Several years ago, I gave lectures in Europe at the behest of Mars Inc. on cat behavior, care and wellbeing, and I trust the company will honor my query with a detailed and timely response. -- Michael W. Fox, BVetMed, Ph.D., D.Sc., MRCVS; member, British Veterinary Association, American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association; honor roll member, American Veterinary Medical Association"
I have yet to receive a reply from the corporation, which seems to be allowing some of its divisions to put profits before compassion -- especially with regard to companion animals, from whom they generate significant revenue from their pet foods and veterinary services. Providing discounted, expired, overstock Mars cat and dog kibble to animal shelters does not quite fulfill this obligation.
MERCK DRUG COMPANY STEPPING UP
AVMA members can now apply for grants of up to $500 per client for cases related to COVID-19, and unlimited grants for domestic violence-related cases, as long as funds are available. This is supported by $200,000 in grants from Merck Animal Health and individual donations. Learn more at avmf.org.
(Send all mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.
Visit Dr. Fox’s website at DrFoxOneHealth.com.)