To the Editor:

Back in the 1970s, I brought one of the cats from our shelter to a veterinarian who had a great reputation for treating eye problems. I don’t think they even had board certifications in veterinary ophthalmology at the time.

We were quoted $300 for the treatment, which was a lot of money in those days. Naively, I said, “Pet Assistance is a nonprofit organization….will you give us a discount?”

And that’s when the words came out: “Animals are not my charity!”

Forty years later, I still quote this vet. And people always have the same shocked reaction when hearing the words.

I got his message, loud and clear. Veterinary medicine is a business …. and that’s OK. But it should be a business with a heart.

As more and more privately owned animal hospitals are being bought out by companies like Mars Corporation (yes, the candy company), humane and affordable veterinary care is quickly becoming obsolete.

Mars probably owns more than 2,000 hospitals nationwide at this point. Many, if not most veterinarians are now employees rather than owner/practitioners and they are more accountable to stockholders than to their clients and their pets.

I predict that middle class families will not have pets in 10 years. After all, it may be wiser (and less traumatic) to never get a pet than have to choose between a pet’s surgery and a year of college for your child.

Animals are my charity, and I hope they are yours also.

The pets helped by Pet Assistance, Inc., an organization that I founded in 1973 to help pets and pet owners, are not homeless, they are not abandoned and not abused; they are loved.

Their problem is that their owners are not millionaires. And if a medical emergency befalls these beloved pets, their lives may be at stake solely for financial reasons.

Even if you feel you love animals more than people, to really help dogs, cats and yes, even bunny rabbits, to relieve their pain and suffering from accidents and illness, to keep them off the streets and out of shelters, we have to help people first.

This is what really breaks my heart. A financially needy pet owner goes to an animal hospital for a real emergency and is turned away because they can’t leave a $1,000 or more deposit and the pet dies a painful death at home.

The following is a recent true story, one of several similar cases with tragic endings.

Lola was a 7-year-old. Her owner is on SSI and only had a few dollars until her next check came. Lola had chewed up a toy, swallowed some of it, and was throwing up continually.

The owner went to a vet, did not have the $433 for diagnostics and was sent home. Diagnostics? She brought the chewed up toy with her.

The woman left a message on our phone at 1 a.m. We contacted her first thing in the morning to tell her to get Lola to a vet ASAP, and that Pet Assistance, Inc. would pay for X-rays and help with surgery. She sobbed and said Lola had died at home two hours earlier after suffering for nearly three days.

And then there are the hospitals where the doctors do not forget why they became veterinarians.

A woman applied to PAI for help. Her 3-year-old male cat had a urinary blockage, which can be life threatening.

We wrote back and told her to get the cat to a vet ASAP and that PAI would help.

She responded, “The vet did the surgery with no money up front because Lucky was dying. He said Lucky wouldn't have made it another night without the surgery. The total was $427. Lucky is doing just fine. Now I have two months to figure out how to pay the vet. Thanks anyways.”

Have you ever heard someone say, “If you can’t afford a pet, don’t get one?”

What does “afford” mean when the bar keeps getting raised? Many pet owners were able to afford all the bells and whistles when they got their puppy or kitty 12 years ago or so, but circumstances may have changed and certainly the practice of veterinary medicine has changed.

Be grateful if you can manage pet ownership on your own. But to many people on limited income pets are their only family, and they need to be shown compassion and given financial help by veterinarians, (as well as by non profits), even if they are running a business.

I presume you care about animals if you took the time to finish reading my article.

What are pet owners’ rights regarding the care they give their pets? Who sets the standards? Why? There is so much more that needs to be addressed..

Ruth Pearl

Pet Assistance, Inc.

New Preston