Since I am a solo practitioner, I am on-call 24-7. This made me extremely nervous when I first started: what happened if I had to leave town? Or better, if I wanted to leave town? What is there is a bad snow storm? Or if I’m just REALLY tired and don’t want to?
But my emergency anxiety fairly quickly subsided. First, I don’t get that many emergency calls – I’ve gone in for fewer than 10 emergencies since we opened. At least 75% of the calls I do get aren’t actually emergencies, either, but rather questions and concerns. Second, there is only so much I can do, and the emergency hospital that is only an hour away can do more. Third, good clients understand if I’m not available, and are okay with finding an alternative. And fourth, I can say “no”.
The first time I had to say no was recently, and these were the basic facts of the case:
– The call came in on a Wednesday night, at midnight.
– During our summer heat wave, a Boston terrier was having difficulty breathing.
– The dog had had this problem since Sunday, but the owners had discussed it, and just couldn’t wait any longer to call.
– The owners wouldn’t have any money until the first of the month, but they were really good people and would definitely be good for it.
– When I insisted that payment was required at the time services were rendered, they came up with the perfect solution: they would write me a check.
– On the phone, the owners were aggressive and hyper.
So yeah: no. There were three key problems with this case: 1. lack of payment and thinking that writing a bad check constituted payment; 2. that the dog had been having this problem for three days and the owners were just now doing something about it, and 3. I just didn’t trust that all they were after was veterinary care. It amazes me how many people think it’s MY responsibility to care for their pets when they choose not to. I explained that they were welcome to bring her in first thing in the morning and I would do what I could for them, but they were so offended that, and I roughly quote, “their dog had to suffer because I am SO greedy and wouldn’t provide service without payment”. To which i responded that their dog had to suffer because his owners ignored his problems for three days and didn’t call a vet during normal business hours. If it were an established client that I knew and trusted, I definitely would have overlooked the payment issue, but for random people I’ve never met, never heard of*, and for a dog who at least sounds STABLE if not uncomfortable, in the middle of the night, just, no.
I have considered revising my emergency policy so that I am only available for established clients. Because I really love being able to be there for my clients when they need help; I never resent emergency calls for a pet, or at least a client, that I know. On the other hand, probably half of my emergency calls have resulted in GOOD, new clients. So, I don’t know what best to do, and for now, and probably ever, will continue to go on a case-by-case basis.
*It’s a small town, and after 10 months, I’ve heard of just about everybody.