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Have vets got too big?

Some local surgeries are losing the personal touch, says David Tomlinson in Shooting Times

Vet examines a dog's teeth

Vet examines a dog's teeth

Last month, a friend tried to take his dog to the vet as he was concerned about a fast-growing cyst. The dog is a German shorthaired pointer that has worked all its life, but is now retired. It was not a happy experience for either dog or owner.

No appointments available

Initially, no appointments were available for nine days, the receptionist in the practice insisting that “we’re very busy at the moment”. Under some pressure, she conceded that if it was an emergency, it might be possible to see the dog earlier, but she couldn’t make any promises.

As the cyst was getting worryingly large, an appointment was eventually made, though not for a couple of days. When the vet did finally see the dog, my friend wasn’t allowed to accompany it into the surgery “because of COVID-19”. Removal of the cyst was advised, at great expense, with the proviso that the dog might have difficulty recovering from the operation. My friend said that he didn’t want the dog resuscitated if it was struggling, something the receptionist didn’t seem to understand and had apparently never come across before.

My friend has used this veterinary practice for a number of years and has, until recently, been happy with it. He’s a good customer, as he has four dogs and three horses. However, it was sold to a venture-capital company a couple of years ago, since when the service he has received has, he claims, deteriorated. He believes that the practice is “now far more interested in making money than looking after clients”, while “I never see the same vet twice”.

You will not be surprised to hear that he is now looking for a new vet and is trying to find an old-fashioned practice that is owned and run by its partners.

Are vets too big?

The big change started in 1999, when it became legal for non-vets to own veterinary practices. Since then, corporate groups have bought up hundreds of practices, making the partner-owned business increasingly rare.

Whether this is a good thing depends on your viewpoint, but I suspect most of us prefer partner-owned practices, where we get to know the staff, including vets and nurses. I know I do.