Many veterinary team members gravitate to the profession because they love animals. A lot of animals. In a survey by Vetmedteam.com, 26 percent of team members said they owned seven or more animals. A full 84 percent of respondents would go into debt to provide life-saving medical care for their pets, and 72 percent said they’d spend $1,000 or more.
This data proves that team members are some of the most conscientious pet owners around. That’s a good thing. But all that responsibility can turn sour on team members if they adopt more animals than they can care for. This acquisitiveness may or may not reflect a psychological problem, says Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board member Shawn McVey, CEO of Innovative Management Veterinary Solutions in Phoenix.
“When someone collects pets and takes care of them, that’s altruism,” McVey says. “But when someone collects pets without being concerned with the physical, economic, and relationship consequences in their life, that’s when there could be a problem.”
As an owner or practice manager, your responsibility is to the practice, not the team member, McVey says. “You’re not the police, and you’re nobody’s therapist,” he says. As a result, team members who own more pets than they can handle are a problem for you only when their many pets impact their work. They may request extra medical attention for their pets, extra goods or medical supplies, extra time off to care for sick animals, or extra boarding considerations. The key term is “extra.” McVey says you need written policies regulating how much free veterinary care team members receive (if any), how much time they can take off for pet care, and whether employee pets can be brought to work. “If you create policies, you’ll know if an employee has violated them,” McVey says. “You won’t focus on a team member’s personality or motives. You’ll focus on their responsibility at work.”
In an industry with team members and clients seeking the best care for their pets, the issue is seldom about pet hoarding but often about individuals’ capacity to care for their pets without forcing others to take on an unfair share of the responsibility. “We can never forget, pet lovers are the ones coming to our practices and spending their hard-earned money on their animals,” he says. Why would veterinary team members be any different?