Veterinarian Policies in Puerto Rico

Living in Puerto Rico is hard; being a pet owner in Puerto Rico is even harder when you have little money to care for the animal. If you’re living in the island, you might want to reconsider owning a pet, and if you still feel compelled to own one, really think twice before you take your furry baby to the vet…should you not have money in the bank…

It’s no secret I have quite a few pets. It’s also no secret that I’m constantly finding myself struggling financially to care for myself, my father and my fur-babies. While I reluctantly became the human to Bailey, Maya, Sadie, Sunshine, Odin and Penelope, I will do whatever I can to ensure they are healthy and happy. Even if I don’t have the financial means to take them to the vet at a regular basis. Still, I’ve made sure to pay attention to their behaviors, pamper them, bathe them, feed them and know the poop texture and when each of them are sick so I can alter their diet accordingly. However, there are things I cannot fix with changing their diet or giving them a massage. Medical conditions I cannot fix, but I’ve realized that there is a pack of vultures who claim to want to help you care for your furry babies, but instead bleed your pockets out for money you don’t have in order to care for them. Here is my most recent and incredibly horrifying and stressful experience with a local veterinarian and a popular method of practice in Puerto Rico that should be deemed illegal.

A little over a year ago, Penelope, the newest addition to my fur-family, was mauled by two of my other pets. Being that she was a piglet and an intruder, the dogs reacted as dogs do. Still, my heart broke as I saw her injuries and heard her cries. I called a few places and rushed her to the nearest vet hospital that could help save her. After a crazy few days that included crowd funding to be able to pay for the bill and save her. She was at home and had been treated amazingly by the doctor and the staff of the Dorado Veterinary Hospital/Dorado Pet Hotel. I’m telling you, I believed they worked a miracle. It was because of this, that last week I rushed Maya to the same pet hospital in hopes they could help her.

20170516_183825
 1st day of the :’-( 

I rushed Maya to the vet when I realized that she was bleeding profusely through her vaginal area. She’d never been sick in her life and to see her in that state frightened me. I tried to comfort her at home, but when I saw the life slowly leave her, as well as the fight to stay alive in her heart coming through I ignored the lack of funds in my bank account and rushed her to the animal hospital and hoped I could work some type of payment out with the people who had treated one of my pets so well before.

I didn’t wait long before I was taken into a small examination room and was told that Maya’s condition was serious by one of the technicians. She looked concerned and worried and felt my pain. She called the vet who told me that

“She needs to have surgery otherwise she’ll die” Dr. Viscal told me as she stood there, hands crossed in front of her pelvis, leaning against the sink of the exam room. “To be honest, I’m not sure if I can save her,” she added. The same thing she said when she saw Penelope and something started to click the wrong way inside me.

A few seconds later she disappeared through the door that led towards the back of the office and her technician was back telling me that she could give me an estimate of the cost if I wanted to. I agreed and kept hugging and kissing Maya, who had been with me for seven years. She’d been my rock through several heartbreaks, medical scares with my Dad and was my adventure buddy. I wasn’t ready to let her go, but if told her if she was ready to cross that rainbow bridge that it was okay for her to do so. Quietly sobbing I heard the technician come back in and looked up.

“It’ll come out to $776.14”

“Do you have any sort of payment plans?”

“Sure, you can leave us a deposit now and we can start caring for her…”

“How much does the deposit have to be?”

“$194…”

I stopped to think a bit then looked at Maya again before responding.

“I don’t have that money…how much is it for today, I’m just going to take her home…” knowing that if I did so, she would surely die

“Give me a minute…”

20170518_111107
The day after I brought her 

The tech disappeared for about 10 minutes…10 minutes I spent saying goodbye to my big girl and looking into her eyes. Minutes that broke my heart because I was saying goodbye to one of the first beings that taught me how to unconditionally love and care for something, someone else. The longest 10 minutes…saying good bye to my workout partner, my walking partner, my adventure girl, my cuddle pal, my talkative chica.

“Okay, I just spoke to the vet and she said that if tomorrow you bring $400, which is basically the price of the surgery, it’ll be fine.” She said quietly as she saw me perk up.

I agreed, I knew how to get at least $400 in one day. So I did – I took a loan against my car and dropped off the money the next day. Then I was informed that I still had to pay $344 for the services otherwise they’d ‘hold the dog’ until [I] was able to make that payment”.

“Wait, I wasn’t informed of this yesterday…she told me to bring $400 and that it would be fine, which I did…”

Suddenly, no one had a straight story and the vet didn’t want to come out and speak to me and clear things up.

“Why are you going to hold my dog?” I asked again concerned.

“We’ll hold her until you pay the bill…when it’s all paid up, we’ll release her back to you,” the receptionist said shyly – realizing that I had no knowledge of this policy, or of the remaining balance. “You have to bring it by tomorrow,” she added.

20170520_135814
ready to come home…

How? I wondered – HOW? And I was made clear that they didn’t have payment plans. It was either all now, or you don’t get your pet until you pay off the debt. I asked to see Maya before leaving with a heavy heart. What was I going to do? On my way out, I offered to exchange professional services, I offered photographs, to do a short commercial, to come and clean the kennels of all the other dogs and the offices until the debt was paid. All were ignored.

The next day I showed up empty handed, asking again to not only speak to the vet, but to see if I could work off the debt since they didn’t have payment plans and I was currently broke. Not only was I not able to speak to Dr. Viscal, but I was turned down for the work, again. I contested the remaining balance by saying that the $400 that I agreed to pay was under the impression of the only amount I was going to pay – I was told that instead of paying the full $344, that I all had to do was pay $200 but that I still wasn’t going to be able to take Maya home until I paid.

I visited with Maya for a moment and thought about selling part of my photography equipment to pay off this bill. After leaving the vet’s office I went to the place where I knew they bought electronics and was offered $10 for my ‘generic’ action camera $20 for a telephoto lens and $20 for an external flash, all of which were in good condition. Knowing this wouldn’t be enough and that I was getting ripped off I took all my things and left without selling anything.

The next (Saturday) day I went for a visit with Maya and was informed that should I not pay the $200 by Monday, they would charge me $20 each day she was there until I ‘got her out’.  Frustration set it further. It was thanks to my best friend and savior Elisabeth Louis-Marijanski, who stepped in and helped me pay the $200. Funny, that even though they told me to just pay $200 and the whole thing would be done with, the receipt I was given reflects I still owe them $144…

During this entire ordeal, I consulted with a friend who studied and practiced to be a veterinarian and told me that it was the normal thing to do here in Puerto Rico. That many, if not all vets hold the pets until the incredibly high bills are paid by their owners and never do payment plans. That, even he thinks twice before taking his dogs to the vet for anything other than vaccinations – and suggested that the next time one of my pets become ill, to just let them die should I not have the money to pay a vet right away.

Holding pets for ransom until complete payment for services is made in Puerto Rico is common. Payment plans are non-existent and the absence of the ASPCA can be felt. Many rescue organizations in the island work with US based organizations and have created a monopoly on that as well, for every pet they rescue they get $300, and don’t have to worry about food, lodging, and vet bills, all those things are financed by the partnering organization.

Many owners abandon their pets at the vets office because of what happened to me. Many more often abandon them on the beach because they don’t want to deal with any sort of agency or entity extorting them asking them for money for the care they provided the pet.

So, my advice to you, if you don’t have any money, a steady job or pension, do not own a pet here in Puerto Rico – ever.

20170522_181316In the end, Maya returned home with me and is happy – I’m happy to have her back home and that I get to go on plenty more adventures with her.

Still, if you live here, planning on moving here or visiting and have a pet, or are planning on getting a pet – make sure you have money. Tons of it, to pay off the vet bills. Otherwise, they will keep hold your pet until you pay, even after they quoted the wrong payment amount to you….

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