“But it was a free kitten!”
Substitute dog, horse, rabbit, chicken, hamster, goat, or narwhal for “kitten” and you will have one of the most common responses heard by nearly every veterinarian upon providing an estimate for medical services.
When my filter slips, I’ve been known to answer this complaint with “Not anymore!” However, the implicit perspective, that one should not have to spend money on a gift or a found item, is something that bears a little deeper consideration than the flippant comeback.
For certain “free” items, it’s reasonable to assume that the item will remain more or less free. If a family member or neighbor gives you a free television (assume the TV works and you’re already paying for cable or satellite), that television probably will just sit happily on a stand, provide you with another screen to divert your squabbling children, and not cost you any extra money.
On the flip side, we expect that other freebies will have some fixer-upper costs attached. If your brother-in-law offers to give you his old truck, you assume it needs some work. Same thing goes for the cabin you inherit from that eccentric uncle who lived “off the grid” ever since that incident in the 60s.
Animals seem to fall into a budgetary no-man’s land.
For veterinarians, who see animals as dynamic creatures requiring constant maintenance, and who have deep suspicions about the condition of any animal (particularly one with intrinsic monetary value such as a horse) that is being “given away,” it seems incomprehensible that a person could acquire an animal without expecting to spend money on treating or maintaining it.
But I’ve had enough conversations over the years to be able to see the other side – the view from the beleaguered parent who caved at the end of an excruciating errand day and found herself carting home the random kitten from outside the grocery store or the woman whose riding instructor convinced her that the slightly sad “rescue” horse was perfect for her.
When emotions run high and the price seems right, it isn’t always easy to look past the cost-benefit analysis of the moment. We all do it. We don’t invest the same amount of research in the computer bought on a whim at a Black Friday sale as we would if we were paying full price for an amazing top-of-the line system. Marketers would be out of business if it weren’t for the human propensity to let “bargain” override caution.
Sadly, though, a free horse is just as likely to run through the fence as a $50,000 horse. The free puppy needs dental care and vaccines just like the purebred. Free kittens are not immune from developing diabetes as adults or getting chewed by the neighbor’s werewolf.
The reality is that the initial cost of an animal is more of a down payment than a price tag. Animals need food, housing, vaccines, and routine preventive care. Some require special equipment. Some need professional grooming.
And even more to the point, the unexpected befalls “free” animals just as it does their “valuable” counterparts. They get injured. They get sick. They spend their days thinking of endless and creative ways to self-destruct. None of these variables disappears just because the animal was “free.” Dr. Nancy Kay agrees wholeheartedly with this point.
The problem here is that we have interpreted "free" to mean "trouble-free and cost-free for life" but the world just doesn't work that way. The animal couldn’t care less about its monetary value, nor should it. Ultimately, every animal, regardless of initial cost, deserves a healthy, comfortable life.
April 20, 2014
VIN News Service commentaries are opinion pieces presenting insights, personal experiences and/or perspectives on topical issues by members of the veterinary community. To submit a commentary for consideration, email firstname.lastname@example.org.