A few years ago in Serbia, for days the main news was “public secret” that doctors in health centers and public institutions deliberately scheduled appointments and interventions to patients six months in advance, because, as they notified patients, “there weren’t available dates”. At the same time they recommended private clinics, where the same intervention could have been done within 3 days. Guess why – money, of course. It was the cancer that almost destroyed the health system in Serbia.

At that time, to have an examination in a state institution had a miserable price, while patients had to set aside a considerable amount of money for the same examination in private clinics. A nation accustomed to a variety of “transitions” and poverty from that time drew the conclusion that it is always cheaper to go to a state institution instead of a private one.

Regarding veterinary, except, unfortunately, the common news about poisoning of stray dogs or them attacking someone – other news as well as do not exist. Nobody really cares about the whole story until a title such as “A pack of stray dogs attacked a child” appears in newspapers. Stray dogs are both victims and offenders – in Belgrade there is a large number of stray dogs and therefore they are a big problem.

Advocates of animal rights believe that the core problem of the large number of stray dogs are their former owners and that the problem cannot be easily solved because it is “very complex”, but plenty of them cannot really explain that “complexity”.

The truth is that in the packs of stray dogs on the outskirts of the forest in Zvezdara, Ada Ciganlija and in other parts of Belgrade, one can notice that at least a half of the pack consists of pedigree dogs. And they are not born in the street.

That some owners leave their dogs to the street is a fact, but nobody really cares why they do it. The only important thing is that they are always pointed at as the main culprits for everything.

On Internet forums related to this issue, except the aforementioned finger-pointing, one can also read that “a large problem” for stray dogs in Belgrade is one private company which is hired mostly by investors when a part of the city, mostly around newly opened facilities, should be “cleansed” from unwanted residents. Very successful business of the company speaks of its effectiveness, and one can only assume what they do with the dogs they pick up during their actions. One thing is for sure – most of these dogs no one ever sees again.

However, no matter how this or some other private or public company is successful, there is always a large number of stray dogs in the streets, as if nothing is happening.

Why is it so?

Mother or Stepmother

For some who have dealt with this subject, it seemed obvious that the cancer has metastasized from the health to veterinary medicine, only in a different form. All because of the same “symptoms”. However, experts in this field explicitly deny that this is the case, and they are insulted when they are compared with “colleagues from the hill” (Faculty of Medicine is on a hill above the Faculty of Veterinary).

And what are those “symptoms”?

A dog, whose owner is Mrs. Milena S. from Belgrade, around 9 in the morning was hit by a car. In addition to a visible deep laceration on the lower joint of the front right leg, it was evident that the same leg was in unnatural position. Milena took the injured dog to the emergency center JKP “Veterina Beograd”, because it was the nearest veterinary institution.

Unfortunately, veterinarian on duty told her that she cannot help before the X-ray image of the injured part of the body is done, which in this clinic, at that time, did not work.

After asking whether Milena knows any private veterinarian who is working that day (it was a public holiday), and to which she received negative response, the veterinarian found on the Internet a contact number of one private veterinary clinic  for which “she knows that they have X-ray, because without the image the dislocated elbow cannot be returned to its natural position”.

Milena went with her pet, still stressed over everything that happened, to the recommended private clinic. When she asked about intervention cost, one of the veterinarians, after a brief explanation what will be done, said that the total price will be “about 8.000 dinars (~ $65), maybe a little more, depending on how the intervention goes, plus X-ray” for which he said “it would be about 2,500.00 dinars (~ $20)” – which Milena accepted.

When everything was finished, Milena was given a bill of 17,300.00 dinars (~ $140) that says:

– X-ray
– Sedation
– Bandaging
– Sanitation of elbow dislocation under general anesthesia

If we leave the apparent deception aside, as well as the bill that should probably be addressed by inspection, the bill of the veterinary clinic says that Milena S. even profited because “General clinical examination was not charged (gratis) because the patient was forwarded from a colleague” and that “one X-ray was also not charged (gratis). Sedation during the X-ray was also not charged (gratis). The price discount applied is 4,700.00 dinars”.

In any case, if we add to the total cost of the intervention of the clinic the approved discount, we get a whopping 22,000.00 dinars for the intervention.

And it does not end here.

The following day Milena had to take the dog for bandaging and control, which cost 1,000.00 dinars. A day later Milena had to take the dog again for the control examination, and then paid another 1,500.00 dinars, which was all part of the intervention.

All summed up, if there were no recommendation from the veterinarian from JKP “Veterina Beograd”, and according to the prices of the aforementioned clinic, the cost of the treatment of the dog would be 24,500.00 dinars (~ $215) – the sum that an average pensioner in Serbia receives in two parts during the month.

Checking with other private veterinarians in Belgrade (only those who are equipped and available to do the procedure, and who worked that day) we found that the average cost of this intervention, done in the same or similar way to the one done in aforementioned clinic, using same or similar materials and medicament, is in the range from 9,500.00 to 13,500.00 dinars, where everything was included in the price (including the X-ray).

The highest price we got was “no more than” 16,000.00 dinars, provided that that private clinic was performing the procedure at e.g. 3 AM on a non-working day, when the prices are increased in average by 20 – 30 percent.

It is important to note that all veterinary clinics were thoroughly informed with all that was done, while the clinic itself was not mentioned.

Comment from the owner of the aforementioned private clinic until the end of this article we did not get.

Gossip spreads like the flu

To say one price before the service is done, and than give a bill with the other is a lack of professionalism. A side effect is that when an experience such as Milena’s is told to a friend, the story circulates and inevitably leads to gossip, which terrifies people with average incomes and pets.

Why? As mentioned before, the majority of pensioners in Serbia receive 24,500.00 dinars in two parts, while the real average wage in Belgrade is about 36,000 dinars (~ $318). Most of the money people spend on mere survival and therefore no money is left for unforeseen situations, especially not for emergency interventions on pets.

On the other hand, the veterinarians have to charge, foremost their knowledge and then everything else.

Some would say that if people do not have money for themselves, they should not own pets, but what if these same people took the pet while they were in a drastically better economic position? Nobody knows what tomorrow brings.

When we asked people who were walking dogs in Karaburma, Belgrade – “Where would you take your pet if it is an emergency situation?”, 6 out of 11 said “in the nearest veterinary clinic”, and five to a particular institution (Veterinary Faculty, JKP “Veterina Beograd”, friend veterinarian, private veterinary clinic).

When asked “In their best knowledge, who has the best prices for veterinary services”, 9 out of 11 responded “State owned (should be the cheapest)”, while two respondents did not know.

To the question “What would you do if you had to pay 24,000.00 dinars, right this moment, for an urgent veterinary intervention”, 8 out of 11 answers we received was “I do not know” – in one way or another. Otherwise, after this question, a change in the mood could be seen on majority’s faces.

In any case, most respondents were more or less right when they said that state owned veterinary services have the lowest prices.

But…

Director of JKP “Veterina Beograd” Dr. Vet. Med. Budimir Grubic says that this public utility company was founded by the City of Belgrade “primarily for performing tasks of public animal hygiene in Belgrade, and not for providing commercial veterinary services to animal owners.”

“A part of JKP ‘Veterina Beograd’ is organized for the provision of the mentioned [commercial] services… As for the prices of our services, they are certainly not the lowest in Belgrade, but are among the less expensive”, said Grubic.

However, when a veterinarian in, for example, JKP “Veterina Beograd” is not able to treat the injury – either because of the nature of the injury or current lack of the necessary equipment – in the best interest of the injured animal they divert the owner to other clinics.

Professor of the Veterinary Faculty in Belgrade Vojislav Ilic says that the on-duty ambulance at the university may divert patients to other, private veterinarians, “but they do not do it for economic reasons [they have no financial benefit from it]. It is done because we believe that the other veterinarian can do better the necessary intervention at the given moment”.

“The only reason why would one veterinarian send a patient to another is because he or she believes that the other veterinarian, at the time, will be able to more effectively take care of the patient”, said Professor Ilic.

Vicious cycle

Not all pet owners are rich, and not all of them have personal veterinarian. When something bad happens with their pet, according to the majority, the first thing that comes to mind is to take it to the nearest public institution because they believe that they will get a better price there.

And there are those who do not want to consult with a veterinarian, because they don’t have money for any kind of intervention.

According to one of them, paraphrased: “We will go for a walk, I will bring a small axe in a bag, we will turn somewhere down off the road, a little further… What else can I do. It is not easy, but she is suffering and I am suffering and I cannot watch her barely moving”.

There are also positive examples, of course, where someone takes an injured stray dog to a veterinarian and pays for the treatment of injuries, so there is always work for veterinarians.

It is important that the most still choose to go to public veterinary institution, according to our small survey. If there no one can help them, then they will be diverted to a private veterinarian. That, of course, is not a bad thing, unless the private veterinarian gives them, for a relatively simple intervention, a bill in the amount of one monthly pension.

This is where the Vicious cycle begin.

If a pensioner or an average four-member family in Serbia has the misfortune that their dog is hit by a car, or gets a disease that does not look like it will turn out well, and at the veterinary clinic they realize that they cannot pay for the necessary intervention, what options are they left with – provided that “axe” does not come into account?

To give the dog to someone? To starve, not pay electricity bills, utilities…? To take another loan or borrow money again?

What they can do is either watch their pet suffer at home and cry every day, or not watch its suffering at home and cry only once.

For the vast majority of them, it’s always “better” the other option – to take it away from home and leave it there, somewhere in a forest, since they are not informed about other options, such as, for example – that JKP “Veterina Beograd” has a dog shelter for exactly these cases.

And then the private company from the beginning of this article earns millions from “cleansing” private areas of stray dogs. If that company does not earn, some animal protection society will, in a way, because for the majority of them the public information on funding does not exist. Importers and manufacturers of dog food will also earn more because, logically, the more dogs are there, the more food is needed – whether they are owned or stray dogs in shelters. And there is also pharmaceutical industry and importers of the equipment for veterinarians, and … and many others who do business in this sector. And through taxes, in any case, the state will also earn a lot.

One thing is certain: Everyone will continue to point finger at the unfortunates who let their dogs out on the street.

Doing research on this topic, we came to conclusion that a book can be written on the subject, not an article, so the problem is “complex” as mentioned at the beginning, but not in a way some want to explain on various Internet forums. Packs attack children, dogs suffer, (former) owners of those dogs mourn, and the amount of money somebody will earn on this issue is enormous. Otherwise, this problem would have been already solved.