The Cartel

March 24th, 2013 | Posted by Karel Minor in Uncategorized - (1 Comments)

Cartel (noun): An association of independent businesses organized to control prices and production, eliminate competition, and reduce the cost of doing business (1). Also called a trust (2).

(1) Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms. US Department of Defense 2005. (2) Collins English Dictionary, 2003.

When we think of cartels, we tend to think of OPEC, the organization of oil producing countries that sets the price of oil.  Or we think of Mexican drug cartels, which control the supply of imported drugs to the US.  Or we think of Teddy Roosevelt’s Trust busting of robber barons controlling the market access to beef, sugar and the railroads.

But there is a good chance you have been subject to a cartel system personally once or twice this year.  You’ve willingly paid the market rates which are not set by competition but by cartel control.

That cartel is the one owned and operated by your neighborhood veterinarian.

SnidelyDid you know that there are states in which a veterinary hospital may not be owned by anyone but a veterinarian?  That if a vet dies, his or her surviving spouse is forced to sell the practice to another licensed vet at fire sale rates because he or she is prohibited by law from owning a practice?  Did you know that Alabama recently tried to make it illegal for an animal shelter to employ veterinarian by trying to pass a regulatory requirement that no veterinarian could have her work schedule set by anyone but another vet?  Do you know who generally makes and enforces these clearly anti-competitive rules?  That’s right, the veterinarians themselves.

Across the nation, Boards of Veterinary Medicine set rules and advocate for regulations and laws, either directly or through their State and National Veterinary Medical Associations, that have nothing to do with the quality of veterinary medicine being delivered.  They have to do with keeping control of the veterinary market.  Yes, there is great insistence that it’s about quality of care, but these protests ring hollow.  After all, who is the corporate owner of a practice or whether it is filed as a Limited Liability Corporation or a Professional Corporation or a 501c3 Charitable Corporation wouldn’t seem to have any bearing on what sort of treatment Fluffy gets in an emergency.  No matter who pays the electric bill at a practice, it is still a licensed veterinarian who is practicing medicine.

Medical doctors are regulated under state law to ensure delivery of quality medical care.  Yet no one claims that a medical practice or hospital must be wholly owned by a doctor.  If you live in Berks I’ll bet you money that there is a better than even chance your doctor works for either St. Joseph’s Hospital or Reading Hospital, both charities.  Do you think you got bad care because of the corporate entity which paid the electric bill or bought the medical supplies used at the practice? Or paid the doctor or set her work schedule?

There are regulatory controls for hair stylists, auto repair shops, and television stations.  Do these businesses have to be owned by stylist, mechanics, or news anchors?  Of course not.

For decades veterinarians have been moaning about non-profits having an unfair competitive market advantage.  They have tried to put up barriers to animal shelters even providing sterilization services and vaccination clinics, let alone full public veterinary services.  Never mind that these generally service a clientele that would not otherwise seek service at a “real” vet practice.  But what is the unfair competitive advantage a non-profit animal hospital has?  At most, it’s that there is no property tax burden.  In Reading, that “burden” for HSBC would be about $5,000.  Do vets really think charitable organizations are not providing more than $5,000 in reduced care to balance that out?  What if non-profits offered to pay property taxes on their hospitals?  Would they stop complaining then?  No, because this is about controlling competition under the guise of “quality of care” concerns, nothing more.

What is comical is that the real death knell for the standard model veterinary practice came decades ago in the form of major corporate veterinary companies such as VCA, a publicly traded company, and Banfield, which operates out of PetSmart stores and is privately owned by the Mars candy corporation.  Why don’t vet boards go after these interlopers to their old, doctor owned vet practice model?  Maybe the billion dollar revenues and fleets of lawyers all that money can buy.  We don’t hear about vets going after the ASPCA or San Francisco SPCA, which have major public veterinary hospitals.  They only have about a hundred million dollars, but that’s still enough to hire plenty of lawyers.

Instead, they go after animal shelters in Alabama who are just trying to stop the never ending death in shelters because of a lack of access to sterilization and vaccination services.  Or they try to get shelters with practices audited by the IRS, like recently happened in Idaho.  That non-profit hospital passed with flying colors.  It turns out the federal government doesn’t seem to have a problem with non-profit hospitals.  They certainly pay enough out to humane ones via Medicare and Medicaid.  And I’m guessing it is only a matter of time before someone decides to go after the non-profit veterinary which are springing up across Pennsylvania right now.  A wild guess is they’ll start with the one with the biggest mouth.

It’s important to point out that all is not lost.  Most of the vets sitting on State Veterinary Medical and Veterinary Medical Association Boards likely went to school and earned their degrees not just before there were Shelter Veterinary Medicine tracks at vet schools, but they did so before it was common for animal shelters to even have a vet on staff, let alone operate a non-profit vet hospital.  There are waves of vets leaving vet school seeking to work for non-profit hospitals and animal shelters, with no aspiration to work for or buy a private vet practice.  There are more and older vets who have chosen to leave the production driven world of the private or for-profit veterinary practice.  How do I know?   Because we have hired them at Humane Society of Berks County and we get resumes from others like them weekly.

It is time for the veterinary cartel to wake up to reality.  Their business model has been slowly dying for years.  If it’s not the non-profit practice killing the model they’ve clung to for decades, it will be the bigger interstate corporate practices.  And if it’s not that, it’ll just be the economics of the marketplace and the expectations of their clients.  As Michael Corleone said, it’s not personal, it’s just business.

I have some sympathy for them.  Just like I’d have some sympathy for OPEC when someone invents viable solar cars or the next fuel source which makes petroleum obsolete.  But just like that will be good for consumers and the environment, a new market driven veterinary service delivery model will be good for consumers and their animals.

They shouldn’t worry.  There will be an animal shelter or mega-corporate practice nearby looking to hire.

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As easy as it is to offer a “rapid response” for every little slight, lie, or inaccuracy said or written these days thanks to technology, we’ve learned that less is more.  A short lie requires a very long rebuttal and it starts to sound like a he said/she said which imparts a sense that there may be validity to both sides when there is not.  Often, one side is lying, the other is not.  Plus, what a waste of time which could be used doing something constructive.

Occasionally, however, something comes to your attention that is so full of-…what’s the best word?…hmmmmm.  Wait, I know: bulls***- that a detailed reply is called for.  Such a time is now.

A friend of Humane Society of Berks County forwarded this little love diddy posted on Facebook by someone who really, really does not like HSBC.  The fact that the person is a disgruntled former employee has nothing to do with it, I’m sure (that, kiddies, is what we call a “full disclosure”).  Since this screed is simultaneously so wrong and lets the cat out of the bag about really big upcoming news, I thought I’d take the time to defenestrate the “errors” and share some details.  In one fell swoop we will address the fallacies and impart some closely held and very exciting news!

Here is the post, in toto, with the name of another organization omitted since this post was not written on their behalf :[All sic] “TIME TO VENT AGAIN!!! I just read an article in the Reading Eagle, 2/28/13, Section B10, which states the Humane Society at 1801 N 11th St in the City of Reading, is planning a 7,900 square foot expansion to include expanding the kennels???? and adding 14 off street parking spaces. As I always educate everyone, the Humane Society of Berks County does not hold any contracts with the County at all including the City contract. The *** takes in 99% of all the animals in the County. The Humane Society takes in NO stray dogs or cats and they pick and choose what owner dogs & cats they take in. They have been bringing dogs in from other counties!!!! while the *** stays packed with dogs and cats. The *** needs funds to fix their kennels and the Humane Society is adding them????? Give me a break, PLEASE IF YOUR GOING TO DONATE, GIVE TO THE THE ***. PEOPLE IN THE COUNTY NEEDS TO KNOW!!! AND CROSS POST PLEASE.”  Yawn.

OK, here goes, one lie, sorry, line, one line at a time at a time.  Grab a cup of coffee, this is going to take a while.   TIME TO VENT AGAIN!!! I just read an article in the Reading Eagle, 2/28/13, Section B10, which states the Humane Society at 1801 N 11th St in the City of Reading, is planning a 7,900 square foot expansion to include expanding the kennels???? and adding 14 off street parking spaces.”  I will not dispute this person’s incessant need to vent, ability to read, the section of the paper, or that we are building a 7,900 foot expansion, including kennels.  And, yes, off street parking.  My response:  Isn’t that totally awesome?!

Humane Society of Berks County will soon- soon, as in ground breaking this spring if we stay on schedule- be finishing the renovations of our Lindy Scholar Center which started in 2006 with the Cat Adoption Center, followed by the LaVigna Dog Adoption Center, both of which were groundbreaking examples of how a small shelter like ours could deliver mega-shelter quality and vision for its animals and adopters.  We had hoped to do it sooner but a little recession intervened.  I will save the real nitty gritty for future announcements but the basics include new kennels, cattery, a nationally accredited community veterinary hospital, and more.  Stay tuned, kids, more to come.

“As I always educate everyone [Author’s note: insert big eye roll here], the Humane Society of Berks County does not hold any contracts with the County at all including the City contract.”  Again, no dispute.  And I appreciate the restatement of this fact which appears all over our website and in every press release we put out five years ago when we very publicly ended our contracts with local municipalities to provide dog catcher and euthanasia services for them.  Actually, I have a small clarification.  We do have contracts with several municipalities in Lancaster and Lehigh Counties to accept strays following their stray holding period, we are listed with the Department of Agriculture as a kennel authorized to accept strays, and we hold a contract via our management services company with another shelter in an adjacent county though which we oversee countywide animal control service delivery for that organization.

The *** takes in 99% of all the animals in the County.”  Finally, chance for a meaty rebuttal!  OK, so HSBC directly housed about 2,744 animals last year (in addition to the 12,000 vet patient visits and surgeries, Ani-Meals on Wheels, emergency deployments to other counties and states, and managing more than that number for another entire county, but these apparently don’t count).  Let’s take maybe 248 off the top which came in as emergency or adoption transfers from other counties and states- or even other shelters from within Berks County, including ***- and get it down to just a Berks intake number 2,468 animals.  If another group is taking in 99% and we are taking in 1%, someone else must be taking in 246,114 animals a year!  That doesn’t seem right.

OK, maybe this person means someone else takes in 99% of strays.  Let’s look at that.  Last year HSBC took in 648 strays from Berks County alone or about 23.6% of our total intake.  That would mean that some other place took in 64,152 strays alone.  Well that seems pretty wrong, too, given that the total number of animals, strays and surrenders, entering the two largest shelters in Berks has historically fallen in the 10,000 to 13,000 range combined.  While I can’t say that I know for sure how many animals came into other Berks shelters last year since we are the only organization in Berks which openly posts its intake numbers, I’m guessing we’d have heard the news if the total had jumped to 65,000 or 250,000.  To be clear, I’ve never heard the unnamed other organization cited making this claim so our friend appears to be wrong for both our organizations.  A two-fer!

“The Humane Society takes in NO stray dogs or cats and they pick and choose what owner dogs & cats they take in.”  We’ve already established that nearly one in four of the animals we take in are strays, and that doesn’t include adoption transfers from other organizations, including those in Berks, so Part A is a fabrication.  Part B is equally wrong.  HSBC takes in any animal presented to us, as is stated prominently on our website.  However, we do require a couple things and we offer a couple options.  First, we require that the person presenting an animal make a $25 donation since we do not receive any municipal or state funds for the service as other shelters do.  If the person does not have the money, we allow payment within 30 days.  Spoiler alert!  The worst kept secret in the world is that we don’t ever collect on that promised money.  We just hope the fact that the person ripped off a charity makes him lose sleep.  The third option is that the person may volunteer three hours at our shelter or any other charity, church or government organization.  Surprising to some, lots of people choose to do that, even if they have the $25.  We like these options.  They share the cost with the public and they give a community service alternative to just handing over some cash.

We also try to help people not have to give up a pet so everyone is offered other services.  Would free food, behavior classes, vet care, foster care, or any other assistance help keep that pet at home?  If so, we try to provide it and that effort keeps a lot of animals from entering our shelter.  The real bug of our friend’s butt, however, is that we also tell anyone with a stray that there is another organization which gets paid take in strays from Berks County.  If they’d prefer to avoid our intake requirements, they may seek services elsewhere.  Guess what? Lots of people choose to bring strays to us anyway.  But the fundamental thing is we do not gate keep based on breed, health, age, or anything else.  Our intake rules are across the board.  We are not a restricted access or No Kill shelter.  And the fact that we do not have a 100% live release rate is a shameful testament to that fact.

“They have been bringing dogs in from other counties!!!! while the *** stays packed with dogs and cats.”  Yes.  Other counties, even other states.  And even from other shelters right here in Berks County.

“The *** needs funds to fix their kennels and the Humane Society is adding them????”  The needs in the animal welfare community are as long as my arm.  And HSBC has needs, too.  Our older kennels and cattery are frankly an embarrassment to me and have been for the eight years I have served as executive director.  It is long overdue that we finish the renovation we started in several years ago, and fulfill the dreams of the executive director who served before me, Lindy Scholar.  My only apology is to the animals for not having an economy which allowed me to do it sooner.  HSBC helps lots of other organizations as much as we possibly can and not as much as we’d like to.  To be fair though, we are not responsible for the state of any organization but our own.  That’s a big enough job.  I don’t think it’s fair to also put the well-being of another organization on us, too.

Also, we aren’t “adding” kennels.  We are blessedly demolishing the old ones and replacing them with awesome new ones.

Give me a break, PLEASE IF YOUR GOING TO DONATE, GIVE TO THE THE ***. PEOPLE IN THE COUNTY NEEDS TO KNOW!!!” As mean spirited, and grammatically incorrect, as this is, I won’t even argue this point.  All charities need support.  We encourage everyone to give as much money and time as they can to every charity which they feel is doing work they believe in.  We don’t feel the need to encourage people to pick us over others when we hope you’ll support all.  But we also know that some people just prefer one charity and its vision over another’s.  If that’s the case, any support in our common mission to improve animal welfare is better than no support at all.  We don’t begrudge anyone else’s success.

And finally, “AND CROSS POST PLEASE.”  I guess if you really feel you need to, go ahead.  I’ll be happy just knowing that you now know how vapid and meaningless this person’s post was.

The cat is out of the bag.  At long last the facility the animals and people of Reading and Berks County deserve is on the way.  We are proud to bring it to you and proud that you have helped to make it possible.  I’d like to have announced it publicly in a different way and we will do a proper job of it later.

Oh, yeah, one last thing.  Name calling and propaganda don’t do anyone much good.  They detract from public discourse and confuse the conversation.  Occasionally, though, a little name calling can have a certain curative effect so I understand why this unhappy person might choose to tear down one in an effort to build up another.  That being said, the person who made this post is a poopyhead.  In my opinion, of course.

What do you know?  I do feel better!

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