I gazed at the box the way a teenager stares into an open refrigerator, hoping for inspiration. Just as I was about to stop anticipating and begin masticating, my receptionist rudely interrupted.
"Doctor O, would you please talk to Mrs. Rossity on line one?
The call went something like this:
"Dr. Obenski, this is Jenny Rossity. I'm afraid I have some bad news for you. Tiger passed away last night."
Naturally, I expressed my regret that we lost such an outstanding citizen of the animal kingdom and asked if there was anything I could do to help in the way of arranging burial or cremation.
"No, Doctor," she said. "We are going to bury him in the backyard. The reason I'm calling, though, is to ask if you'd be willing to refund the money we spent for his treatment. After all, he did die."
I explained that granting such refunds is not my usual policy (believe it or not).
"I don't want the money for myself, Doctor," she replied. "But I thought you could make a donation to the Animal Spay Society. It would be a gift from me in Tiger's memory."
Why would a gift from her to them come out of my pocket? I somehow failed to follow her line of economic reasoning. This is nothing new for me. You see, 35 years ago, as an undergraduate student at Penn State, I took an economics course. Some of the people in the class (I swear I am not making this up) actually seemed to understand what was going on. I choose to believe that those same people now spend their days slowly thumping their heads against the wall of a rubber room somewhere.
As for me, I learned nothing during the course and apparently managed to pass by spelling my name right on the final exam. Perhaps that is why I have so much trouble dealing with the specialized branch of science known as Pet Owner Economics.
Having spent several decades observing this peculiar mental phenomenon, I would like to take this opportunity to explain exactly how it works.
Unfortunately, I have no idea. So, let me give you a few examples and see if you can figure them out.
Vera Obtuse, head of the local sterilization vigilante organization, wants to know why I charge so much for spays.
"Now see here, Dr. Obenski," she says, as if lecturing to a third grader. "According to my calculations, you should be able to do spays for our organization at $30 apiece and still make a nice profit. Even if you lose money on each one, as you claim, you could make up the loss in volume. If we brought you 10 per day, that's $300."
Her logic escaped me. Of course I could do spays at her price and make a nice profit, if it were 1965, but not today.
Another example would be provided by Mrs. Wacky. She also called last week to complain about our prices.
"I can't believe you expect me to pay all that money for spaying and shots," she argued. "I just paid the breeder $800 for this puppy. I'm not made of money you know. Besides, I still have all those medical bills from our previous dog, Prince. Do you remember that?"
Of course I remembered. She came to me for a second opinion after running up a big bill elsewhere. It seems she "wasn't satisfied." Then, in a typical display of pet owner logic, she expected me to find the problem, render a second opinion and save the dog, all without spending any more of her money. Her total bill with us was less than $80, and we haven't seen the first penny of it yet.
Her request went something like this, "When someone has spent as much money as I have on their pets, you should start giving them a break on the costs."
Is there a veterinarian out there who can explain to me just how our clients come to these financial conclusions? Is there a veterinarian out there who can give me the precise meaning of the statement, "Do anything you can for him, Doc. Money is no object." The intent always seems to change rather abruptly about the time the bill is presented. I'd love to meet the person who can explain these things, but that probably isn't possible. Even if such a person was to exist, I doubt that he or she would be allowed out of the rubber room.