This story is second-hand -- as told to me by my friend Bert. I've quoted the entire story here, so you are reading exactly what Bert told me ... .
Last weekend, I was driving around town with my cat, Precious. When the weather is nice, we like to cruise around and get some fresh air. Well, Precious was the first to notice the balloons and electronic billboard over a previously vacant building. It was once a fast food restaurant that closed down a couple years ago.
"I wonder what they're serving," I said to Precious. She stared attentively at the billboard and I took her cue. Suddenly, the sign flashed the words "Spays & Neuters. Only $50 bucks."
"I guess it isn't a restaurant after all," I said to Precious. She looked at me with a worried expression in her eyes. Fifty dollars for a spay, what a bargain. Since Precious was now six months old, she was ready to be spayed. I certainly didn't want her to have a litter of kittens, and I knew about her increased risk getting hit by a car or injured in a catfight once she'd gone through puberty.
"Let's check it out," I said to Precious, who had now decided to hide under the back seat. How do cats know when they are going to the vet? I pulled up to a friendly-looking 3-foot high scalpel-- on the blade was a smiling face in profile with one eye winking at us.
Behind the Smiley Scalpel was a "menu," but before I could even read it, a teenage girl's voice came over the loudspeaker: "Welcome to Speedy Spay, would you like to purchase some flea control with your spay?"
"Uh, no. I was just thinking about getting my cat spayed."
"Great," she said, though her voice showed no enthusiasm. "Would you like the Value Spay, the Extra Value Spay, or the Super Duper Spay?"
I was stumped. I didn't realize there could be so many choices. "What's the difference?" I thought I heard a sigh on the other end of the loudspeaker.
"The Value Spay includes injectable anesthetic, chemically cleaned surgical instruments, and the doctor performs the surgery." That sounded like it covered the basics.
"The Extra Value Spay includes gas anesthetic, autoclaved surgical instruments, and the doctor performs the surgery."
"So the difference is the anesthesia -- gas versus injectable. Why is that important?"
She was ready for my question and seemed to be reading from a script with all the feeling of an android. "Gas anesthesia is thought to be the safer choice when undergoing a major surgery. The benefits include a quicker recovery from the anesthetic and a lower risk of death."
"Death? Who said anything about death?"
"Sir, a spay is a major surgical procedure. The veterinary surgeon must go into the abdomen to remove the reproductive organs. And like any surgery, there are possible risks."
This was supposed to be reassuring? "You also said that the instruments were chemically cleaned or autoclaved."
"Yes, in order to cut costs, the instruments used in the Value Spay are dropped into a chemical disinfectant between surgeries. If you want state-of-the-art and sterilized surgical instruments, you should opt for the Extra Value or Super Spay package. We autoclave those instruments, which means we individually clean each instrument and then sterilize them in a machine that uses heat, steam and high pressure to kill bacteria and spores."
"Yeah, I think I want the autoclaved surgical instruments. My cat Precious is, well, precious to me. Wait, what's in a Super Duper Spay?"
"The Super Duper Spay includes a pre-anesthetic physical exam, blood work to make certain your cat doesn't have any underlying problems that could lead to complications, one night of hospitalization and pain medication."
"Wait, you weren't hospitalizing my cat with the other spay deals to make certain she had a smooth recovery. Didn't you just say that this was a major surgical procedure?"
"Pardon me, mister. But this is Speedy Spay. We've got to be cutting corners somewhere if we're going to offer you such a great deal. It is your choice where your cat gets spayed. The total cost of Super Duper Spay is $150."
"Wow. That's three times the Value package deal."
"Yes, sir, but we only get one chance to do your cat's spay right."
"How about NO chances to do my cat's spay wrong. Thanks for your time, but I think I'll pay for the better service offered by my cat's regular veterinarian."
"I'll throw in a free cat toy if you schedule a Super Duper Spay today."
"What do you think, Precious?" Only Precious' tail was visible from under the back seat, and it flicked in the steady rhythm of annoyance. It was time to go home. Precious refused to come out from her hiding place until the car was safely parked in the garage. It was going to take a lot more than a cat toy for me to get on her good side again.
So. that's the story of Bert and Precious' weekend adventure. Bert learned that there's a lot more that goes into a safe, high quality surgery than the price tag, and Precious learned that Bert would put some tuna on her supper if she was holding a grudge.
Dr. Jon Klingborg is a veterinarian associated with Valley Animal Hospital in Merced. He can be contacted at email@example.com.