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  News from the Maryland Veterinary Medical Association                                                    Summer  2013

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Holding Animals for Non-Payment of Services is Not Advised
by Maryland State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners

The State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners (SBVME) would like to advise you that Maryland’s animal abandonment laws do not permit veterinarians to withhold releasing any animal to its owner because of lack of payment. Animals are considered property under Maryland law, and to “hold an animal hostage” for payment may have criminal and/or civil consequences to the veterinarian or practice; it also reflects negatively on the profession as a whole. If an owner is unwilling or unable to pay, the SBVME recommends that you seek the advice of your attorney about legal options available to you for collection for services rendered. While these options may include sending the owner to collection, suing the owner in civil court, or even contacting the police about filing charges for “theft of service,” holding an animal for “ransom” is not one of them.

Code of Maryland Regulation 15.14.10.05, titled Choice and Selection of Patients, is available for viewing on the SBVME’s website  under Laws and Regulations. In Section A, it states, “A veterinarian may choose whom he will serve. Once a veterinarian has undertaken care of a patient, and a veterinarian-client-patient relationship has been established, the veterinarian may not neglect the patient.” Section B states, in part, “…a veterinarian should render service to the best of the veterinarian’s ability, but this does not require a veterinarian to accept financial responsibility for the care and treatment of any animal.” To help avoid these situations, the SBVME suggests that: a.) from the outset, there be frank discussions and communications with owners about treatment plan options, as well as expected costs and prognosis; b.) you prepare a written estimate and have this signed by the owner before initiating treatment; c.) you have the owner leave a deposit suitable for the expected total charges; and d.) you give frequent updates to the owner regarding the current status of the charges incurred.

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© 2013 Maryland Veterinary Medical Association

PO Box 5407 • Annapolis, MD 21403 • (410) 268-1311 • fax (410) 268-1322
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