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Sunday, Nov 27, 2022

Hidden fees, bad attitudes get Hong Kong pet owners hot under the collar: watchdog

Hidden fees, bad attitudes get Hong Kong pet owners hot under the collar: watchdog

Consumer Council receives 28 complaints about veterinary services in the first nine months of the year.

Hong Kong veterinary clinics were found to have charged hidden fees, with the total disputed amount exceeding tens of thousands of dollars, according to the city’s consumer watchdog.

The Consumer Council on Monday said it had received 28 complaints about veterinary services in the first nine months of the year, which was double the number of cases received in the same period last year.

The council said the problem reflected unclear communciation and insufficient professional oversight of the veterinary industry.

“Owners were often anxious when they arrived at a hospital or clinic with their pets, but hidden fees were never communicated clearly,” council chief executive Gilly Wong Fung-han said.

Hong Kong pet owners have complained about veterinary clinics charging hidden fees.

Nearly 60 per cent of complaints received concerned price disputes, while six involved the attitude of staff or unclear explanation of services.

Wong said hidden fees constituted a main cause of disputes, as pet owners often found that the final bill for veterinary services included items that they were not aware of in previous price discussions.

“One case concerned an owner who wished to have their cat sterilised. Upon an initial examination at the clinic, the owner was told that if an embryo was found inside the cat during the operation, an additional HK$4,500 (US$570) would be charged. The owner then decided not to go ahead with the operation, but was then informed they needed to pay HK$400 as a blood testing fee,” she said.

“In these situations, the owner would be puzzled as they thought they had only put up their pet for an examination.”

The council’s report on Monday also detailed a case where a dog owner was charged nearly double the price quoted for a surgery to remove their pet’s gallbladder.

The owner, surnamed Choy, said he was quoted HK$65,000 on the day of the surgery. However, three days later, Choy’s request for his dog’s discharge was rejected by the clinic. By the time the dog was discharged a week after the surgery, the bill amounted to HK$126,183.

Choy then lodged a complaint to the council as he did not recall the clinic accounting for the fees charged beyond the initial quote, but the clinic responded that an agreement Choy signed when his dog was admitted had listed all possible charges.

The council was unable to mediate between the parties and had to refer Choy to the Hong Kong Veterinary Association.

The association has been contacted for comment.

The average amount concerned in each complaint this year was HK$5,600, Wong revealed. She also noted a Covid-19 “pandemic fee” being charged for every visit at some veterinary hospitals, even when the owners could not see their pets during the visit.

“This is quite new. When the pandemic was raging, some veterinary hospitals were found to be charging a ‘pandemic fee’ during visits, where owners would have to pay HK$100 for their hospital visit,” Wong said.

“But when the owner was at the hospital, they could not see their pet, which were often still undergoing treatment. Consumers were left confused.”

While Wong noted that unclear communication was one of the main causes of the disputes, she added that the council could not do much if complaints could not be settled by mediation.

“It is subject to the consumers whether they want us to refer them to the veterinary authorities,” Wong said.

“We believe it’s very important to step up market surveillance on sales practices of veterinary hospitals given that so many price disputes have happened. There are specific codes to guide veterinary surgeons’ behaviour already, but from the content of the cases, it seems like there were discrepancies with compliance.”


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