Immigrant pet owners say Finnish vet clinics are insensitive and expensive 

A visit to the Finnish vet nearly resulted in the euthanasia for Buddy. PHOTO: OLENA KOSTROVA
Some immigrant pet owners in Finland are dissatisfied and concerned about the euthanization of their pets without proper consent. They also raise objections to what they see as unfair pricing practices by vet clinics, pointing out the financial challenges faced by some immigrant pet owners.

Svitlana Yeharmina, Kjell Nylander, Esraa Saed Ismaeel, Seblewongel Tariku

Published 01.02.2024 3:39

Updated 02.02.2024 10:01

Ukrainian woman Olena Kostrova fled from Mariupol to Finland with her dog Buddy.  

”We spent a month under bombings in a basement in Mariupol. Since we were escaping war from the city on foot, I took only the documents and Buddy.” 

The 13-year-old dog had had his teeth treated back in Ukraine. After arriving in Finland Kostrova took Buddy to the vet because she found a lump close to his tail.  

Kostrova claims the vet quickly assessed Buddy’s teeth without a thorough examination, ignoring the dog’s prior dental history. When she couldn’t afford immediate dental treatment for Buddy, the vet mentioned euthanasia as the only option.  

“In Finland, a veterinarian wants to put him to sleep because he doesn’t have perfect teeth! How can it be possible?”  

The required dental treatment for Buddy would have cost hundreds of euros. Kostrova, a refugee with a monthly income of 300 euros, could not afford this kind of treatment and expressed distress over the vet’s reaction to her financial situation.  

“When the doctor found out that I didn’t have the money to start dental treatment immediately, she started yelling at me.” 

The veterinary care in Finland raises questions among immigrants 

The Finnish Food Authority reports that over 2,100 pets arrived in Finland with Ukrainian refugees in a year and a half of the war in Ukraine. The spread of stories about unfavorable experiences has instilled fear among Ukrainians, discouraging them from seeking veterinary care for their animals in Finland. 

Ukranians are not the only ones who have been baffled by the veterinary care in Finland. 

Susan Nilson from Great Britain shares a story of her 16-year-old dog, Louis. The vet discovered small lump in Louis’ chest and promptly recommended euthanasia.  

“Without further ado, the vet told us to euthanize him with short notice. There was no compassion, no discussion of alternative options; just her blunt opinion”, she recalls. 

Nilson expresses dissatisfaction with the veterinarian for not properly inspecting and conducting necessary tests on her dog. Louis was also sedated before he was brought to the vet clinic because he was afraid of unfamiliar places and people.  

“He was not given a biopsy or a blood test, and the doctor could not assess how he was feeling as he was sleeping during the inspection.” 

After the appointment, Nilson and her family took Louis home to spend the weekend with him. The vet emphasized to bring him back on the following Monday. 

Susan Nilson considered leaving Finland because she feared that the vets might euthanize her other pets. PHOTO: SUSAN NILSON 

What are the rules for euthanizing pets in Finland?   

“A pet can be euthanized without permission from the owner for animal protective reasons by a veterinary authority”, says Maria Lindqvist, head of communication of SEY, an organization that takes care of the protection of animal rights. 

Further, she describes, in those cases a veterinary authority estimates that the amount of suffering and pain is so significant that it must be relieved by euthanasia.  

“In our opinion, the current legislation is appropriate for this kind of situation.” 

According to Lindqvist, the decision to euthanize an animal is made after discussion and with the consent of the owner, but in most cases, the veterinarian makes the final decision.  

Kati White from SEY explains that euthanasia decisions aren’t taken lightly. If the owner disagrees with the suggested course of action, the vet can involve veterinary authorities who assess the situation and may decide on euthanasia. 

“Open communication between the veterinarian and the owner is really important to know both sides’ wishes and possible limiting factors”, says the president of the Finnish Veterinary Union Mikko Turku. 

According to Turku, studying this kind of communication takes place at various stages of the studies of veterinarians. Students will also observe veterinarians in difficult situations, like euthanasia, allowing them to observe and discuss how to deal with such situations. 

“Animal care is complex and undesirable outcomes cannot be avoided in all cases”, he added.  

Seeking treatment abroad 

Some of the disappointed pet owners choose to take their animals for treatment in countries with less stringent legal requirements and more affordable veterinary services. Among them, Olena Kostrova. 

After finding out the cost of Buddys’ treatment and being troubled by the recommendation to euthanize her dog over dental issues, Kostrova went to Poland to seek veterinary services in Worsov, where costs are lower. 

“Everything is good now. Buddy got his teeth brushed and cleaned and two were extracted for only 100 euros. Plus he got a blood test that showed that everything is normal.” 

However, Susan Nilson’s experience did not end as good. Nilson failed to take Louis back to the vet despite the vet’s order. According the her, the reason was that the dog seemed well. Two weeks later she was contacted by another vet. This time the vet appeared at her doorstep by surprise.  

“The city vet was rude and unkind and simply wrote ‘euthanasia’ with a date on a piece of paper when she saw Louis, who was asleep at the time. It was unbelievably callous. She also marched around our entire house, inspecting our other pets,” Nilson describes the situation she found stressful. 

Days later, the vet returned with another one and three police officers, threatening animal cruelty charges if Nilson didn’t euthanize her dog. According to Nilson all these anxiety-filled incidents and her dog’s health becoming worse made her resort to a private vet to euthanize Louis.