"He pushed me up against a wall." The brutal reality of being a vet in Australia.

It was a Friday night and Margie Bale was dressed up.

She’d bought a black velvet dress especially for the occasion from David Jones, had her hair professionally done, and had been at the glitzy function all of half an hour when her phone rang.

“My dog seems to be having trouble going to the toilet,” the man on the line told her.

“When was the last time you saw him go?” she asked.

“Oh, about a week ago,” he replied.

It was 8:30pm when 26-year-old Margie – the local vet – hitched up her fancy velvet dress and performed a four hour enema on a near septic cattle dog.

It was 1:30am by the time she left the clinic smelling like s***, and the function she’d been looking forward to for weeks was well and truly over.

But that wasn’t even the final straw for Margie, who at that point was in the middle of working two years straight with no breaks, on call every single day, night and weekend.


It took 18 years, and an emaciated horse, for Margie to finally quit her dream job working in a ‘mixed clinic’.

But it wasn’t the animals that pushed her over the edge. It was the people. More specifically, it was having to spend every single day having a conversation about finances with an angry pet owner.

You see, taking your dog, cat, budgie, horse, goat, or rat to the vet is an expensive trip, and as Margie explained to Mamamia, people seem to forget that owning an animal is a luxury.

WATCH: Margie will tell her story on SBS Insight tonight. Post continues after video.

Video by SBS

There’s no Medicare for animals, there’s no PBS to help with medication costs, and a cat doesn’t just sit there patiently with its mouth open when it needs a dental.

So yes, getting Fluffy’s teeth cleaned will probably set you back $400-500, and when Margie told an enraged horse owner it would cost a minimum of $7000 to perform surgery on his near-death horse, she snapped.


“He launched a tirade of abuse at me telling me I didn’t know what I was doing, ‘how could I say that the horse was fine yesterday,’ that I was just doing this just to get money (a claim Margie heard daily), and that I had no soul.

“He made me leave his property, and as I drove out the driveway, I looked back at that horse and without sounding over dramatic, I swear I looked into its eyes and it was saying ‘please don’t leave, I need help’. I drove away and just felt empty. I had tried so hard for so many years.

“I got back to the clinic and just said I am done. I cannot keep justifying my profession and my professionalism every day,” Margie told Mamamia.

Margie Bale
Margie says they spend every day with their hands up animal's butts. They do it for love of animals, not money. Image: Supplied.

Vets are almost four times more likely to take their own lives than the general public, and twice as likely to die by suicide when compared to doctors, pharmacists, dentists and nurses.

Margie thinks those statistics can be put down to three things - the hours, the emotion, and the customers.

"Veterinary science attracts a certain type of person. Intelligent with a scientific mind, but with empathy in spades and a desire to help something that can never help you back or communicate with you, or even say thank you ," she explained.

Because a dog can't explain why they've got an itchy butt, Margie could run several diagnostics tests before she finally finds the root cause of an issue. But those tests come at a cost, a cost she can almost guarantee will be questioned.


"It comes down to a financial conversation for every single job. It's the constant niggle... it's a dance of them saying 'why is it that much' and it wears you down. It feels like an attack on what we're doing," she told Mamamia. "People are used to having really good medical care for themselves, and they expect that of their pets as well... but they don't realise what it actually costs. It's not subsidised - it's a private industry."

A vet clinic is also a one stop shop for everything from checkups, to surgery, to MRIs and recovery - and unlike doctors, vets are a phone call away if a customer wants to speak to them directly.

"The accessibility of us to the public for really emotional decisions wears you down - when the whole reason you're in it, is to help animals not deal with people. I mean we don't have psychology degrees."

Then there's the plea of "can't you just do it for free?", which often comes when a pet owner rushes into the clinic with a beloved animal they've accidentally run over.

"They run in - it's emotionally charged and the owner is screaming at me. I will give them options, we can amputate the leg, or it might cost $4000 to repair it. The first line of defence of a stressed person is anger so they will be say 'why can't you just save the leg? Why can't you do the surgery for free?' But I am not Dr Dolittle, I am running a business. I would love to, I love animals and I want to help... but I simply can't do it for free," said Margie.

Then comes the horrible part, where an owner can't afford treatment and Margie is forced to euthanise an animal that might've had a chance with surgery, while the owner watches on thinking she is evil for "killing their dog".

MArgie Bale
Margie is now one of Australia's only camel vets. She left mixed practice after 18 years. Image: Supplied.

Pair experiences like that, with the fact that at the end of a long day in the clinic, you're on call.

"It was a Saturday night at 10pm, I'd been at work all day, (the clinic hours are 8-1pm, but you're always there until 5pm). A man called and I could tell he was drunk and he said; 'My Maltese Terrier is having trouble breathing and he's just eaten an entire roast chicken'.

"He turns up to the clinic and I treat the dog... it was a medical emergency. All up it took an hour and I then have to say to him 'that's $187 please'. He grabbed my shirt and pushed me up against a wall, and called me every name under the sun," Margie told Mamamia. 

Alone, in the clinic late at night, Margie talked the man down and he left without paying. If the client doesn't pay after hours, she doesn't get paid.

"We had to put it off as a bad debt. Meanwhile it's two hours and terror on my Saturday night," she said.

In the city, this scenario isn't as common because there are 24 hour vet hospitals. But if you want to work with 'all animals great and small' which is the dream for a lot of vets, you end up in a rural practice where rocking up in the dark to properties, and treating patients alone in the clinic after hours, is commonplace.

Despite it all, Margie loved being a mixed clinic vet.

She would never complain about the work, and now at 46, and working as a large animal vet (mainly with camels) she misses it terribly.

"But I know the first day I go back I will get a complaint," she said.

She doesn't know what the answer is for the colleagues she left behind in that world. There's definitely a need for more awareness of cost amongst the general public, and a focus on mental health support for individuals.

"I also think young people need to be warned it's not just about helping animals, a large chunk of it is about having interpersonal skills," she said.

If pet owners take one thing away from this story, Margie wants it to be this:

"We're doing our best. If we did it for the money we would not have been vets. I don't know a single vet friend with a holiday house.

"I get kicked on, spat on, bitten, and I put my hands inside animal's rectums daily, there's no way I'd do that unless I really do like animals."

Feature image: Supplied/SBS.

You can hear more from Margie and other vets tonight on Insight, 8.30pm on SBS.