In many ways the most problematic cases where owners have no money for treatment are those where an animal's life is not in danger, but he or she is suffering severe pain. A bitch with life-threatening pyometra fairly clearly has to be either treated or put to sleep, but in the case of less obvious conditions there is the risk that an owner may simply leave without the animal getting any useful treatment.
We had an example of this today: a dog who had been lame for some time and treated with pain-killers then referred to our clinic because the owner did not have enough funds for further investigations at the original private vet.
X-rays showed that she not only had a broken hip, but also an older injury to another leg - raising the concern that both legs might break down unless the hip was stabilised by operating.
This would cost £1000+ at most private vets and £300-£500 at our clinic meaning that the owner would be in a difficult situation even with our help. In the event, he said he had no money at all, so we offered to provide pain relief free of charge to give him a few days to think about it and a choice of raising the money to pay or signing the dog over to us for treatment and rehoming.
We can't be in the business of providing completely free operations with no sanctions on the owner or we will simply run out of money and not be able to treat any animals.
Equally, there has to be a safety-net so that dogs like this one don't simply go back home and suffer.