Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The most unbelievable story of all.

I'm so angry right now I can't even see straight.

Two weeks ago, I received a call from a daytime veterinarian.  A homeless man had arrived at her clinic, and had been hit by a car.  The dog was suffering from severe head trauma and probably had broken ribs and lung injury as well.  She had placed an IV catheter and administered dexmedetomidine, a potent sedative/anesthetic agent.

The veterinarian (we'll call her Dr. V ) was inquiring about options for this homeless man's dog.  The homeless man, with not a dime to his name, also had no means of transportation.  Dr. V called to ask me what could be done for this dog, given his critical condition.

Sadly, I reported the state of things.  As Dr. V already knew, our hospital is a small business with no outside funding and no trust fund to pay for stray/abandoned/underprivileged pets.  Any treatment that is provided at no cost directly removes money from our hospital to repair equipment, pay staff wages, provide raises, and pay our electric bill.  We simply cannot afford to provide care to patients on a pro-bono basis, especially when that care is extensive as in this case.  Providing care without payment for services WILL result in bankruptcy and closing of our doors, and therefore loss of after hours care for sick/injured pets, and job loss for all of our employees.

I apologized for the difficult situation, and informed Dr. V that all I could provide for this pet was pro-bono euthanasia, which he could obviously do at his clinic without driving the dog to our hospital.  We ended the phone call.

15 minutes later, Dr. V called me again.

"The homeless man wants to come to your hospital," she said. "I'm going to drop him off at your clinic."

Dumbfounded, I had a difficult time forming sentences in a professional manner, without screaming WHAT THE &#$*# ARE YOU THINKING??!?!?!

"Dr. V, I don't understand what this is going to accomplish," I said. "I am not able to authorize or provide any care for this pet when there is no funding to pay for charges incurred.  The only thing I can do for free is to euthanize the pet (to end suffering), and there's no reason to drive him all the way here for me to do so.  If the pet is critically injured, he should be euthanized to end suffering.  I know that none of us want to euthanize this pet, but there's no agency/group/private institution that can afford to pay for sick and injured homeless pets.  We can't even feed and house the HUMANS that are homeless."

Dr. V didn't seem to get it. "Well, the homeless man wants to come there, and what am I supposed to do? I've already placed a catheter and anesthetized his dog.  I think it has head trauma and brain swelling. "  (Those of you reading this with medical knowledge will also notice that this treatment is completely inappropriate for head trauma).

I apologized for the sad situation, but repeated the truth of the situation.  I wish the reality was different, but as our hospital (like most veterinary clinics!) has no government funding, no rich benefactors, and with the economy in a economic depression, there isn't any extra money to go around.

Dr. V ignored my replies.  "I'm bringing him over anyway.  It's 5:45 and I want to go home. Maybe he can just take his dog 'home' and see how it goes."

Never, in my career, have I witnessed such an unprofessional, rude, unfair, ridiculous decision by a supposed professional.  This is an extreme case of "passing the buck."  -- Sorry sir, I can't help you, but I'll drive you to the emergency room! They'll be sure to have everything you need to make your pet all better!!

At this point, I was furious.  If Dr. V chose to initiate therapy for a homeless man's pet out of the goodness of her heart, then she should have taken the initiative to see it to completion, or recommended euthanasia once the extent of injuries was realized.  By starting some sort of (inappropriate) treatment plan, and then driving the man to our clinic, she essentially made my clinic and me look like the heartless, money grubbing assholes who don't help out during tough times.  In addition, at this point, the client had unrealistic expectations of us providing thousands of dollars of free care for his critically injured pet.

Dr. V arrived, and refused to speak with me.  My receptionist asked her to talk with me about the case, but she ran out the door before I could see her.  "I've got to go, I just can't stay, sorry...." she said.

The homeless man was obviously and understandably distraught.  He was also carrying an 8'' knife, and a risk to myself and my mostly female staff.  His dog was critically injured, had visible signs of head trauma, difficulty breathing, and pale gums.  To allow this dog to "go home and see how it goes" would have been an inhumane decision, and I could not allow it.  We gently counseled the homeless man, and fortunately, he was a reasonable person who understood that his dog was morbidly injured.  He knew that euthanasia was the best thing for his pet.

I euthanized his dog while he cried, and I apologized for his loss.   It was the only reasonable, humane decision in the given situation.

I'm flabbergasted. How can this "colleague" think that her actions were reasonable??


  1. I stand by my FB comment - a strongly worded letter from your boss is in order.

  2. Reminds me of a case at another clinic I worked at. Only two clinics in the area see exotics, the clinic I worked at and one across town. One night we get a call from the other clinic saying they are sending us an emergency with a bird and then hung up.
    Turns out the bird was already dead but the owner was completely distraught and wouldn't accept that. She had accidentally crushed the bird with a log for her fireplace. We ended up having to call the police, (who ended up knowing the woman already) and hours behind.
    When I talked to another tech at the other clinic, turned out the bird was dead when they had seen it, but the vet and staff didn't wasn't to deal with the owner so they said to go to us. And the owner of the other clinic had the audacity to ask us why we never referred to him!
    Some people only see the inconvenience to themselves and not what's best in the circumstances.