Friday, June 13, 2014

When A Vet Hurts Your Pet

When A Vet Hurts Your Pet

It feels like the worst possible scenario, having to rush you pet to the emergency hospital in the middle of the night with a life-threatening situation.  Imagine having that happen, then having the vet ignore your dog allowing the condition to further deteriorate until a cost prohibitive. dangerous surgery would be needed to save the dog.  In the days of corporate vet care, this type of situation is becoming an increasing problem as either unnecessary procedures are being done, or no care at all is given if they think you can't or won't pay.  Unwilling to waiver from what they want to do, you are no longer given options for affordable care.  Scare tactics are used to get your money or they recommend killing your pet if they can't get as much money out of you as possible.   

There are things you can do to protect yourself and others from suffering these fates.  Avoiding corporate veterinary care is one of your best options.  But, if no other places are available, you may have no choice.  The true story you are about to read details what we at Desert Pearl went through and what we did to fight back.  Whether your case is severe as what poor Benson was put through, or you had to take your dog to another vet to finally solve the problem, there MAY be things that you can do to, at the very least, get your hard earned money back!.

We arrived at the VCA Animal Hospital and Emergency Center in Indio, California  a little after midnight when one of our residents, Benson, was uncomfortable due to a gas build up in his abdomen. The ten year old Saint Bernard, Golden Retriever mixed breed dog had appeared to be uncomfortable and his back had a slight hunch.  Our first thought was a gas building which we confirmed by measuring his abdomen whose circumference had increased by three inches.  We gave him gas-x which we always keep on hand for just these types of emergencies, called the emergency hospital to tell them we were on our way and prepared for the 45 mile drive despite the fact that the gas-x had started to work and his abdomen had started to decrease in size.  His condition, known as bloat, can quickly end a dog's life as the gas builds up and the stomach twists from the pressure.  Within a matter of only three hours, a dog can die from this condition.

When we arrived at the hospital less than an hour later, without even examining the dog, the vet, Dr. R.A. Williams recommended euthanasia.  Appalled at his attitude, but with no where else to go, and Benson already feeling better from the meds we gave him at home, we refused telling the vet to remove the gas and okayed radiographs. We sat patiently waiting for the results assuming the vet would follow standard protocol and immediately begin treatment to keep Benson's condition from worsening.

Nearly an hour and a half later, the vet finally called me in to look at the radiographs which showed that Benson's stomach had twisted.  We were shocked at the results knowing we had gotten Benson there in plenty of time to avoid just this sort of thing from happening.  We had caught the problem early, started treatment at home, Benson arrived in great condition, walking on his own, far less painful giving every indication that simply removing the gas would have solved the problem.  What went wrong?  We have been through this problem with other animals many times before and we were quite familiar with the procedure and had never had a stomach twist before.  Once again, the vet recommended euthanasia, but we wanted to see the quote first.

Another twenty minutes went by for them to prepare the quote which required full payment of $6,200.00 before they would begin surgery.  In reviewing the quote, I saw immediately what had gone wrong.  They had never bothered to remove the gas, performing a simple gastric decompression as protocol indicates.  Benson had simply been neglected, alone in a strange place, to suffer and left to die in agony as the gas continued to build.  The gastric decompression which would have taken less than a minute to perform had never been done despite protocol and our instructions.

By leaving him untreated, it looked like the vet was going to get his way.  Benson would not survive.  If this vet was so incompetent that he would not treat the dog, certainly we could not trust him with such a complicated surgery to repair the gastric torsion.  Surprisingly, a telephone operator would be the hero in the wee hours of the morning.  With no where else to go, we explained the problem and the operator searched diligently to find another emergency clinic we could call.  She located one about 80 miles west of our current location.  We told the VCA staff to get the dog ready, that we were leaving and called The Animal Emergency Clinic in Grand Terrace, California to tell them we were on our way.  The receptionist told us they could help, but it would be very expensive, approximately $1,800.00 (less than 1/3 of the VCA quote.)  Now after 3:00am, when Benson was brought out, he was a completely different dog, in severe pain, barely able to walk.  He was as good as dead if he stayed here, but it didn't look like he would survive the long journey ahead.  Euthanasia started to look like the only humane thing to do now that these cold, callous people had stolen so much precious time.  We left the sanctuary that night wanting to help Benson and we were still going to try.

After paying their $500.00 bill to neglect Benson and signing their decline to treat form, at 3:15am we were finally on our way, driving at top speed to get Benson the treatment he so deserved.  

Once the stomach twists, other organs become compromised including lungs, kidneys, spleen and heart.  The stomach begins to die from lack of blood.  As shock sets in, the body begins to shut down.  had these people simply done their jobs, Benson wouldn't now be facing certain death.

When we arrived at the next emergency clinic at 4:13am, Benson was now in full shock, his eyes fixed and glossy, unable to move on his own power.  But, he was still breathing.  The two staff members rushed him in back on a stretcher.  A minute or two later, a staff member came out handing us the paperwork to fill out. Before completing the forms, the vet had come out to discuss the case.  She started by saying that she had performed the gastric decompression and started fluids.  Benson was resting comfortably, but because he was in shock, he needed to be stabilized before they could attempt surgery.  It didn't sound promising because so much time had passed that we were looking at potential organ involvement, ruptured or dead tissue in the stomach.  If the damage was too great in the stomach, there would be no hope to save the dog.  Something you would never hear at VCA, the vet asked "What would you like to do?"

Despite all the odds against him, we had to try.  The sun had risen by the time Benson came out of surgery nearly nine hours after our journey had begun.  The surgeon found no dead tissue (an indication that VCA's neglect had caused the stomach to twist) and although it would be several days before potential complications could be ruled out, she gave Benson a high probability of survival.  

Benson made a complete recovery, yet we could not overcome the anger and grief that Benson had been so needlessly left to suffer.  No one should have to deal with the humiliation of being falsely "sized up" then abandoned by the people they need most.  We decided to get the word out about VCA, and in the process finding many others who had gone through ordeals nearly as bad.

We posted complaints on the internet, disputed the charges, filed complaints with the State Veterinary Board and Better Business Bureau as well as filing a small claims law suit.  The end results of our efforts -- VCA was required to reimburse us $3,300.00, not only reimbursing us for their charges, but covering the full cost of all of Benson's veterinary care.  Here is what we did to win our case.

1)  Write up your story.  You will be posting it on various places so it is easier to simply retype than try to write up the story time and time again.

2)  Dispute the charges.  This really takes no more than a phone call or punching a few buttons on the credit card's website.  Each time the charge shows up again, dispute it.  The advantage is two-fold.  First of all, there is a good chance the "seller" will let the matter drop when you continue to dispute.  If you are planning to sue in small claims court, the credit card company will be able to give you ALL medical records.  In this case, we could prove that based on physical examination, his stomach had not twisted.  We were also given a copy of the "decline to treat form."  While VCA tried to use this against us in court, we could prove that it was signed at the time we LEFT the hospital and was required to be signed in order to release the dog.  The document was time-stamped at 3:00am.

3)  Write reviews on websites such as yelp and Pissed Off Consumer. At the very least, let others know what you went through.  If enough people take a few minutes to share their experiences, others may choose another vet for treatment saving themselves time, money and potentially the lives of their pets.

4)  File a complaint with your State Veterinary Board.  Each state has different requirements, but the process is quite simple, especially since you have previously written up what happened.  At the time of writing, no actions seem to have been taken against VCA three years after the incident occurred.  It does, however, sit on file.  The more people complain, the more likely these agencies are to pursue the matter.  The State Board was advised of the small claims victory and sent all documentation.

5)  File a complaint with the Better Business Bureau.  Don't expect to get any help from them, but the answer to your complaint will give you some idea of how the vet intends to defend the case.  As with all other complaints filed, VCA placed the blame on the owner.  In Benson's case, they stated that they could not talk to me because we were on the phone.  A copy of their BBB statement along with phone records were presented to the judge disproving their allegations was able to bring my phone showing that the only call made was to the 411 operator.

6) Get a copy of current medical records or a letter from the new treating vet stating what the problem is.  We did not take this step, but the judge did mention that he was surprised that we didn't.
Having specific information will help the judge determine what actually happened.  Remember, the judge may have no knowledge of veterinary care.  It is up to YOU to show him that the vet you are suing was incompetent.

7)  Become an "expert" about the medical problem your pet experienced.  These days, there are many "official" sites about medical issues for pets.  Go through these sites, learn the condition and what should have been done to resolve the problem.  You will need to think fast when it is time to face the judge.  The person you are suing will try to get out of it and it is up to you to prove they have done wrong.

8)  File a Small Claims Lawsuit
Filing a suit varies from state to state, but it is a simple matter and inexpensive to do.  You don't need (and many states won't allow) lawyers to attend.  Should you win your suit, the defendant will be responsible for the charges to file and serve papers.
 You have to show the judge that the vet you are suing made errors.  In Benson's case, we actually described what bloat is and what happens when a gastric torsion occurs.  We also had the medical records from the vet who saved Benson showing that VCA had given no treatment and showing what was done for Benson when he arrived.  During the trial, the medical director tried to convince the judge that they had to do xrays first to determine what step to take.  However, having been supplied with several sets of protocol (including from the VCA website), we could prove that they were wrong, that the first step is to remove the gas.  The medical director also tried to blame it on a tumor, but the medical records from the attending vet proved that no tumor was there.  Her final attempt would be to say that they couldn't treat even if they wanted to because of the "decline to treat form."  Thanks to the credit card company, we had a copy of this form and presented it to the judge before the defense could find their copy, circling the time stamp showing it was signed as we were leaving.  

It may seem like there is a lot of work involved in fighting back.  There is no doubt.  It IS a lot of work. In our case, we were awarded $3,300.00 to cover all our costs of returning Benson to full health.  Even if you don't plan to sue, take the time to tell others and post your experiences on line.

Feel free to share your experiences with us here on our blog, as well.  

Interested in learning more about Desert Pearl Rescue Network? 

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