Beware of Scammy Emergency Vet Clinics

Wendy’s loss has been particularly difficult for several reasons, one of which was a Sunday visit to an emergency vet clinic. I’d taken pets to this clinic before (this was the same place I took Jade after finding her run over by a truck in a parking lot) and, while nothing is the same as taking pets to your own vet, this place was ok. Not this time. I later learned the clinic been recently bought out by a corporation. All I knew at the time of my visit was that the vet, whom I’d never met before, appeared to be entirely focused on profit.

For starters, the vet had an estimate prepared before she ever saw my dog. This is not me making an assumption – she flat out told me she had put together an estimate “based upon what we usually do for renal dogs”. While I understand that treatments may be similar for dogs suffering from kidney failure, I would think there would be significant variations depending upon what stage the patient is in (Wendy was diagnosed as “very early stage” just 3 months prior), what the current blood work shows and other factors which can’t possibly be determined before examining the dog.

Things went downhill from there. Way. The very first words out of the vet’s mouth when she walked in the room were, “So she’s been sick for 5 days already.” I was shocked but managed to explain that no, she was an old dog who had gone off her food for a day, then seemed to rally back and feel much better, then had some vomiting, not eating – off and on, back and forth like this for the past 5 days until finally that Sunday, I considered the situation to be serious enough to warrant a check at the emergency clinic. She saw Wendy’s tongue protruding and “joked” that she was expressing her opinion. The whole visit was awful and I felt very uncomfortable with the idea of this vet treating my beloved pet. At one point, I pulled the young man who was assisting aside and asked him if this vet was ok, because what the hell, and he replied, “If it’s any consolation, I get that A LOT.”

It was no consolation. The estimate, even if I had felt comfortable leaving Wendy there, was well beyond my means. I explained that I had financial limitations, did not want to hospitalize Wendy, and that I had an appointment with my regular vet the morning after Labor Day and would just like to help Wendy feel better until then. The vet was clearly unhappy about this and said several things which did not make sense to me at the time:

  • “You’re going to have to bring her back. We’ll be open tomorrow.”
  • “Her blood levels indicate to me that sub-Q fluids won’t help her.”
  • “Here are two supplements that helped a renal dog I know who was on his way to be euthanized when the owner started these supplements and he lived for another 3 months. They are $50 each.”

I could not process this information. Wendy had gone from very early stage kidney failure to so far gone that sub-Q fluids were useless in 3 months? But I should buy $100 worth of supplements for a dog who wasn’t eating? Why would I bring her back to this place when I’ve already said I didn’t want to hospitalize? None of this was making sense to me. I paid my $350 bill for the blood work, injections and sub-Q fluids, took my pet and left.

I brought Wendy to my regular vet when they reopened on Tuesday morning after the holiday and she immediately noticed Wendy’s protruding tongue was ulcerated. I thought it was just dried out. She explained that in some patients with renal failure, the ulcers extend from the tongue, down the esophagus and through the digestive tract. This explained why Wendy would sometimes seem to want to eat but then the food would just fall out of her mouth as if she was experiencing pain upon swallowing. All the emergency vet had said about her tongue was a snide remark, which was not helpful.

After looking at Wendy and reviewing the blood work from the emergency clinic, my vet gave me the information I needed to make an informed decision: “I don’t want to give you false hope. I can’t fix her. I’m willing to try to help her feel better if that’s what you want me to do but even if we can accomplish that without her succumbing to the inherent risks, she will likely relapse in 48 hours and she still won’t be able to eat due to the ulceration of the tongue and esophagus.”

These words I understood. I believed as I held Wendy in my lap that she was suffering. Billy agreed. There was no hope for recovery. It might be possible to extend her life but that would merely extend her suffering for all intents and purposes. We did not want that. We decided to let her go.

Which is the decision I would have made that Sunday at the emergency clinic had the vet there told me these things. But I guess that wouldn’t have been as profitable for them.

It was my regular vet who told me about the emergency clinic having been bought by a chain. She added that unfortunately, the other emergency clinic she has worked with has also been bought out. Apparently this is the future of emergency veterinary medicine. And it’s a shame.

When a vet hands you a four figure estimate for hospitalization, there comes with it an expectation of hope. That’s what they are selling pet owners: hope. In Wendy’s case, it was fake. I was too scattered to ask the question, “What is the prognosis with and without hospitalization?” Emergency vets have to know that pet owners who come to them are seeking guidance. Instead of preying on our inability to fully process information during a crisis, emergency vets need to support clients by providing information specific to the individual pet’s circumstances in clear terms which allow owners to make informed decisions. The onus should not be on distraught owners to ask the right questions but rather on the vet being paid for an educated opinion to offer realistic information.

In talking to reader Brie Kavanaugh, I found out she too had been through a terrible experience at the end of a dog’s life recently. I asked her to share her story here, in hopes of helping to increase awareness about these types of events:

On July 3rd at about 8:00 p.m., our 16-year old dog had a grand mal seizure. It was terrifying. He had been sleeping near my chair at my feet when he started to convulse. My husband leapt into action to hold Asp still while I began to pray for the soul or our boy, hoping the seizure would not last. He howled. It was over in less than three minutes. We called our vet of 20 years for help. She could not help us and told us to go to the emergency veterinary clinic in Huntsville. We did, having no idea that our lives were about to be forever changed by a business devoid of compassion, sympathy or empathy.

When we arrived at the ER clinic not quite 40 minutes later, the door was locked. We were only allowed to bring our dog inside after having paid a $100 treatment fee to an angry, curt receptionist. We were put into an exam room and stayed there for 2 1/2 hours with no communication and no way to keep our dog comfortable. He would have been better off in our truck until they could see him. When my husband asked the receptionist how much longer the wait would be, we were told people had been waiting longer than us. We were ultimately seen by a veterinarian who ordered tests, told us to wait in the lobby and then told us about 20 minutes later, in that same lobby, that our dog had cancer while trying to show us ultrasound images on his phone. As we struggled to process the information, we were given a prescription for Aspy and told to observe him for 24 hours.

He didn’t make it that long. He had another seizure the following afternoon at about 2:00 p.m. that seemed to last an eternity but really lasted about 40 minutes. I honestly thought he would die on the rug in our living room from the seizure itself. It went on and on as he lost control of his bowels and howled.We tried to reach our veterinarian and could not so we took Aspy, still seizing, back to the same emergency clinic to have him euthanized. He stopped seizing during the drive, but we knew we could not keep him. We were put in a room, told to sign forms and told our dog had to be taken from us to have the IV line put it. We begged for the vet tech to just do it with us present to keep our dog calm. She would not and insisted he had to be taken to another room. He was gone for more than 15 minutes as we heard him barking for us in his confusion and as we anguished over what was happening. When Aspy was finally returned to us, the vet tech told us that he “would not hold still” for her, as if she was speaking about a fully functioning dog. We were incredulous. A veterinarian entered the room to euthanize our dog and it was over in less than a minute. No real chance to say goodbye. No real chance to center ourselves. We were in shock.

We wrote a 3 page complaint letter to the Animal Emergency Clinic of North Alabama about our experiences there. No one could save our dog. But the manner in which we were treated during both of our visits turned a heart breaking loss into a traumatic experience we will never forget. It never even occurred to us to try to find another place to go; we felt we had no other choice.

Those who own, oversee and work in emergency clinics simply cannot think and function like other service industries. I have had better and more compassionate service from the Express Lube where I take my car. And I will never ever go back to that place again. We sought help in what turned out to be the worst 19 hours of our 16 year relationship with our dog and those from who we sought help failed us. And for that, they should be ashamed.

Thank you Brie for sharing your story.  I know how difficult it is.

Anyone who wants to share their own experiences at emergency clinics, good or bad, is welcome to post in the comments – as is anyone who has suggestions on what to do when you have a need for emergency vet services on weekends/holidays but don’t trust your area clinics.

34 thoughts on “Beware of Scammy Emergency Vet Clinics

  1. Had a bad experience in 2000 with our big boy, Pluto. He had Cushings, and hadn’t been able to walk for a couple of weeks. We had him to our regular vet, who couldn’t figure out why he was not able to walk…..he didn’t see any spinal issue. We made an appointment with a specialist, and in the meanwhile continued to care for him and carry him out to potty. The night before his specialist appointment, he began having trouble breathing. He seemed to be in distress, so we took him over to emergency. We had used the emergency clinic before, and knew it would be expensive, but he was obviously having respiratory distress. They took him back into an examination room and we talked with the Dr. whom we had never met before, and told her that he was scheduled to see a specialist in the morning. We asked her to please help him breathe. We waited 2.5 hours, and she finally came out with an estimate. THEY HAD DONE NOTHING FOR HIM. They had not even given him oxygen during those 2.5 hours, and we had not been able to be with him. What.The.Actual.F*CK? She said they had to have payment first. We approved the treatment that made sense, which was giving him oxygen and keeping him comfortable until morning. They wanted to do an x-ray (I can’t remember why now). We paid them and decided to leave him overnight so we wouldn’t have to stress him any more by moving him (he was more than 100 lbs and 11 yrs old) We weren’t home 5 minutes when they called to tell us that he’d had a heart attack on the x-ray table and died. (and they had still not administered any oxygen.) We’ve never gone back to that emergency clinic. That particular Dr. came under a lot of fire in the years since then.

  2. End of life care for your beloved furry family members can make or break your soul.

    My 2nd greyhound Foxy was at a sitter while I was away in Mexico and when I came home he was super excited and was throwing up and shaking. This was pretty normal for him as he had motion sickness and had some pretty severe separation anxiety from me so him seeing me the first time in 7 days, in my mind, this was pretty normal.

    As the day went on he continued to get sick and then I noticed his ears were going pink and he started losing his balance – it was Thanksgiving in Canada so I ended up driving him 45 min to the nearest emergency clinic…

    They got us in right away and hooked him up to an IV – I phoned the sitter to ask if he was sick at all during the time I was away and she said no, unfortunately she phoned me back just a short time later and said that he had broken into her pantry at some point and she found an empty bag of baker chocolate chips and she thinks he ate a whole half a bag of them – I informed the vet and they nodded and left me and Foxy in the back room with him hooked up to an IV.

    A few hours later I had to yell for someone to come and help me with the IV as Foxy had to pee and I couldn’t help him, keep the IV in and get him outside for him to relieve himself – they finally came back and helped us both out.

    After 6 hours of sitting there with my dog someone finally came back and suggested that I should go home and that he would be fine. He had had no treatment other than the IV up to this point – I reluctantly agreed to leave him there overnight for observation and began filling out payment plan information for the $1500 bill that I was about to be saddled with. I made it about 20 minutes home in the car when I got a frantic call from the vet asking if they should crack his chest as he had gone into cardiac arrest. He didn’t make it.

    While none of the vets were rude, they just weren’t there. You would think with an ingestion case the first thing they would do is induce vomiting – but nope. 6 hours and the only time a vet saw him and me was when they hooked up the IV line and when they helped me get him outside so he could pee. I’m still guilt ridden over his passing, feeling like I didn’t fight hard enough for treatment for him at that vet and it’s been 10 years.

    I also run a dog adoption group and we had a horrific experience with one of our dogs at another emergency clinic. We had dropped off this sweet momma dog to have her teeth cleaned/pulled – I’ll copy and paste the foster home’s comments below – we never went back to this vet again….

    “We brought our foster dog in for an initial physical and required pre-spaying review. The physical was superficial and we had to remind the vet to give her shots–that took place in the public lobby. We also pointed out a single broken tooth which we wanted removed during her spaying. When we brought her back we said to just pull that single tooth while doing the spaying. The vet however pushed to do a complete dental review in a subsequent visit–rationale being that it was less risky for the dog as she didn’t need to be under as long (not sure how the fact that she had to be under a second time and all that extra revenue earned by McKnight for the additional visit factored into the recommendation!?!?!?. When we picked up our foster dog after her spaying she still had blood and other liquids over her coat. Not impressed. Per the vet’s recommendation, about a month later we brought back our foster dog to whom we had grown incredibly close to and truly loved like our own, for her dental work. She never came home. Would the extra few minutes to pull a single tooth have killed her–we will never know. We do KNOW however that she died while in McKnight’s hands.

    The story does not end. She was cremated. A couple weeks later we got the call to pick up the ashes. When we arrived and asked for the ashes after 5-10 minutes later we were told they were not available and that we should come back another time and talk to someone else. Reinforcing that we didn’t dream the “ashes ready” call, about another 20 minutes later the ashes were found. The personalized collar and leash we had however left was not found. Describing it in details about 10-15 minutes later they came back with something completely different from what we described. It’s now many months later and never has the leash and collar been found.

    In summary: a dead dog, extra procedures (to reduce risk?), absolutely terrible customer services, lost personal articles, never an apology, never an explanation, and the feeling that our lovely girl spent the last day of her life alone in a tiny cage without any feelings of love and true care for her life.”

    I also had a vet recommend cataract surgery on our family’s 13 year american eskimo Misha who had stage 4 lymphoma…..

    1. PS: The dental that our beloved Zena died during cost my adoption group $2083.18 – they charged us $85.00 for their attempt to resuscitate her.

  3. When Shirley and I were talking about this, I kept coming back to one thing. When you have an emergency, you don’t process information well. Or at least I don’t. You are scared, emotional and anxious and the brain just doesn’t really work the way it should. I was crying and freaking out and praying out loud. It never even occurred to us to go to another location since we felt there was no other place to go that we could get to fast enough. I know our dog could not have been saved, but the way the whole thing played out will be with us always and it makes the loss that much harder. I guess we all wish they would go in their sleep or that it would be some peaceful parting on our terms with the help of a veterinarian we trust. When that cannot happen for some reason, those who work for these clinics simply cannot behave with such callous disregard for serious problems and end of life issues. I feel victimized. It sounds theatrical, but I feel like I have a degree of PTSD. The clinic is a block from my office and there are times when I look at Aspy’s picture and it all just floods back uninvited.

    I never heard a word from anyone about our complaint letter and I’m sure I won’t. They got their money. And I would not be surprised to learn our letter was simply thrown away. We will never go back. And before we bring another dog into our home, we will have a plan for after-hours care which does not rely on one person or an ER clinic and is with someone we have met and who has met our dog.

    I’m so very sorry about Wendy, Shirley, and about the traumatic losses of others. It should not be this way and I think we all end up scarred some way in the process. For that you have both my sympathy and my empathy.

  4. I find veterinarians in general to be . . . well, horrible. The fact of the matter is that, unlike human medicine, there is no real regulation and no real “standard” treatment for anything. And it blows my mind on a regular basis how much the vet themselves are deluded in regards to finances and standards of care.

    One of the vets I know (I am friends with his wife), does a lot of pro bono work, particularly spay/neuters. However, I am not a client of his clinic for numerous reasons, the biggest of which is that pets are a luxury good, and “people who can’t afford them shouldn’t have them”. They offer “premium” vet care, laced with compassion, for people who can afford to pay, and if course, they have the best and latest equipment to offer. But as a decidedly low middle-classed person, I can’t afford to pay for that equipment every time my dog needs a antihistamine or has a rash.

    They recently generously offered a poor child in the neighbourhood a free spay/neuter for her puppy. This thirteen year old girl was working odd jobs in the community (which is how she came to their attention), and brought her puppy in for a vet check and a puppy shot before the puppy was old enough for the procedure. They charged her $80. I could have bought the shot at the local pet pharmacy for $9. They also gave her some wormer, less than $2.

    I think it was a scare tactic to get her to give up her puppy because “it would be better off”. Both the girl and the puppy are underweight and malnourished, but she produced the $80. The girl is now apprehensive and reluctant to bringing her puppy back to get fixed, even if it’s free, and I don’t blame her.

    They have no idea the impression they left on that poor girl, and have since brought her several books, and even a winter coat to replace the one I got her last year that is now too small.

    This vet constantly advises me that “you can’t put a price on love” so I should get pet insurance asap, as well, as being dismissive of my own small efforts to help animals in need in the community because my actions “won’t make a difference in the end, anyway.” Every time I talk to them, I think these people are nice, generous people, run a really good clinic, genuinely care and love animals, and this is how they think and behave?

    1. ” …dismissive of my own small efforts to help animals in need in the community because my actions “won’t make a difference in the end, anyway.”

      But they make a difference in the NOW.

  5. I am so sorry to you both. This is so shameful, it has me in tears. So sorry for your losses. But how you were treated, it just leaves me really upset. Thanks for speaking up Aubrie and Shirley. The only comfort is that your speaking out will help someone in the future who reads this-that I know.

  6. Brie Kavanaugh’s experience raises a real point of contention for me: Vets and vet techs who insist on bringing your pet “in the back,” out of your view and away from your comforting presence has become so common, in veterinary offices as well as in ERs. As the customer, it never feels right to question this practice or to insist the pet be treated in the exam room (what’s an exam for, after all?), but that’s exactly what you should do. 1) You can comfort your pet during the procedure and 2) you can witness exactly what is being done to your pet in case you need to intervene or have some recourse should something go wrong. (You should do the same with children, BTW–never let them out of your view in a dr.’s office!) I once brought a 2-month old, frail kitten (possibly feral) to a vet for examination. The vet wrestled with this terrified kitten when trying to clean out her ears, got scratched, then she angrily hauled her into the back area, out of my view. I was so scared she would kill the kitten! Luckily, the kitten was returned, unharmed, but emotionally traumatized (I couldn’t touch her ears for years after that). Thankfully she’s still with us 13 years later, but I will not hesitate now to insist that the pet remain in the exam room WITH me. I just made such a request this week and the vet gracefully obliged.

    Does anyone have suggestions on who (what state or federal entity) would be the appropriate channel for complaints about ER or veterinary practices that put financial gain above the welfare of their patients?

    1. My 19 year old dog was dying from cancer. When “the time” came, it was after hours, so we went to the emergency vet.

      My mother came with me and I stayed in the car while she went in to inform them of what was needed. The vet insisted on a physical exam. My mother (having been a high risk neonatal nurse for many years) told him in no uncertain terms that this dog was 19 years old, in distress, diagnosed with cancer months before, and required euthanasia. And what’s more, he was to come out to the car to do it for her so she did not have to leave the car she loved.

      The vet picked up his euthanasia drugs and followed her out to the car, grumbling about his this was not correct procedure. But when he got to the car, he was gentle and kind and hunched over in the back seat and worked by the overhead light and parking lot lights and released the dog from her pain right there.

      I think having an advocate can make a HUGE difference in these situations. People hospitals (some of them) offer patient advocates. It’s possible that with the corporatizing of veterinary hospitals, client advocates may come into fashion along with them.

      I don’t know. I just wish that vets could be trusted to act as advocates for the pets. And you know, some do. But far too many do not.

  7. Unfortunately, corporate veterinary medicine is coming – not just to emergency clinics, but more and more private clinics are being sold to for-profit corporations. It’s so easy, when you are struggling to pay a big bill, to think that vets must be getting rich but that just isn’t the case. The corporations pretty uniformly suck – there are of course still some individual good vets who work for them, but even they may have their hands tied by the corporate rules. I don’t know what the answer is, beyond telling pet owners to keep asking questions. Some practices that may seem wrong may actually be the correct action – but it you don’t ask, you won’t know that they ARE taking care of your pet properly. Take notes. Record conversations, if necessary. And if you really think some malpractice has been committed, don’t just write a letter to the clinic or leave a bad online review – report it to the state board. Veterinary medicine DOES have oversight, regulation and standards of care.

    1. “Veterinary medicine DOES have oversight, regulation and standards of care.”

      It’s really hard for me to believe that when the regulatory board itself is so corrupt. Kickbacks from vaccine and drug manufacturers, even dog food companies is totally legal, unlike in human medicine, and influence a large # of their “policies”. Revoking a licence to practice veterinary medicine is almost unheard of, and only then if there is significant “proof” of wrong-doing. Continuing education? Nope. That’s not required of any veterinarian.

      1. “Continuing education? Nope. That’s not required of any veterinarian.”

        That’s incorrect, every veterinarian is required to attend continuing education to renew their license. The vets I know often use their own money to do so. I actually trust vets more than I do many human doctors–and I have certainly been treated better by them than at my own doctors office.

        If you enter the vets office convinced that you are going to be cheated, then you are never going to be happy with the outcome of your visit.

      2. “If you enter the vets office convinced that you are going to be cheated, then you are never going to be happy with the outcome of your visit.”

        Well, I’ve had several vet visits that I have been happy with, but going into the clinic with a strong sense of cynicism and some strong research skills has saved me hundreds of dollars, and in a couple cases, the lives of my animals.

  8. I think you can blame “pet insurance” on some of this..when vets know they can charge like a hospital and be paid back by insurance all goes to pot. when they can charge for “disposal” of needles and 150 per xray etc they will..and sadly when they can give you false hope and then charge you outrageous fees they will do that too. Also I blame it partly on the clients themselves..we are conditioned to think that medicine can cure all.. our dogs are not dogs with a lifespan of 10-14 years ( more if we are lucky.. less if we are not) they are our “fur kids’ our “babies’.. our “children” our “family members” we are “pet parents” “guardians” etc not owner who can decide when to let go..or turn down medical treatments without fear of reports of absue or massive guilt. we talk about suing vets for not keeping our pets alive we try chemo, radiation whatever we can some go bankrupt doing it.. we are guilted by the animal rights people and even turned in by them if you decide to allow your pet to die at home soooo. while I think some of us are sensible enough to treat our pets as cherished but certainly mortal…. we also know what we are willing to do and not do.. unfortunately there are many ways to take advantage of people who are willing to “do anything” to save their pets.. most show up at the ER vet and this is what happens.I am so sorry this happened to you and to others ( myself included)

  9. I think Banfield Animal Hospital should be added to the list of **BAD** clinics!!
    I took a 12 year old dog to them with a suspected bladder infection. When making an appointment – I told them I would catch urine and bring it in. No one there told me that it was their procedure to do a sterile collection (cysto with a needle). I collected it minutes before the appointment – outside the PetSmart doors where the Banfield Animal Hospital is located. They saw the dog I had brought in for someone else who is in assisted living and on a limited income. I told them ahead of time. The vet seemed really nice, and gentle. She left the room saying she had to come up with a treatment plan. What they brought in the form of an estimate would cost between $809.40 to $1011.75!! I explained again that she was not my dog – and belonged to another person and his situation. All I wanted was a test to see if she had a bladder infection, and a culture if necessary – and something to make her feel better. So after refusing routine digital ($99.69)x-rays, abdomen x-rays ($215.21) the superchem / CBC/ urinalysis($208.82), Heartworm check ($32.95) (which they had Never EVEN asked me if she had it done – which she had, and has been on Medication since May 1st) and hospitalization ($72.48), urine culture ($133.80) and to dispose of the urine I free caught ($3.50), and the office call of $42.75 – they came up with a lesser charge of $366.00!! They were still insisting on doing the cysto and hospitalization, office call and culture for that price. I explained again the situation, and asked that they just test the urine I free caught. I was told that they would do the cysto, because it was procedure, but they would hang onto my sample *just in case* they weren’t able to get a sample directly from her bladder, and use my sample instead!! $366.00 was still out of reach for her owner, so I refused their care. But not until after I gave them my opinion of the place. The vet said that she had no control over what the procedure was, or the amount charged, and apologized. They ended up waving the office fee and basically saw me to the door. I don’t believe Banfield cares for ANY pets or their owners, but are out to make as much money as they can. They had the audacity to call me the following day to see how Ginger was doing. I told her I had no idea, since she didn’t live with me. The person on the phone was confused. I said with all the record keeping and time having a tech stand at the computer coming up with a plan and taking notes – one would think she’d have had that information, that I brought her for a friend who is in assisted living and is unable to take her to the vet himself. and he is on a limited income. AND of all things she should know – *That She Was NOT treated* by Banfield. I spent over 10 minutes complaining to her. I have also filled out their automated survey – and am now entered in their stupid contest to win $2,000.00.
    I AM Not impressed, and will tell Anyone and Everyone NOT to go to Banfield Pet Hospital, because they are out to make money, nothing more. They didn’t care about the poor little dog I had there, and had the nerve to follow up the next day on how she was feeling. Disgusting!!

  10. I will add something else in light of Nancy’s comment. We had been spoiled by our vet of 20 years who never did a procedure or exam without us present. Ever. Even when he had fatty tumors removed, my husband was right there. But when your dog is being euthanized, that is different and I think normal protocols should be reconsidered for the sake of the staff, the family and the animal. Aspy had not vocalized for about a year before we let him go, other than when he howled during his seizures. We heard him barking repeatedly after he was taken from us to have the IV put in. I was literally pounding on walls between pacing and swearing. I am sure he was scared, could not see and was confused. It all could have been avoided had they just done it with us present. It would have taken under a minute with us holding him. We would have signed anything and we had actually signed some waiver already, I think. The whole thing just was so awful. Even telling Shirley about it was hard and it’s hard to think about it now.

  11. I recently had a horrendous experience at a local clinic AFTER my cat died, while trying to send her to be cremated. To put this into perspective, she had gone missing for a day and when I finally went looking she had climbed or fallen into the hole with the sump pump in the basement. I picked her up and brought her out back, she sat by the pond and drank for a bit and then came in and curled up on the couch in the office. (She was our feral mom so the fact that she let me pick her up was my first hint of something wrong.) I talked to my vet about bringing her in for subQ fluids but we felt any sort of trying to get her in a cage and into a clinic might traumatize her needlessly, benefits probably wouldn’t outweigh the stress. I waited to see how she would be in the next 12 hours and by the time I checked on her in the morning she was almost gone. She died peacefully a few hours later. It is very important to me, for reasons that I can’t begin to type right now, that she be cremated. I called a clinic that I used for TNR to see if they provided cremation services and they said yes and quoted me a price and said it had to be paid for before they’d send her out. After work I packed Mini Mom up in a box and took her in.

    When I got there the price was $10 more, which I didn’t have on me and they wouldn’t take a check for the $10 (I didn’t have a credit card on me). I told them I’d bring in the balance the next day but they weren’t going to be open. The vet had some emergency and they were cancelling all appointments and closing the clinic for the day. So Friday, the day after, I went back. I spent two days trying to get the bad taste out of my mouth, the staff had been pretty callous and I kept thinking “maybe its me, maybe I’m just emotional. Stay calm, it’s probably fine.” (Hint – if you have to tell yourself that “maybe it’s me”, that’s a sign to RUN). I walk in, tell the receptionist that I’m there to pay the balance due on my cats cremation…and she never looks up at me. She tells me to sign in and they’ll get to me. In that instant I decided nope, we’re done. I asked to speak to a clinic manager and was told “She’s on vacation. Sign in, you’re being rude, we’ll get to you when we can.” Never ONCE did this woman address ANY client in the room by their name, relying on the “HEY, what’s wrong with your animal?” route of customer service. (Was she an Aetna rep in a previous life?) To which everyone looks up, says me? and glances away when they’ve been met with THE GAZE. Sigh.

    I wait. Then I’m called in by some young man who tries to become my friend. Really? How’s my day? My cat died, your clientele is such that you demand payment up front from a grieving family member, your staff can’t look UP or use names and NOW you want me to tell you how I feel??? OK, let’s do this. On top of that the three staff members who were here when I came in had no compassion for how I might feel, didn’t give a hoot about anything but the correct fee and told me that me cat would sit in the fridge until the fee was paid in full. So here I am, but that whole trust thing? It’s gone. I’ve given you SEVERAL chances. Once I brought in a feral kitten for a health check and you spayed her, she weighed 1 pound 9 ounces. Yeah, I picked up a groggy kitten with a clipped ear, a shaved belly and no communication from you even though I clearly wrote it on your form. Your own policy states 2.2 for spaying. My bad for asking to talk to a doctor first? Your records are incomplete because I’ve never received a copy of a completed form stating what had been done (procedures, meds etc) AND you can’t return a phone message to save your life.

    Of course it took a while for me to get all this out because this gentleman had to keep interrupting me to tell me that HE never did any of that so I needed to stop using “you guys” when referring to clinic workers. I said “you represent this clinic, these are your coworkers, you are included. You can either take responsibility or keep passing the buck.” We did a couple go-arounds like that and I finally said “Look, give me my cat back, refund my payment and I’ll go on my merry way.”

    “UM, I can’t do that.”
    “WHY NOT?”
    “Because she’s not here.”
    Deep breath.
    “Really? Your co-worker told me that because I dropped her off just before closing on Wednesday that she wouldn’t be picked up until this weekend AS LONG AS I came in with the extra $10.”
    “I’ll go look, but she might not be here.”
    “Go look. If you can produce paperwork to show that she was picked up then I’ll pay the fee and when I collect the ashes that will be the end of our business. If not I’ll be filing formal charges.”

    Ten minutes later, after I’ve had a chance to count the blood drops on the floor (14) he comes back in.
    “Just for the record, I never did anything to you.”
    Sigh. REALLY? Still have to get the last word in?
    He had my money, he handed me a receipt, he said he found Mini Mom and would meet me out back.
    He handed me a tied up black garbage bag. I got back in my car and cried.
    When I got home I looked at the receipt. It was for the wrong cat. I never looked in the bag because I just couldn’t.
    I called and asked to speak to the office manager but that message has not been returned.
    Just typing this has made me cry.

    1. I am so very, very sorry for how you were treated and what happened to you. The fact that you cried just adds to the point of all of this. These people should epitomize compassion, patience and steller communication. When they are dismissive, rude and hostile, it leaves scars we try to hide but which quickly come to the surface. I am so sorry.

  12. bbdane is correct–except in many cases, corporate veterinary medicine is already here. They have been slowly taking over in many areas, starting in the 90s. The corporations sell it as a way to afford the expensive equipment and “improve care”. Not fully explained is that every veterinarian will be graded on how much money they can generate per patient, and how many patients they can see in a day. Some vets push back at this, refusing to prescribe the most expensive option each time, but some also feel the pressure to produce. Try to find a local vet that you are comfortable with and can work with, and be loyal to that vet. If you are forced to go to an emergency clinic and have a terrible experience, don’t just write to the clinic–complain to the local and state veterinary medical board (use the Google to find them–every state has their own).

    Having said that, I truly think most vets and techs are doing the best they can, and aren’t deliberately out to rip you off. And ER Vets routinely take deposits because they are just as routinely not paid for services (25 years of working as a tech tells me that). However, having an advocate with you that can think clearly is also good advice. I have many choices for veterinary services around me, but not all people do, so do as much scouting ahead of time as you can.

  13. Speaking of Banfield, they have always been awful. 15 years ago my mother and I (I was in high school at the time) went into a Petsmart that was two hours away from our house. They had an adoption event going on with animals from their local animal control.

    I instantly fell head over heals for a little bobbed tail kitten and my mother let me adopt him. As part of the adoption package we were given a paper saying we could take them to their vet (not Banfield) to get the stitches from his alteration removed. He was male, we had never heard of a male cat needing stitches during alteration.

    This was when Banfeild was just being brought into Petsmart so we went there to see if we could get him examined. We wanted to be doubly sure he was okay before we introduced him to our pets at home and our vet would be closed by the time we could get to his office. We could walk right on in, there was no one else there with pets dispite the fact it was Saturday afternoon. That should have been our first clue.

    The exam when normally until we asked him about the stitches. He took one look at my kitten then grabbed him and left the room without a word to explain what he was doing. He was gone for over an hour. No one would tell us where the kitten was or what was going on. When he came back he said the kitten was a hermaphrodite and he had set up everything to put him down. This was a kitten who as far he could tell was completly healthy otherwise. Needless to say, we snatched the kitten up and ran out of there as fast as we could.

    1. Last I checked, being a hermaphrodite was not a terminal condition. Shocking that a vet would think the kitten needed to be killed for it!

      But yes, I’ve heard a LOT of bad things about Banfield. They are king of itemized charges – and they do like to charge for EVERYTHING. And while you will once in a while get a good vet there, it seems that Banfield is generally the collector of crappy vets.

  14. While I don’t think the emergency vet in my situation was completely out of line, I do think they would have taken advantage of a less-experienced pet owner. My Maude went to her regular vet for a routine senior screen exam (I do that annually for all my seniors, and Maude was around 17). My vet called the next day to tell me that she was anemic and her kidney values were much higher than expected, so I took her back in the following day for an iron injection and sub-q fluids as well as a refresher course on how to administer the fluids. At the vet that day, it was noted that Maude had lost weight since her appointment just two days earlier but we all hoped that the iron injection and fluids would kick in quickly and she would start feeling better. Later that evening, Maude wasn’t eating despite an appetite stimulant, and was sitting hunched over looking uncomfortable. When she was not improved by morning, I took her to the emergency vet before my regular vet was open. They rechecked her kidney values, which had shot up to incredibly high levels; literally off the charts in one area. They also noted that she was breathing heavily, perhaps indicating fluid in her chest. They suspected that a kidney stone had lodged in her ureter, causing a blockage. They wanted to do a chest x-ray, an abdominal ultrasound, and hospitalization over the weekend on IV fluids if a blockage was seen in the hope of flushing it out. The estimate was $3,000. All of this for a 17-year-old cat with inflammatory bowel disease! I’m lucky not to have to make vet care decisions based on affordability, but I’m glad I knew enough to ask the emergency vet, “Have you ever seen a cat with kidney values as high as hers recover to a good quality of life?” The answer was no, so that was also my answer to their plan. I immediately called my regular vet, who was open by that time, and asked if they could fit me in for a euthanasia appointment so Maude could be surrounded by those who loved her. They agreed, and the emergency vet gave Maude a strong pain injection so she would be comfortable for the short drive. When I talked to my vet about what the emergency vet had said, she agreed with their theory on what was going on, but she told me that she had never seen a kidney stone dislodged with that technique though that was often the recommended treatment. Her opinion was that euthanasia was the right thing to do since Maude was suffering. I think the emergency vet should have offered the information that it was unlikely Maude would recover no matter what they did, instead of just presenting me with an expensive treatment plan that had little chance of success and waiting for me to ask the right question.

  15. It’s also not just emergency vets. A local rescue group uses a veterinary practice that gives them a rescue discount, which I completely understand. However, as far as I’m concerned, the vets there are incompetent so it’s not really worth it. One example: I had agreed to foster a skinny 15-year-old owner-surrendered cat if the group decided to pull her. They did, and I named her Gladys. I met a representative from the rescue group at their preferred vet so Gladys could get a more thorough exam than the one she got at the shelter. They discovered she was hyperthyroid and had severe ear infections, but most concerning was fluid in her chest. The vet was convinced Gladys had FIP. She told the rescue group’s representative that Gladys had a very poor chance of survival, that it would be expensive to do any additional diagnostics, and that they should not waste any more of their limited resources on her. Based on that, I was told that she could be euthanized or I could take her home and make her comfortable for whatever time she had left but they would not authorize additional vet care. I do understand and don’t blame the rescue group at all. But I also thought the vet was full of it, so I asked them to send the x-rays and lab work to my own vet, and I made an appointment for the next day at my own expense. I heard later that my vet, upon seeing the faxed-over diagnosis of FIP, said “bullshit!” The rescue’s vet failed to send the x-rays so they had to be re-done, which my vet did at no cost to me. Their traveling ultrasonographer happened to be there at the time, and she offered to do an ultrasound for free. My vet felt that the fluid in Gladys’ chest was from an infection, and sure enough, ten days of antibiotics took care of it. I adopted Gladys, and just over a year later she is still with me. Her hyperthyroidism is under control with medication and otherwise she’s completely healthy. It drives me nuts to think that she could have been euthanized based on the wrong diagnosis if she had been taken in by a different foster who was unwilling or unable to pay out of pocket for a second opinion.

  16. These stories are absolutely heartbreaking.

    It’s not just emergency vets. My beloved 17 year old cat Bee had to be put down back in June, We had been in and out of the vet’s office for several weeks. My regular vet kept sending her home with meds and supps totalling over $100, but no suggestion of euthanasia, even when her arthritis got so bad she couldn’t stand up (the day before she died). I had to make the euthanasia decision on my own. And even when I called my vet crying, saying that she had no quality of life left, the vet kept saying we could try different tactics. I ended up finally calling a vet close to my home for the euth (grand total $59.00, even though it was a last-minute appointment at 9:30 at night). They took great care of us on that horrible evening and even sent a sympathy card afterwards. I really needed my regular vet to be more concerned about her quality of life.

  17. All of that makes me very glad that I’m lucky. My emergency vet office is my regular vet office. There are 8 veterinarians working out of the office, and they rotate who has emergency call duty, in addition there’s a vet tech on site 24/7/365 days a year. So in an emergency I can take my animals into the exact same clinic that I normally do, and while the vet on duty might not be the one I usually have see my animals he or she has my animal’s full records right there infront of them. They do charge more for outside of regular hours emergency service, and I’m fine with that, I’d expect to be paid more for my overtime too. In addition they have waived that on occasion, when we decided on a Saturday evening that my old cat needed to be euthanized they only charged us for the drugs for the euthanasia.

    1. I am hoping to find something similar to what you have, Ruth, for the future. A local veterinary hospital in the city where we live was talking about offering after hours and emergency care after hiring an additional vet. I would much rather go just a few minutes from my house to a place I trust. I don’t care about the money. I care about the quality of care, compassion and communication.

      I did not focus on it when I talked to Shirley, but the only reason we went to the ER clinic is because our vet of 20 years, whom we considered a friend and who said she would always carve out time for us, would not. She is entitled to a life. We just overestimated her willingness to help us in our hours of need. I won’t go into details about it. But we will likely never see her again. I just don’t think I can see her face and not blame her in some ay for the path we ended up taking, as irrational and unrealistic as that may be. We had hoped for a mostly peaceful process and it was anything but that.

  18. A couple years ago I contacted some neighborhood veterinary clinics to inquire about their charges for euthanasia. I live near the center of a large city and my regular veterinarians are in a second-tier suburb; it can take over an hour to get there during rush hour traffic, more if weather impedes travel, so I thought it a good idea to have a Plan B in the event any of my geriatric clan had a catastrophic injury or sudden decline from an illness that I decided was not reasonable to treat further.

    One clinic I called was operated by VCA Animal Hospitals (VCA was originally Veterinary Centers of America). I asked for an approximation of their charge to euthanize a dog of about 10 lb. The reply was “$65 for the initial exam, plus the cost of whatever tests the veterinarian decided on.” I explained again that I was asking about the cost of euthanization, not a diagnosis. The person replied that the exam and tests were necessary so the veterinarian could decide whether treatment or euthanizing the pet was appropriate. I tried again – I was talking about the case of a pet I owned that I had decided to have euthanized for whatever reason, and the reply still was that this would be the veterinarian’s decision after examining the pet. I thanked her and went on to the next phone call.

    Bestuvall is right – beware of veterinarians who don’t consider us owners and assign themselves the authority to decide whether and how our pets should be cared for.

  19. I’m so sorry for all the heartbroken pet people who had nasty vets at emergency. It’s criminal that they prey on us when we are at our weakest.
    At one point I had a young cat with a urethral blockage, middle of the night, had to rush him in to the emergency vet. They took him from me, about an hour later a vet came out to outline a massive surgical option they insisted had to be done. It was thousands out of my reach. I asked if they could just catheterize him and express the urine, I could get to my own vet in the morning. The vet gave me a nasty look and said, “If money is an option we can kill him for 90 bucks. I was gobsmacked, dropped my purse on the floor and started to sob. Eventually I managed to convince him to do the cath. although he charged a lot and sent him right home with me, no recovery at their hospital.
    I stayed up with him until my husband got home, we got into our vet and he was livid at the treatment we’d had. The emergency vet had told us just clearing the block and cathing would be a temporary fix, the problem would recur. It didn’t , he lived til the age of 17 in good health. I dread ever going back to the emergency vet clinic, callous and nasty.

  20. Not a euthanasia, but about 10 years ago, I received an irritated sounding call from an emergency clinic about an hour away. They had a dog brought in with, according to the vet, and “unsalvageable” tib/fib fracture from being trampled by a horse. They suggested either amputation or euthanasia to the owners who decided to surrender her to breed rescue if we’d take her. This was around 8:00 AM on a Monday. The dog had been brought in the previous evening around 6;00PM

    I said I’d come transfer her to my vet. I asked what procedures or treatment she’d had in the FOURTEEN hours they had her. The answer was NONE. The owners hadn’t paid them for more than the 100.00 walk in the door fee and the vet told me she “was not going to waste money or supplies on a dog that would be dead tomorrow”. ‘Cause a shot of morphine and a splint were just more than the state of the art clinic could risk spending I suppose.

    I immediately gave them my credit card number, asked them to please start her on fluids and pain control and splint the leg. Then I called my vet who agreed to see her as soon as I could get there.

    I was at the clinic at 10:00AM, they then told me they had not gotten around to her yet, so now we were at hour sixteen. I sat there for two hours waiting to get her her. The staff were happy to tell me how sweet she was. When I finally saw the vet she fluttered about, told me that she hadn’t tried to do anything with her very infected ears because the smell was “making her gag” and when confronted about not splinting the leg or giving her pain meds was told, by the vet, that she didn’t seem to be in pain. SMH

    Finally splinted at about 12:00 noon with only a short term, mild pain reliever on board I carried her to the car after forking over 300.00 for the night neglect and agony she had suffered. She was cold, barely responsive, with white gums due to shock.She did however scream every time my car hit any sort of rough road.

    My vet came out to the car with two techs and a stretcher. Took one look and sent the techs back in for blankets and warm water bottles. He started her on fluids in the car, finally putting in an IV that the other clinic had not and got her on proper pain control as well as treating her for shock. Her temperature was only 95F. Once the pain meds kicked in and she was less shocky she was carried in and treated for shock for the next few hours because the neglect she’d been through had put her in a too fragile state to be moved for films. But eventually we got X-rays that showed an dramatic but completely fixable fracture of both the tibia and fibula

    She had never had any films done at the ER vet. The leg was declared unsalvageable with no radiographs having been taken there.

    Because she had not had proper treatment, she was too fragile for surgery that day, so she spent 48 hours recovering from shock and trauma. She got her leg plated after that and WALKED out of the clinic, gingerly and lamely, but with all 4 legs. Her ears needed a lot of TLC but she did recover completely from the whole ordeal. 10 years later I still get furious that that dog languished at a vet clinic for 16 hours with an unstable fracture and zero treatment

  21. I am so very sorry for all of you who have had such devastating experiences with vets, regular or emergency. Fortunately, I live close to MSU and for years used them as my primary vet. (I am with a private practice now because I like seeing the same vet rather than whoever is on that rotation). This year, I have lost 2 cats, both to devastating disease. We have a wonderful hospice vet who comes to the house so the cats don’t have to go anywhere. Unfortunately, Rascal crashed over Memorial Day weekend (she had FIP) and the hospice vet couldn’t get here quickly enough so I took her to MSU. She died before they could even get the euthanasia meds, but were so kind and compassionate. Thankful every day for our hospice vet as I have 3 seniors now and I know our time is limited.

    However, my son took their cat to VCA when he stopped eating. He was a big boy and the vet there just told them he needed to lose some weight anyway so not to worry about it. BJ died during the night (do vets not know that cats can quickly develop fatty liver disease when they stop eating?) It was absolutely devastating for the family.

  22. I wanted to thank everyone for sharing their stories and to express my sympathies.

    Also wanted to add that the place I went to was not called Banfield (tbh I am unclear what the name of the place is now since it was bought but the receptionist answers the phone with just “Animal Hospital”) but it did seem to employ the same bill fattening tactics that some of you described. I remember there were charges for the IV fluids, the IV line, the IV catheter, the IV pump the line is fed through, etc. All in addition to the general charges such as “hospitalization”. So another thing to be watchful for.

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