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.

Sorry, You Are Out of Refills on Your HeinousStinkingCruelty Prescription

Rebecca Coleman, the shelter vet at the Memphis pound on whose watch numerous dogs have starved to death, including a puppy who was forced to eat his own littermate to survive, and who scrubbed a degloved cat’s wounds without providing pain medication then left him to suffer in a cage for 5 days, and who neglected a puppy with a collar deeply embedded in her neck and many other also horrible things HAS BEEN FIRED.  Or to put it more bureaucratically, she was not re-appointed by the mayor.  Whatever.  Just thank ponies.

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While Sandy Suffered, Rescue Group Exploited Him

I’m for no kill.  I’m for rescue.  But this is neither.

The SPCA Los Angeles conducted an investigation into the care of a cat named Sandy based upon a tip.  Sandy lived in a warehouse rescue facility operated by Furrever Grateful Rescue (FGR) in Long Beach, CA. Medical records indicate FGR began taking Sandy to veterinarian Ryan James Whitney in September 2014. Sandy had a tumor on the side of his face. Over the next 6 months, Whitney performed multiple gruesome surgeries on Sandy, gouging away at his eye until it was finally gone as well as portions of his nose and mouth. The deeply invasive tumor continued to grow and Whitney continued to drain the cat’s face of massive infection in between the surgeries. Whitney never submitted any of the surgically removed tissue to a lab for testing. Sandy was never diagnosed or given any prognosis. He was unable to eat normally and was suffering tremendously. He wasted away.

In February 2015, FGR took Sandy to a different vet. The second vet saw the giant tumor consuming Sandy’s face, his emaciated frame and his inability to eat adequately and diagnosed him with end stage squamous cell carcinoma. The prognosis was grave as the cancer is untreatable. Combined with Sandy’s immense suffering and extremely poor quality of life, the vet recommended immediate euthanasia to end Sandy’s needless agony.

Instead of releasing Sandy from his suffering, FGR took him back to the warehouse and continued posting photos of him on Facebook, soliciting donations. The second vet, deeply disturbed by Sandy’s condition, contacted SPCA LA and the state veterinary board.  The SPCA LA notified FGR that they needed to have Sandy euthanized immediately.  FGR took Sandy back to Whitney for the euthanasia.  An investigation was conducted:

In its investigation, spcaLA discovered that FGR had been using Sandy’s worsening condition for fundraising for Sandy on social media, a practice not uncommon, and meant to pull at the heart and purse strings of donors. “It is unclear why Whitney or Furrever Grateful Rescue allowed the miserable suffering of this animal,” said spcaLA President Madeline Bernstein. “Whatever their intentions, whether motivated by naiveté or greed, this kind of cruelty is beyond words. No living being should ever suffer like that.”

The California Veterinary Medical Board revoked Whitney’s license so he can’t harm any more animals under the guise of “medical care” in the state.

FGR however, may face no legal consequences for their part in Sandy’s extended suffering:

Because the rescue is within the letter of the law and “provided medical care,” there are no animal cruelty charges pending against FGR at this time, however the Attorney General is looking into whether they are compliant with annual nonprofit regulations.

Get them on that, if they are in violation. Get them on any legal thing where they are found to be in violation. Kind of like sending Al Capone to prison for tax evasion – do what needs to be done within the law in order to stop these horrible people. How many other animals are in that warehouse of horrors right now? Are they too receiving “medical care”?

There are photos of Sandy at this link but the reason I am posting it here on its own is because readers need to be warned:  these photos are upsetting.  I didn’t make it past the first few myself so I can’t say specifically how many or how awful they are as a whole but knowing how Sandy suffered and that he was used in these photos as a fundraising prop for a so-called rescue, it’s almost too much to bear.  Click with caution.

Animals advocates work with a lot of rescues, many of which are known only via social media.  It feels natural to assume that the people saving animals from pet killing facilities are the good guys.  Usually, they are.  Let this serve as a reminder that there are evil people in all walks of life.  They are a tiny minority, thankfully.  But it is on us to perform our due diligence when donating or otherwise supporting animal groups.  That can be tricky, especially when faced with certain death for an animal at a pound.

It’s completely unacceptable that our public animal shelters put us in this position.  We need our government shelters to be safe havens for pets.  That is not at all the case in far too many facilities across the country.  Which leaves animal advocates in constant crisis mode, forever scrambling to find someone, anyone with an open space for a pet we are desperate to save.  No animal advocate wants a shelter pet killed.  No animal advocate wants what happened to Sandy to happen to any sentient being.  These should not be the choices we face.

Shelter reform, now.

(Thanks Clarice.)

IL Veterinarian Accused of Brutal Acts Against Shelter Pets

The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation has issued a 17 page complaint against Andrew Kaiser, the contracted veterinarian for the Quincy Animal Shelter who also runs a private practice. The document alleges numerous incidents where Kaiser failed to exercise “skill and care” in treating animals. Two of the alleged incidents occurred at the shelter.

Kaiser allegedly strung up a friendly pitbull at the shelter in a chokepole until the dog couldn’t breathe, hanged him then slammed him to the floor. The dog, whom Kaiser was supposed to be vaccinating, was left bleeding from the mouth.

A chihuahua whom Kaiser was supposed to euthanize at the shelter reportedly behaved in an aggressive manner. Kaiser allegedly tightened the noose of a chokepole around the dog’s neck, dragging and choking him inside the cage. The dog ended up breaking several teeth against the cage wall before Kaiser finally dragged him to the ground and stepped on the tiny pet with both feet while injecting him.

The remainder of the incidents allegedly happened at Kaiser’s private clinic and seem to demonstrate a pattern of willful negligence and violence against animals. Surgeries, including declawing and limb amputation, were allegedly performed without pain medications being administered during or after the procedures. Post surgical patients were allegedly left to bleed to death, unattended. When a dog balked at being caged, Kaiser allegedly punched him in the hip repeatedly.

The city of Quincy needs to decide what to do with Kaiser’s contract.  I have suggestions.  The county state’s attorney is dragging his feet too:

KHQA reached out to Adams County State’s Attorney Jon Barnard.

He said his office is waiting for an outside consultant before making a decision on whether to charge Dr. Kaiser with criminal charges.

The outside consultant is reportedly the ASPCA.  They need the ASPCA’s opinion on whether stringing up a 5 pound dog in a chokepole, knocking his teeth out then standing on him with both feet while killing him rises to the level of criminal charges.  Because grey area.

While all of the allegations are horrifying, the one that sticks in my craw the most is the hip punching.  To me, that’s an indication of someone who has been abusing pets for years and knows how to inflict maximum pain without leaving visible marks.  And if the owner noticed the dog limping or crying out after jumping on the bed at home, he’d probably take him right back to Kaiser for treatment.  Nice little business model there.

I hope the city of Quincy and the county state’s attorney don’t take too long consulting on Kaiser’s skill and care.  How many more animals must suffer and die while they make up their minds?

(Thanks Clarice.)

Update on the Fort Worth Veterinary Cruelty Case

There have been developments in the case I posted about yesterday regarding Lou Tierce, the Fort Worth vet who was charged with animal cruelty.  While all of the following will be difficult to read, some of it is truly nauseating and disturbing.  Use your discretion:

  • The Texas vet board has temporarily suspended Dr. Tierce’s license and will meet on Monday to discuss the case.
  • Unsanitary conditions were found at the clinic during the raid.  The description is akin to a hoarding type environment.  “Stacks of drugs, trash, laundry, paperwork and other miscellaneous items were strewn about the examinations rooms, hallways, stairwells, operating room, laboratories and offices of the clinic.”
  • Controlled substances were strewn throughout the facility, unsecured.
  • Bugs were crawling around the exam rooms.
  • Animal organs preserved in jars were stored throughout the facility.
  • The attorney for Sid’s family has released a detailed timeline of events regarding what allegedly happened to Sid from the time his owners started taking him to Dr. Tierce.  In that release, there are allegations that cast an even darker shadow over Dr. Tierce including that he tricked Sid’s owners into having the x-ray taken which was used to diagnose the non-existent “irreparable” spinal defect.  The anal gland problem for which Sid was originally brought to Dr. Tierce remains.
  • The whistleblowing technician is reported by the attorney to have said that Dr. Tierce used a blow to the head to anesthetize a dog who was waking up during surgery.
  • Dr. Tierce admitted to police that he had kept 5 dogs alive, including Sid, after accepting them for euthanasia by their owners.  It has not been reported whether some or all of the other 4 were mistreated in the way that Sid allegedly was.  One of the 4 had been kept in a cage at the clinic for 3 years since his owners left him in Dr. Tierce’s care for euthanasia.
  • During the raid, an outside vet, Dr. Michael Morris, was brought in to examine the pets found in the clinic.  He determined that 3 animals required euthanasia.
  • The arrest warrant for Dr. Tierce states he was charged with cruelty to animals over the neglect and abuse of his personal pet, a border collie whom he kept alive in a box on an exam room floor at the clinic for an extended period of time, possibly a year.  During the raid, the dog was found twitching in pain.  He had a missing leg, a dislocated leg and two dislocated shoulders.  Dr. Morris examined the dog and determined the dog was emaciated, unable to walk, suffering from severe disease in the mouth, had the bottom of one foot missing, had cataracts and a degenerative neurological disease which could not be treated.  The dog was medically hopeless and suffering and had been that way for some time.  Dr. Tierce admitted he never provided any medical treatment for the dog and that the dog had received nothing but food and water in his care.  Dr. Morris recommended euthanasia to end the dog’s suffering and advised police that the dog was a victim of animal cruelty.
  • Many clients are speaking out in support of Dr. Tierce, refusing to believe he could ever cause harm to any animal.

A Betrayal of Trust in Fort Worth

Sid , as pictured on the CBS website

Sid, as pictured on the CBS website

A complaint reportedly filed with the Texas Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners by pet owners Jamie and Marian Harris alleges the following:

  • In May 2013, the Harris family brought their 175 pound dog Sid to the Camp Bowie Animal Clinic in Fort Worth, Texas for treatment of an anal gland problem.
  • Veterinarian Lou Tierce performed a “cold laser” procedure on the 5 year old dog.
  • Sid’s health did not appear to improve in the months following the procedure.
  • In September 2013, Sid was hospitalized and Jamie Harris went to the clinic to visit him.  Sid dragged himself across the lobby to see him, unable to use his hindquarters.  The vet advised Sid was experiencing a reaction to medication and more significantly, that he was suffering from an “irreparable” congenital defect in his spine and should be euthanized.
  • The family consented to the euthanasia and said goodbye to Sid, with the understanding that Dr. Tierce would perform the euthanasia and dispose of the remains after the family left the clinic.
  • On April 21, 2014, the family received a phone call from a woman who identified herself as Mary Brewer, a technician at the clinic.  The woman told the Harrises that Sid was still alive and had been living “almost 24 hours a day in a cage, littered with his own feces and urine, and that he had been injured by another employee” in the months since the family had consented to the euthanasia.  The technician said she had not spoken up sooner about Sid because she feared for her job and needed the paycheck it provided.  She quit her job the day she called the Harrises.
  • Jamie and Marian Harris drove to the clinic, leaving one friend to guard the front door and another to keep watch at the back exit.  The husband distracted the receptionist while the wife sneaked into the back.  She found Sid in a cage, released him, and he walked outside with her with no apparent lameness.
  • Dr. Tierce followed them outside and explained he did not euthanize Sid because some of his employees threatened to quit if he did.

Sid was immediately taken to a vet who examined him and reportedly told the Harrises it appears that Sid had been repeatedly used for blood draws, possibly for transfusions or plasma treatments for other dogs.  A second vet reportedly confirmed the finding and an MRI determined that Sid has no congenital spine defect.

The Harrises filed complaints with the police and the state veterinary board.  On Tuesday, police and officers from the Texas Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners raided Dr. Tierce’s clinic.  Animal control seized two dogs as evidence.  

Dr. Tierce was arrested on Wednesday on a cruelty to animals warrant and later released on bail.  He told reporters gathered in his clinic lobby that the accusations are “a bunch of hooey” and blamed a disgruntled employee who sought revenge.  And in case neither of those really good explanations seems believable, he offered up a hero card:

“The lady wanted me to euthanize their dog, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.”

The Harrises have retained an attorney in the matter:

The family’s attorney, James Eggleston, wrote in a letter: “Dr. Tierce has harvested organs of other pets and, according to a former employee, has kept one dog alive almost five years harvesting blood/plasma.”

Other clients who believed their pets had died or been euthanized at the clinic are now seeking verification that their beliefs are true.

The state veterinary board is planning to meet on an emergency basis regarding the case and the county health department is reportedly involved due to the filthy conditions found at the clinic.

The implications of the case are many but the heart of the matter centers around the human-animal bond and the difficult decision to end the suffering of a medically hopeless pet upon advice from a veterinarian.  Pets are family.  When they are sick, we try to help them get better.  We trust our veterinarians to guide us in our efforts.  And when that vet tells us there is no more hope and that it would be kinder to end our family member’s pain than to force them to suffer, we cry.  We don’t want to admit that all hope is lost but we are not veterinary doctors and must have faith that our vets are advising us truthfully.

In this case, that trust was betrayed and in an especially cruel manner.  Sid was not medically hopeless and suffering as the vet had allegedly advised his family.  Euthanasia was not required.  To tell the family otherwise was cruel.  Being a dog, Sid likely grieved for the family who did not return for him as he sat in his cage for months on end.  For a veterinarian to intentionally inflict that kind of emotional pain upon a dog is cruel.  A dog of Sid’s size can not live in a cage without experiencing physical pain.  Keeping him confined was cruel.  And if the only time he experienced human interaction was when he was repeatedly stuck with needles and used as a blood donor, that is cruel.

It’s important to note that this egregious betrayal of trust in Fort Worth did not happen in a vacuum.  The community looks to its publicly funded animal “shelter” to be a leader in protecting animals from abuse and shielding the human-animal bond from those who would betray it.  The Fort Worth shelter director and staff have a civic duty to lead by example.

But the Fort Worth pound designs its policies and procedures around needlessly killing the pets it’s supposed to be sheltering.  And they even have a handy visual aid on the website to illustrate their chronic incompetence which results in the needless killing of healthy/treatable animals.  In short, the Fort Worth pound is an institution based on betraying the trust of the community.  And now they are in charge of the “evidence” in a betrayal of trust case that happened in their community.  Whatever the outcome of the case, I hope the two seized dogs remain safe and that the pound did not use their impoundment as an excuse to kill two other dogs to “make space”.

(Thank you Arlene, Clarice and Davyd for sending me links on this story.)

Humane Society of Fremont Co Under Investigation by State of CO

Canon City contracts the Humane Society of Fremont County in Colorado for animal control.  In 2012, the Humane Society of Fremont Co had a roughly 56% live release rate for dogs and cats.  The state report includes a category called “Other” to list animals described as “missing, stolen, etc.” and the facility listed 464 dogs and cats in that category which is troubling.  (Fair warning:  It gets worse.  Way.)

Also of concern is the HS of Fremont County’s June 7, 2013 state inspection which documents a number of violations including:

  • Adopting out puppies and kittens under 8 weeks of age
  • Keeping cats in cages that were too small
  • Keeping cats in cages with mesh flooring
  • Using the surgery room as a cat intake/holding area as well as an isolation area for sick cats
  • Failure to inspect the one foster home of record

The HS of Fremont County’s whiny ass response, dated June 25, 2013, appears to be the work of an 8 year old.  The facility blames an employee by name for repeated mistakes in recording ages on puppies and kittens and basically says management will start babysitting him.  The HS also states it will no longer accept orphaned puppies and kittens under the age of 8 weeks and as such, won’t be needing its foster home any longer so voila! – no inspection required.  Problems solved, I guess.

Not so fast.  The July 22, 2013 state inspection reveals even more violations including:

  • Failure to remove dogs from cages during cleaning with pressure hose
  • Leaving dirty water bowls in place to be used by the next dog after a dog is removed from the kennel
  • Killing animals before their legal holding period expired
  • Inhumane killing procedures including heartstick done by untrained staff
  • Sick and injured animals being left to suffer without immediate vet care
  • Failure to keep records of animal treatments

As if these violations aren’t awful enough, there’s this:  A complaint filed with the state by a group of former volunteers (the facility shut down its volunteer program at the beginning of June) states that the part time vet used by the HS of Fremont Co neuters dogs using a technique normally reserved for farm animals and that unsupervised, untrained staff are treating pets.  Here are a couple of excerpts from the complaint:

Excerpt from volunteers' complaint against the HS of Fremont Co (click to enlarge)

Excerpt from volunteers’ complaint against the HS of Fremont Co (click to enlarge)

Excerpt from volunteers' complaint against the HS of Fremont Co (click to enlarge)

Excerpt from volunteers’ complaint against the HS of Fremont Co (click to enlarge)

Additional allegations outlined in the former volunteers’ complaint to the state:

  • Live animals being placed into the freezer and incinerator
  • Animals being killed in full view of live cats and dogs in the room used for surgery
  • Cats determined “feral” being killed upon impound including the mother of a litter of kittens
  • Killing of dogs to create space for imported dogs from another state
  • Kicking and hitting dogs by staff members
  • Theft of donated food by staff members
  • Shelter director convicted of animal cruelty in 1998 while employed at the HS of Fremont Co and remains on the job to this day

There are some disturbing details of the suffering of the HS of Fremont Co pets at the Canon City Daily Record and some hard-to-look-at photos on Facebook.  A former volunteer wrote this first hand account of animals being killed at the HS of Fremont Co but be advised – the material may be too disturbing for some readers.

Local advocates are pushing for the HS of Fremont Co director to be replaced  and the state is continuing to investigate.  Rescue One Dog has been covering the story as well.

(Thank you Veda, Davyd and everyone who sent me links on this story.)

What Does the Law Say about Vets Handling Pets Whose Owners are Unknown to Them?

This story has been gnawing at my heart all day.  A 17 year old Corgi mix named Basie was in her VA yard on November 1st.  The owner, Allen Holmes, was home and in fact, had snapped a photo of Basie getting a drink of water in the yard at 12:06pm.  When he went out to check on her 10 minutes later, she was gone.  Mr. and Mrs. Holmes searched for Basie and posted flyers throughout their neighborhood.  Basie reportedly walked very slowly so they did not think she could have gone far.

As it turns out, a woman had picked up Basie “wandering in the woods”, thinking she was a stray, and brought the dog to her vet.  The vet examined the dog, noting some health problems – which would not be unusual for a 17 year old dog – but also described Basie as alert and responsive.  Then the vet killed her.

Upon learning what had happened to Basie, the owners were very upset.  They asked police to investigate and they contacted the local news:

[Prince William County Police] Sgt. Kim Chinn said they found no evidence of a crime and that both the woman who picked up the dog and the vet appeared to be doing what they thought was right.

When the local news asked the vet clinic for an explanation as to why they killed Basie, a staff member tried to pin the decision to kill the dog on the Fairfax County Animal Shelter, saying the shelter had instructed the vet to kill Basie:

But the Fairfax County Police Department, which oversees Animal Control, says the shelter would never give that advice.  Officer Shelly Broderick says the decision to euthanize, was  the veterinarian’s alone.

There are a number of concerns here to my mind but before anyone tries to blame the killing on the owners, please keep in mind that the article does not detail what the circumstances were in Basie’s yard.  We don’t know if there was a fence, if this was an unfenced, large property in a rural area, or what the case may be.  And whatever the owners were doing with Basie was apparently at least good enough to keep her alive for 17 years which is no small feat.  Mrs. Holmes also mentions that Basie was very clean, had recently had her nails trimmed and had a tooth extracted.  This indicates to me that the owners took good care of Basie.  And perhaps equally as significant, it indicates that Basie’s vet felt she was stable enough for anesthesia in order to have a dental procedure performed.  That fact, along with the other vet’s description of Basie as alert and responsive, makes it very difficult for me to accept that anyone believed Basie was medically hopeless and suffering.  And if no one believed that, how were they “doing what they thought was right” by killing her?

A vet is in a unique position with regard to stray pets in the community for two main reasons:

  1. Some people believe that bringing a pet they find to a vet is a kind option, especially if the local shelter has a reputation for killing animals.
  2. Vets are licensed to have Fatal Plus on hand – and to use it.

It concerns me that the officer who investigated stated no crime was committed.  Is there no law on the books in VA to prevent a vet from killing a pet whose owner has not signed a euthanasia consent form?  Even if the vet thinks the pet is a stray, there is no way to know that for certain.  Shouldn’t the vet be required by law to either turn the pet over to the shelter or at least make efforts to locate the owner themselves if they choose to keep and treat the pet for the legally required holding period (or longer)?  Do you know what the law requires of vets in your state with regard to stray animal handling?

First, Do No Harm

If you’ve ever worked at a facility that boards pets, you are probably familiar with owners who never pick up their pets.  In my experience, this is a rare occurrence but it is sad when it happens.  The pet spends week after week in the facility while the bill runs up, attempts are made to reach the owner and the business owner gets increasingly frustrated.

This happened at a vet clinic I worked at many years ago.  We ultimately sent a certified letter to the owner, warning that if he did not respond, the dog would be considered abandoned and our clinic would dispose of him as we deemed fit.  The owner did not respond and the dog was adopted by one of our staff members who’d been caring for him during his extended stay.

At Lehigh Acres Animal Hospital in FL, 2 dogs were in a similar plight.  The bill had run up to $2000 and the owner was sent letters, probably along the lines of the one I described above.  The owner did not respond.  The difference in this case was that the vet killed the dogs and then accepted donations from the public who had seen a news story on the abandoned dogs and wanted to help.

On Friday, [Lehigh Acres Animal Hospital] released this statement: “The dogs were put down because they didn’t have a safe stable home to go to nor did they have any financial income to be cared for correctly.”

Do you see the words “medically hopeless and suffering” in there anywhere?  I don’t.  And in their absence, I find it shocking to think a veterinarian would issue a statement to justify the killing of these 2 dogs.

My vet, on occasion, will have a photo of a dog available for adoption at the front desk.  These are typically dogs who have been abandoned for whatever reason.  Couldn’t Lehigh Acres Animal Hospital have done something similar?  At the very least, couldn’t they have taken the dogs to the local shelter so they could have a chance at adoption?