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Thomas Dock, CVJ, Vet. Technician  
Male, 49
Indianapolis, IN

Interests: animals, Reading (sci-fi and fantasy)
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Emotional Damages For the Loss of a Pet?

Aug 18, 2009 - 18 comments
Tags:

emotional distress

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damages

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Pets



In keeping with controversial topics this week, I found a story out of Virginia about a man who is suing his former domestic partner for emotional distress after the death of his Chihuahua.

In a nutshell…here’s the story:  Jeffrey Nanni and Maurice Smith were former domestic partners.   Two years ago, Smith allegedly beat their 12 lb Chihuahua with a wooden board.  Smith was found guilty of assault and battery as well as cruelty to animals in connection with this event.  An autopsy of the dog found that he died of blunt force trauma to the head.

Nanni, who is a paralegal, maintains that he continues to suffer emotional distress and should be compensated for that.   He is asking for no less than $15,000, which is the minimum amount that will ensure the case will be heard in this particular court (Arlington Circuit Court).

So…it certainly is a sad case and one that should have never happened (Nanni evidently picked up the dog as he and Smith here fighting and Smith attempted to hit him with the board).  Smith served 10 days in jail and was on probation for a year.

But, my bigger concern is the precedent that this case could set.   Currently, in almost every state, emotional damages are not allowed to be collected by pet owners.  Most states simply allow the owner to collect the “fair market value” of the pet.  A recent case in New Jersey though did set another precedent stating that a pet’s “special subjective value” needs to be considered in custody cases.  This has now opened up the doors that will move pets from “property” or chattel to another classification that we don’t even have yet (sentient property?).

Another case in California sided against an attorney who was suing a veterinarian for wrongful death of her Maltese.  The court stated that pets were considered property and you can’t get damages for emotional distress or loss of companionship with property.  Furthermore, parents can’t sue doctors accused of medical malpractice after the death of their child and expect damages for emotional distress either.  In case after case across the United States, the courts normally find that there is no basis for damages based on emotional distress because (again) “pets are property”.

There are a few states that have broken away (Idaho, Kentucky, Florida, Alaska, New York, New Jersey and Hawaii) from this traditional view of pets as property, but they are still reluctant to award substantial damages based on emotional distress.   Instead, the “intrinsic value” of the pet is calculated.

There is no doubt that pets are special to almost every one of us and we cherish their special value…but how do you adequately put a price tag on that in the event of the pet’s death?  Should purebreds be worth more?   Should dog owners get more money than cat owners?  Should it depend on how much money you spent at the veterinary office in wellness care, etc?

The scary thing about this case is that a jury who awards Nanni a substantial amount of money will open the floodgates to a landslide of wrongful death lawsuits.  Veterinarians will be forced to carry larger amounts of malpractice insurance simply because the insurance carriers won’t want to take these cases to court…they will settle out of court in order to “make things go away”.  If veterinarians have to pay more for insurance, you can be very certain that those costs will be passed on in the forms of higher medical invoices.

And, as many here at MedHelp know, there are people who have a hard time paying for veterinary expenses, despite the fact that it is a true bargain when compared to human medicine.  But rest assured, a case like this that sets a precedent will cause veterinary costs to increase.

So, what is the answer?  Do we have a new classification for pets beyond property but short of human life?   Should you be able to get emotional damages after the loss of your pet?


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by ginger899, Aug 18, 2009
Maybe so....legally you can't sue for 'emotional distress' over an item of property. But surely it would be possible to sue for mental cruelty? That someone's act -(ie cruelty and assault on the dog resulting in death) -when witnessed, caused severe emotional trauma which has seriously affected (Nanni's) quality of life/emotional stability? Surely someone could be sued for an act which caused mental trauma? (ie mental cruelty) I wonder if that would be possible?
Don't know. Just wondering.

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by allaboutmary, Aug 19, 2009
This would open a whole can of worms and like you said increase cost for veterinary care. As someone with 7 dogs struggling to keep them healthy, I sure don't want to see this happen. I think anyone that intentionally hurts an animal should be punished with jail time or community service etc.

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by flmagi, Aug 19, 2009
I have to agree with Mary. I think the offender should pay retribution (vet bills), jail time,community service and a fine. I do feel the laws and punishment for any kind of animal cruelty should be much more severe, but suing for mental distress is just looking for all the sue happy people to come out of the woodwork and would open up things for scams, looking to make money off hurting animals.

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by 10356, Aug 19, 2009
I agree with all the above said.. but also think a phyc evaluation and treatment out of their pocket and a ban on owning or caring for pets should be considered when dealing with the abuse of animals... lesa

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by Piparskeggr, Aug 19, 2009
I am of the opinion that (as with any issue), it is incumbent upon the legal system to look at the individual circumstances of each incident.

There is a great deal of difference between malpractice (which would be actionable) and maloccurrence (which is not, morally at least) in my considered opinion.

Our beloved little cat, April Dancer, died of anaphylactic shock at the vet's in October, 1992.  It was a maloccurrence involving a mild sedative with which she had been dosed before.  My wife and I cried hard over her...vet and staff were sore beset, also.

We suffered some great amount of emotional distress, but had no idea of pursuing damages.  The vet neither charged us for the procedure nor ignored our deep upset; they even paid for Dancer to have an individual cremation.

The case quoted in the original post, nail the (expletives deleted) Chihuahua killer to the wall.

Pip

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by Myown, Aug 22, 2009
10 days in jail for killing an animal is what needs to change. The people who abuse know that "True Justice" is not served or in place when it comes to the killing of an animal or neglect/abuse, so the consequence of their actions is a nothing to them, because thats just what its always been - "a-nothing, a slap on the wrist" for the horror they commit.

In our house, our pets have always been ''family members," so as far as I am concerned if I were in the shoes of that man whose partner killed his dog - "emotional distress" is an understatement - though I realize the tragic event needs to be described "with words" in court, no way would words be able to describe how I would feel in that mans shoes.. its so sad, for the dog and the man.

How long would it take any animal lover to get the picture out of their mind of their poor pet dying such a cruel death, before they could have all the "good memories" of their dog come to the forefront of their mind and push out the sad, horrific, tragic ending of "their baby." I hope this man gets $15,000 at the very least.

I don't have to "wonder" if people would think twice before they killed an animal - IF they knew they would receive at the very least 2 years in jail, pay a huge fine, and lose the right of ever owning an animal and even lose the right of living with someone who owns an animal. Sound a little harsh for the crime committed? To some maybe, but not to me.


Sad subject, but it is something that needs alot of attention. Glad you opened this discussion.

MO





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by cara40, Dec 07, 2009
It is ironic really.  If a person does something that hurts another person, they are held accountable.  Yet, the arguement that vets that do something wrong should not be held accountable because it will increase the cost of treatments is obscene.  It is not the lawsuits that will increase the cost of care, it is the mistakes made by vets and those that allow those mistakes.  You ask any pet owner, myself included, and they will tell you they would rather have their pet back than sue the vet.  I took my dog to the vet with a kidney infection, he went into kidney failure, he was expressed 2 times in 52 hours and went into Congestive Heart Failure.  Fluids were coming out his nose and mouth.  

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by rambo999, Feb 14, 2010
I agree with cara40.  What is up with someone who cares more about their wallet than about the level of appropriate care for animals.  Our dog died of suffocation from a slowly swelling larnyx.  Our vet refused to even look at the dogs throat.  I asked three times.  I called the next day and spoke to a different vet and he wanted to go home, even though they can see you in an emergency to see if there was trouble with his breathing.  They just thought he was old and dying of something.  He was purky and seemed a 5 yr old, not 15.  I took him to a vet hospital and after a quick xray, they saw he needed a tracheatomy.  I was promised 3 times that he would get one as soon as necessary.  7 hours later he died.  He was in there sucking his guts in & out for air for 35 hours.  3 doctors and a 1000.00 later, he died and all he needed was an airway and some medicine to counter an allergic reaction.  I am seeking a way to sue them for his extreme suffering and I think this country needs precedent that says no to the vets who dare to show such neglectful treatment of an animal just because of their age!  I have yet to find an excuse to give for the suffering of Rambo, to my 8 year old son and it has been 7months!

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by vallieanne, Feb 14, 2010
Blondies Story

I adopted a 2 yr. old Chow mix in June 2000 from our local shelter after the death of my first Chow Ninja (who passed from old age at 15). She had been there for almost a year and she had been the victim of animal abuse at the hands people who intended using her as a bait dog for pit bull fighting.
I had decided that i would adopt rather than purchase another pure breed as there are too many shelter dogs that need loving homes.
Blondie bonded to me even before I could take her home. I needed to get written permission from my co-op for the shelter and it took about 2 weeks for me to connect with the board, so I visited her there often and even left a new collar for her that she seemed to wear with a new found pride in herself. The staff at the shelter would tell me that she would watch me leave down the driveway and she would stand up and peer out of her kennel until I was no longer in her sight, so the day I went to bring her home she was the happiest dog alive. She flew out of that place with me as fast as her legs could carry her, and she got right into the car and gave me kisses all the way to the groomer, as she was so dirty she needed a good scrubbing before she could come in the house. When my friend and I went to get her there, she looked like a different dog, she was so bright blonde and beautiful, and she knew it too. She was a loving and loyal dog, a protector and companion and friend.  She had separation anxiety that took me a long time to get under control, but my vet told me after she had been with me for years that it was a miracle that she was able to become the loving and obedient dog she was after all she had been through.
In 2006 I had a problem with a neighbor who was polyurethaning her floors next door to me, as I am asthmatic to the fumes from such strong chemicals. I had to leave my apt. on short notice and stay at my brothers house for a few days until it was safe to come home. I couldn't take Blondie there as it was too small an apartment and there was no where I could walk her close enough with my disabilities. I called a vet in the neighborhood I had used on a few occasions to see if she boarded and she told me she could take her. My brother dropped her off there and that was the last day I ever saw Blondie alive again. The day I returned to my home I called and said I was picking her up, and I was told she had caught a slight cold and she had a cough and she could be picked up the next day. I asked why I hadn't been called about it and got an answer that was a complete lie, claiming they didn't have my number when they had my cell number on file. I asked if I could come see her and the vet said just wait until the next day as she might get more stressed from me leaving again and I figured she was right. I asked what meds she was on and what was being done to treat her, and was told it was like a kid in a day care catching a cold and she'd be fine,again was a big lie...as I later found out..
The next day I had a medical appt. and called when I got back to pick her up and again was told just leave her there another night as it was already late and the vet said as I must be very tired from the procedure I had done so just come the next morning. She told me my dog was doing better so I decided to get up early the next day and get her , as I was missing her so much but wanted to be able to give her a long walk when she came home and was in no shape for it that night.
Early the next morning I called to say I was on my way and asked if they could have her ready for me, and the bill also. I was told by the tech the vet wanted to speak to me and she would called me right back. I waited for over an hour and called again and was again told she was busy and she'd get back to me.
As the morning turned to midday I had a very bad feeling and I called and demanded she come to the phone, and what I heard when she did come on was something I'll never forget till the day I die. She got on the phone and said " Blondie's dead. she died this morning"  I was in shock, I couldn't even speak as I was shaking so bad and hung up and got my friend Judy to call her back to find out what was going on. I felt like the earth under my legs had given out, as all I could think was my dog thought I deserted her knowing her attachment to me. I live with that to this very day.

She then proceeded to tell my friend that the dog had died the DAY BEFORE and she didn't tell me as I was tired from the doctor.  IT WAS THEN WE KNEW SHE WAS COVERING UP A MULTITUDE OF SINS..
Over the course of the next 24 hours we came to find out she had been boarding dogs there for a local shelter and they were sick, and she had my dog in the same room with them... Pit bulls, her biggest fear....
There were two in there with her and she got the sickest and died.. It was the canine flu.
She lied about so many things it would take forever to put them down here..
When we went to pick up my dogs remains to be brought elsewhere for necropsy and then cremation at the pet cemetery, we saw her allowing new dogs coming in for boarding just moments after she had poured disinfectant all over my poor dog, and she even gave bottle to my friend to wash her shoes with so her dog at home wouldn't contract it..
I can't begin to explain the emotional damages she inflicted upon me due to her negligence. My dog suffocated on her own blood, as I found out in the necropsy. She was told the morning she died by the vet tech the dog couldn't get up to take her meds and was coughing violently. She let her stay that way for hours until she finished seeing her other patients. Her excuse was she didn't want to get them infected and she was going to get to her when she finished with them. The dog was dead by then.

Please don't insult me and others like me who have lost a dog or any other pet who was family to us by the hands of a vet like her or of an abuser.
We have no recourse other than to file complaints with the licensing boards, who percentage wise look the other way and seldom even give a slap on the wrist. Dogs are not property to us ,my car is property and if damaged or wrecked, I'd get more for it in insurance that for the life of a dog. I pay for my insurance rates and risk them going up if I don't drive safely, and if a vet is negligent, they their rates should go up.

While no amount of money would bring back my dog to me, it would make a vet who has no scruples think twice before they  take an innocent life again.

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by Thomas Dock, CVJ, Vet. TechnicianBlank, Feb 14, 2010
To cara, rambo999 and vallieanne...I am truly sorry for the losses you all have had.  Over my adult life, I have had numerous pets and the loss of each one leaves a permanent scar upon your heart that nothing can ever replace...not money nor another pet.  I agree with each of you that veterinarians who are negligent, fail to do their jobs and/or who are abusive to animals should suffer penalties.

vallieannie...I don't know how you think I insulted you (or anyone else for that matter) with this blog posting.  I put forth a situation that was unfolding (a news story at that time) and gave my opinion as well as asking for others opinions.  Again, in the cases of neglect and abuse, stiff penalties, fines, loss of license, etc should all occur.  What the question was is whether or not you should receive emotional damages after the loss of a pet.

Many people feel that licensing boards don't adequately protect the rights of pet owners from unscrupulous (or even plain bad) veterinarians.  Vallieannie...you mentioned that "percentage-wise, they look the other way".   Having been in the field for many years, plus knowing veterinarians who serve on these state boards, I can tell you that the percentages do favor the veterinarian, but not for any corrupt or self serving reason.  The percentage of cases that are dismissed or given a "slap on the wrist" are high because of the evidence (more often, the lack of evidence) doesn't support any stronger penalties.  What continues to amaze me is that the vast majority of human malpractice cases fail to show any underlying negligence, yet malpractice insurance costs continue to rise as insurance companies would prefer just to settle for a lesser amount.  Why would anyone think that more veterinarians (a smaller profession and, in my opinion, often more honest) are guilty of more malpractice and negligence than human doctors?  

Moreover, if money is not the true issue in these cases, why do people settle for the lesser amounts offered by the insurance companies?   Why don't they follow through and "make an example" of the doctor, help authorities remove his or her license and stop the terrible doings from happening to "anyone else"?  The answer is because they can't...the evidence doesn't support the case and there is a chance the plantiff will lose.

So, to follow my train of thought, allowing emotional damages to be awarded for the loss of a pet (an award parents and grandparents can't currently seek) will lead to higher costs for veterinarians in the form of higher insurance payments.   Despite the fact that the vast majority of veterinarians practice high quality medicine and are not negligent or abusive, they will bear this burden as well (just as all insurance rates for teenage drivers are higher, regardless of how good of a driver they really are).

The increased rates will be passed on to the pet owners in the form of higher exam fees, diagnostic fees and surgery fees.  Pet owners, upset at rate increases, will either 1) fail to follow through with preventive care or 2) seek out less reputable, "low cost" facilities.  In both cases, a pet's health could be at risk and we will see a lessening of care of our pets in general.

In closing...are mistakes made?  Absolutely.   Is there a small minority of veterinarians who are unethical or "just in it for the money"?  Potentially...but by far, the majority of veterinarians want to help your pet and they want to help you.  They are also just as devastated at the loss of each pet when things don't go as they should.  Should you report unethical, immoral or unscrupulous behavior by your veterinarian?  YES...but, please make sure that you have exhausted all other avenues of communicaitions with your veterinarian.  If you are looking for closure in the loss of your pet, your veterinarian can be a great ally or even a partner in sorrow.  

I invite everyone to read Dr. Arnold Goldman's blog about anesthetic deaths...he is much more eloquent than I am and I think you will find that he has a great way of helping people understand that there are cases when things, through no one's fault, just simply go wrong.  http://www.medhelp.org/user_journals/index/931217

Thanks for taking time to read this blog...I do appreciate all of you and look forward to continued interactions.



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by vallieanne, Feb 15, 2010

''Many people feel that licensing boards don't adequately protect the rights of pet owners from unscrupulous (or even plain bad) veterinarians.  Vallieannie...you mentioned that "percentage-wise, they look the other way".   Having been in the field for many years, plus knowing veterinarians who serve on these state boards, I can tell you that the percentages do favor the veterinarian, but not for any corrupt or self serving reason.  The percentage of cases that are dismissed or given a "slap on the wrist" are high because of the evidence (more often, the lack of evidence) doesn't support any stronger penalties.  What continues to amaze me is that the vast majority of human malpractice cases fail to show any underlying negligence, yet malpractice insurance costs continue to rise as insurance companies would prefer just to settle for a lesser amount.  Why would anyone think that more veterinarians (a smaller profession and, in my opinion, often more honest) are guilty of more malpractice and negligence than human doctors? "

Evidence has to be provided by the vet in question, ie. medical records. Those are the notes placed into evidence, unless there are outside labs records available.
These are often falsified to cover up the wrongdoing, if anything accurate is even written in the first place. This was the way it was in my case and if I may add, I have been personally injured by medical doctors and am now disabled as a result.  We can fight as much as we are able but in cases against a medical doctor it is not that easy to get other doctors to testify against their own, and independent witness cost money that is out of reach for the average person.

I have had pets for over 40 years and although I have found many good vets in my time, I have found an equal number of those that have been miserable. I had one take a dog into a back room and smack her in the mouth because she was refusing a muzzle for examination, and the dog ended up with a bleeding mouth. The vet didn't know I saw him from a crack in the open door, and he was lucky I didn't punch him in the mouth. That's just a small example, I have many others from myself and friends alike. I'm glad I have had a vet over the years who has been an honest and caring person and wish he would have boarded, but he won't because of this very kind of thing, he feels you shouldn't put healthy dogs in a place where they might be exposed to sick ones. I had been under the impression the vet that boarded my dog had separate kennel facilities.
She was boarding inside her offices, and it was the summer and she had outdoor runs that she didn't use because she was understaffed.

While I understand you need to give your side to what you think might happen if "emotional damages" where to be awarded legally to those of us who have been at the receiving end of bad vet experiences, I can't agree with you. I used the term insulted because that's what having a pet ripped out of your life under these circumstances is, it is an insult in a broader term of the word. We are not people who are looking for some kind of windfall. I think that your fear stems from the fact that they might be some people who would try to exploit this and use it as a loophole for monetary gain, and there just might be, but it would be hard for them to win in court if they were not genuine.  Maybe it's just the term, "emotional damages" that incites fear because to use the word emotions conjures up a general fear of what it exactly constitutes. It's very subjective. The legal term for punitive damages might be more appropriate, as in what was suffered as a direct result the actions of a negligent vet.

I hope that you can try to see both sides of this subject and take the fear out of your message, as that is what perceive as your message regarding this matter. Fear about the money you think your profession may incur if there is indeed a precedent set in the courts and spreading that fear to pet owners who think they may lose vet services available to them if it does.  Vet in a small towns may not make the kind of salaries as those in a big cities and would be affected more, I understand that, but I would hope that it would not be such a monumental rate hike that it would put them all out of business. I have a feeling this will never happen anyway since the lives of animals are not valued enough in this society, and the changes that are taking place are coming way too slowly for the innocent animals that suffer and die every single day.


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by Thomas Dock, CVJ, Vet. TechnicianBlank, Feb 15, 2010
vallieanne:

"Evidence has to be provided by the vet in question, ie. medical records. Those are the notes placed into evidence, unless there are outside labs records available.
These are often falsified to cover up the wrongdoing, if anything accurate is even written in the first place"

True, evidence needs to be provided by the veterinarian and by the aggrieved pet owners.  As far as falsification of records, it is my belief that this happens less frequently than people imagine.  Medical records are legal documents and cannot be changed.  Any mistakes need to be visible with a single line drawn through the mistake and the correction following the mistake.  Electronic medical records need to have a tracking system that notes any changes, edits, deletions or corrections.

I don't know what happened in your case and I don't want to speculate.  I am just sorry that you had such bad experiences.

I think that the bigger issue here is that in many cases, communication between the veterinarian, veterinary hospital and pet owner breaks down and leads to hurt feelings, a sense of abandonment and then anger.   There are more than 191 million veterinary visits in the US every year for dogs, cats, birds, horses, etc.  Yet, across the nation, veterinary complaints happen less than one time in every 10,000 visits and that is a conservative estimate.   If you take out the invalid complaints and the complaints without merit, I would guess that the occurrences would drop to 1 in 100,000 or even 1 in a million.

I do think I can see both sides of this argument.  One issue that I have with "emotional damages" for pets is the fact that as a parent, I can't get emotional damages if my son would die under medical care.  And I agree that this is a good thing.  How can you put a price tag on your love for your family?  Similarly, how do you put that kind of price on the love for your pets?  

And, as I mentioned in the original post...a difficulty is going to be how do you determine what the value of emotional damages truly is?   If you were a good pet parent, kept up to date on wellness care, etc...should you get more than the person who loved their dog just as much but was less vigilant about heartworm prevention, etc?   Should you get more emotional damages for your show quality Pomeranian than my pet quality Mastiff or the loveable mutt down the street?  Are cats worth less than dogs?  What about my leopard gecko?  My son's betta fish?   Where does the line get drawn?

FInally, who determines these values?  The courts?  The Humane Society of the US?  Veterinarians?  Breeders?  Everyone has their own unique perspective and I can't imagine these disparate groups coming to any sort of consensus.

Vallieannie...believe it or not, you and I are on the same page, we are just approaching this issue from slightly different angles.  We both believe that veterinarians who abuse pets should be punished and veterinarians who are negligent should be penalized as well.   I just don't think that clogging up the courts and adding yet another layer of bureaucracy is the way to go.  We have a system that involves the licensing boards within the states along with two great national organizations (AVMA and AAHA) that also provide guidance and standards for the profession.

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by rambo999, Feb 15, 2010
I don't think that you can measure our loss and certainly nothing is going to repair our pain.  However, in our world money is the only compensation for pain that we have, if even that.  I do not want us to benefit from the suffering of our loved animal family members.  I want the vet to pay for the horrible suffering our dog had to go through because of their neglect.  I want a large financial penalty to set a precedent for others that it is not ok and something you will not like will be the consequences for any such horrendous veterinarian behavior.    

The whole point is that we have no recouse and the Bad vets can count on that.  I went to the board and they did nothing.  So what if you have to pay more for your vet services, I have three more pets and not one ounce of trust left in me.  I want the Bad vets licenses revoked or suspended for a long enough period to say that this behavior in a professional field will not be tolerated.  But no, nothing is done.  If you ever had bronchitis, pnuemonia, or an asthma attack, you would know what Rambo had to go through for 35 agonizing hours before he died.  You would know in a few seconds, you would give your house for another breath of air.  

I don't care about the rising costs of insurance and care.  All the other costs go up in all the other aspects of our lives.  As animals are a member in our family, why would we expect their care to be any less expensive to keep them alive.  And believe me, at the hospital, the cost for his surgery and scope were going to approach thousands of dollars.  

We can use the money, the fine, the award amounts to provide better care and homes for our other animals, for counseling for our families as we try to find a way to stop seeing the horror of what our pets went through, and we can choose organizations or shelters to donate to in trying to honor our pets memories by the betterment of other animals lives.  No one would want to let Bad vets keep their jobs, benefiting through criminal acts, just to keep the costs of pet care down.  Really, well which pets is it ok for the Bad vets to abuse, neglect and or murder so that other people, including the vets can pay cheaper prices?!!!  

And by the way, I told the vets license board I wanted the hospital vet to be arrested!  I don't want just his money, I wanted him fired and incarcerated!   Rambo999

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by vallieanne, Feb 16, 2010
Rambo 999,

"I don't think that you can measure our loss and certainly nothing is going to repair our pain.  However, in our world money is the only compensation for pain that we have, if even that.  I do not want us to benefit from the suffering of our loved animal family members.  I want the vet to pay for the horrible suffering our dog had to go through because of their neglect.  I want a large financial penalty to set a precedent for others that it is not ok and something you will not like will be the consequences for any such horrendous veterinarian behavior. "

Exactly right, and only those of us who have first hand knowledge of the way the licensing boards side with the vets know the reality of what it takes to try to get some justice for our pets as a way of honoring them.
All anyone has to do is a search on bad vets or vet abuse to find out more about the way these things are handled and the amount of people who have had this happen.


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by Thomas Dock, CVJ, Vet. TechnicianBlank, Feb 16, 2010
vallieannie and rambo...I can feel the pain you both have in every post that you write, but I don't think we are going to come to any sort of agreement on this topic.  I don't know all of the circumstances in your cases, only what you have described here.   And, assuming that everything you have posted is accurate and no details are being left out, then I would concur that your veterinarians need to be penalized for their actions (or inactions).

But, you are still trying to paint a broad brush that veterinarians are unregulated and that is simply not true.  I spent more than 20 years working in and with veterinary clinics and steps are taken each and every day to protect pets and insure their safety.  I can't speak for all veterinarians or veterinary clinics, but those that I know of and have worked with have always made patient safety their top priority.  Do accidents happen...yes.   I personally had a dog I was transporting get away from me and run down a busy road.  Thankfully...our quick acting team was able to corral the dog before he injured himself.  My point in telling you this is to show that this "accident' helped to formulate new protocols on transporting, unloading and loading pets into our van.  And, that there wasn't malicious intent to let the dog run...it was simply an accident.  And I firmly believe that most of these cases that cause issues between owners and veterinarians are just that...

If money is the only compensation for the pain you feel...should veterinarians then charge more for pet owners who fail to follow their recommendations/guidelines/post operative instructions?  Speaking from experience, we saw FAR more cases of owner non-compliance with instructions than any accidents within the hospital.  The pet in some of these cases suffered at the hands of the owner who took it upon themselves to rebandage a foot (and do it so tightly that circulation was cut off) or change the dose of a medication (and cause the pet to go into a hypoglycemic shock).  What about the pet owner who left his heartworm positive dog (who had just received heartworm treatment) outside to run....he came home to a dead dog (the dog died from pulmonary thromboemoblism...and his at home care instructions strictly forbid leaving the dog alone to run).   Should he be penalized and not allowed to own dogs again?  What about the owner of a French bulldog who left the dog outside on a 95+ degree day for an hour and found him dead?  That owner wanted to blame the vaccines that were given the day before...Will a large financial penalty (which will never be paid, in my opinion) teach this man common sense?

I don't want to endlessly debate this issue, but it is my STRONG feeling that accidents can happen and often times it is truly no one's "fault" and most often, there is never malcious intent to harm the pet.  And, I also believe that if veterinarians and pet owners would have open, honest communications, some of these terrible cases and the hurt feelings could be avoided.   And, that goes for both sides....veterinarians need to be honest about mistakes that were made and pet owners need to be honest about their side as well.

I think we should just agree that we won't be able to resolve this issue....

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by vallieanne, Feb 16, 2010
I agree with you, we won't resolve the issue here. I think we were just trying to bring some authentic cases to light.
I'd like to ask you why since you are only a vet tech, how would this impact you personally? I thought it was just the DVM's?

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by Thomas Dock, CVJ, Vet. TechnicianBlank, Feb 16, 2010
That is a very fair question vallieanne...first, let me make it clear that I am not a licensed or registered veterinary technician.  I was trained "on the job" and have been a technician for more than 16 years.  I currently don't work in a hospital full time, but I provide relief work for my former employer on occasion.

Technicians and veterinary assistants are crucial to the efficiency of any well-run veterinary hospital.  They are the animal nurses, pet care specialists, phlebotomists, pharmacy technicians, x-ray techs, dental hygienists and client communicators all rolled in to one.  It is with their help that veterinarians can see many more patients than would otherwise be feasible.  Assistants and techs help restrain fractious animals (so the owner doesn't get bit) and help perform laboratory testing that would take a lot of time out of the doctor's day.

Veterinary offices run on very slim profit margins.  A well-run hospital might make 10% net profit after all the bills are paid and most veterinary hospitals actually just manage to survive on less than 4-6% net profit.  Think about that.   For every $100 you spend at a veterinary hospital, the owner only gets $4 to $6 back to reinvest, buy new equipment and otherwise improve the facility.   The rest of the money goes to inventory (medications that are needed for a variety of species), payroll (the techs, receptionists, assistants and kennel help I have already mentioned), bank fees, utilities, rent, etc etc.  

So...how does this affect me (or any technician or veterinary employee)...it affects us because any increase in costs has to be offset somewhere.  Raising prices is not always an option.  As I mentioned above, as veterinary invoices increase, pet owners are less willing to pay the price and fewer pets get the care they need.  Cutting out wellness care (like vaccines or heartworm prevention) often leads to bigger, more expensive problems down the line.

So, instead of raising prices, veterinarians will often look to cut costs in order to cover an increase elsewhere.  This could mean delaying the purchase of needed medical equipment or it could mean laying off or terminating employees.

And, as you see the slim profit margins in veterinary medicine, our current economic issues don't help either.  Because medical inflation runs higher than the general inflation rate, many veterinarians are hard pressed to keep up with cost of living without additional costs being added into the equation.

So, for me personally, I see anything that increases costs to veterinarians will end up increasing the cost of care or decreasing the resources the veterinarian has to work with.  In either case, pet care is diminished and I personally could see an increase in the types of cases you mentioned as veterinarians try to do more with less.

I hope that helps clarify my position a little bit...

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by Bonzombie, Apr 02, 2010
My family always had cats and dogs when I was young, because my dad bred Miniature Schnauzers and Burmese cats (not with each other!) Because we've had so many pets and for years, the odds were that we would encounter some mistakes. Not all by vets..I cried myself to sleep when some visitor came to our house and let one of my favorite cats out-we lived in New York City, so of course I never saw her again. The only person who reported seeing a brown cat said she was eating rat poison when they saw her. If true, she died a horrible death. I would have liked to sue the idiot who thought all cats go outside-family friend or not, my cat was lost because of someone not even asking if the cat was supposed to go outside.
  But we also had some bad vet experiences. A new litter of kittens was born in 1966 (I have an old photo so I know about when this was) and my dad took them to get their kitten shots. He watched enough to realize the vet or tech had given one kitten two doses, and missed another kitten. They refused to listen to him, and were sure they gave each kitten the shots needed. So when one of the kittens got sick  and eventually died, my dad was angry. He knew the vet office had messed up, but they would not admit it. It cost a kitten its life, and my family didn't get to keep the money for the kitten which was returned too late for dad to save it.
  The next bad episode with a vet was when one of our cats got hit by a car, and came home but was injured badly. My dad took him to the vet, and he was operated on-but later on we realized the vet had not really fixed him very well-his guts were all up in his chest, so breathing was difficult. He was in a lot of pain, and got worse (over a couple years, I think). My dad knew this cat was my younger sister's favorite, and she would never want him to get put down. So my father took him while she was at school to do what was needed. And the vet once more hurt poor Clawed. The procedure was horrible for my dad to witness, he saw the pain and fear in Clawed's face as the needle went into his heart-and made it explode. Clawed died after perhaps a minute of pure pain, and my dad never wanted to be there to see another "euthanasia" done. This vet didn't even end Clawed's life as he should have. I think this was the infamous "heart-stick" method, and Clawed apparently had not been anesthisized or sedated. A real vet, not an animal shelter worker, did this. And my dad could not tell my sister how awful this was-he only told me. I told my sister in time, and she was still horrified. I think we would have been justified if my dad sued.
    More recently, I have had a cat die at our current vet's when she had appeared to be getting better. She had improved, but then they found her dead in her cage. My vet was very upset, as were all of the staff. This was obviously unexpected, and I would not have thought of suing. I accept accidents or unexpected deaths happen. And nothing could bring Kellie back, so what good would money be? Pay the bill? The vet tried to save her, they did put in a lot of work trying-so we paid the bill.
  Then there was our dog Babe-she died the night after she had gotten her yearly rabies and whatever other shots. But it was my fault for leaving her outside. It started raining, Babe got soaked before I realized it was raining, I took her inside as soon as I knew...but she was chilled and she died in my arms. Did the combination of the shots and the rain kill her? I don't know. But I did wonder. Yet, I was the fool who left her outside in the rain. Again, would it have been OK to charge me with negligence? I think so. And when our next dog got sick with cancer, should I have been sued for not noticing in time to help her? I feel I should have been more attentive.
   I always feel since nothing can bring back my pets, why sue? And I only think the one vet was truly in the wrong and deserved to be sued. (Then again, I feel my dad himself died partly because the hospital let him out before he was well enough, so he ended up back there to die.)
   I agree that veterinarians I know really seem more caring and dedicated than human doctors. My vets have given us home phone numbers, offered to take a dying cat home with them to watch, they've stayed late to tend to my pets.  We've used this vet office for 28 years now, they are close and I think very competent and kind. And they did not hesitate to confer with one of the specialists at our local emergency and specialty clinic when our very young kitten Wilson was dying faster than any medicine was working-they came up with one more medicine, and that saved him.
    I feel the epidemic of suing is wrong, most medical people try to do what is needed. Humans do have bad days, and mistakes are made, but it is true that pet owners and human patients do not always follow instructions. To me, medicine is a lot of guesswork-so many different cases, and patients.  My sister and I have had exams and tests on ourselves that are inconclusive and offer no cure except time. It is frustrating, but sometimes the best specialists can be stumped. At times I wonder if there is any actual science in medicine. But I really do not blame doctors or vets for not knowing it all. I think they try, and as in every profession, some are better than others, and some are in it for the money. That's people. And maybe that explains why the loss of a pet hurts so much-they are not able to express their feelings about treatments, or say how much pain they are in. Vets actually have about as hard jobs as pediatricians-dealing with small patients who cannot speak for themselves. Mostly, they do a good job. I don't want them to stop caring and worry about malpractice insurance more than pets.
  However, cruel pet owners should be prosecuted as child abusers are. And why not sue them? I wish you could do an eye for an eye with them. Cruelty is inexcusable, and should be unpardonable. How about heart-sticking the chihuahua's killer? And do it without anesthesia or sedatives-let them suffer as they made a poor dog suffer. That dog's life was worth more than that monster that murdered it. People should do life for animal abuse, or even be killed for it. Anyone who can do these acts is sick and needs to be watched closely because animal abuse is usually the first sign of a serial killer. That needs to be stressed, too.

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